Loris Olivier

A Strong Ally for any Digital Branding Project

For any branding project, typography of some form is inevitable. But with the ready supply of free or commercially available fonts, you may be wondering 'why should I hire a type design consultant?' Perhaps you want something more bespoke, but you have an in-house designer or design team that you trust, or a long-term freelancer with whom you collaborate.

The truth is, the practice of type design is often something of an enigma, even to designers, and the world of typography and letter shapes holds more potential than the majority of non-designers would ever expect. Used effectively, it can bring your brand to life – but all too often the door to this immense world of type design remains sadly closed.

As a first step in prying open that door, I'd like to explain how we use the words typeface and font. Sometimes used interchangeably (and even type designers can be guilty of this), a typeface is in fact a unique design of lettering – fundamentally the precise shape of each letter or character – which can be manipulated or subdivided into a variety of fonts – italic, bold, regular, light, etc. A typeface is therefore also sometimes referred to as a font family or font system.

There is an infinite palette from which we can create a font system: it all starts with the shapes themselves, how the curves, and other specific character details are drawn. Naturally, there is a clear need for a design expert with a sharp eye for consistency and harmony in the creation of any new visual world. However, when it comes to typography, these visuals must do so much more than simply satisfy an aesthetic purpose – a typeface also has the vital job of communicating.

Typography should bring to life the strategy established by the brand.

In order for potential customers to recognize a brand and understand what it stands for, there is a need to create and define a clear pattern of visual language or vocabulary by which that brand can communicate with consistency. A typeface clearly forms part of that vocabulary, but this goes beyond aesthetics or the uniqueness of the individual shapes. A typeface also has a personality (just like a human spokesperson) that will express the message of a brand in a particular way. You can think of as tone of voice, and it might be influenced by things like overall contrast ratio, the shape of letter terminals, the 'spikiness' of the serifs, and many other factors – typefaces and their fonts differ greatly in their aesthetic language!

As part of any branding project, there is likely to be a significant amount of strategic and exploratory process long before any visual assets are created, but when the time does eventually come to make these visual designs a reality, a disconnect can be exposed between the worlds of graphic design and type design. With this in mind, it is a good idea to bring a type designer on board at an early stage of the brand design process so they can help to dissect the visual ideas as they are formed. She or he will be able to help identify what details and shapes might most effectively express the intended voice of the brand, and a custom typeface can be created in harmony with other design aspects.

Now, a designer (or designers) might have an abundance of brilliant ideas throughout the process of creating a brand, and can be a great source to tap into, but there is one pitfall to watch out for. If all used together in the same context, myriad visual concepts have the potential to overwhelm a message, and could completely alter the initial aim of the project. We like to think of this in terms of having a long list of ingredients that you love, and that all taste fantastic individually, but that may not necessarily work in combination! Decide to mix them all together and at best, there will be too many flavors for you to taste any of them properly. At worst, you might just create one of the worst dishes ever!

Instead of falling into this trap, an experienced type designer will engage into a discussion about the intentions of the brand and then create a variety of different recipes based on the desired concepts. Here the type designer acts as menu planner – or better yet, as a blueprint creator. She or he will be able to provide the graphic designer and other visual creators with tools to help them understand what choices could be made when developing the future brand identity.

A typographic system should be versatile and scalable.

Hiring a type designer gives you another, very practical, advantage. Today, type designers are more and more conscious of the various technologies and digital worlds in which their product will be used. As a result, a type designer is ideally placed to understand the potential problems of reading text on different devices or platforms (such as optical size optimization) and the interactive solutions at hand to overcome them.

So, when you hire a type designer to create a custom typeface, a holistic approach will not only give you the best results in the short term but also prevent issues further down the line. As a consultant, he or she will have the necessary distance to look at the overall process and, working alongside your team, will be able to create a font that fits your visual, strategic and technical needs. Through a collaborative to-and-fro of sketching, advising and prototyping, they will then be able to bring a consistent and exciting product to life for the brand or product, giving the graphic and visual designers a typographic system that can scale without any problems.

Hopefully we've helped to open that door a little between type design and graphic design, and you can see how a type designer is a valuable commodity – but not a luxury. Working with one as a partner and ally can add enormous value, not only to your public image but also internally within your business. By creating a custom typeface of real quality, you give yourself the power to amplify your brand in the future, with agility and consistency. The type designer you hire as a consultant should, of course, bring aesthetic quality and technical knowhow, but more than this they can also offer fresh eyes and a new perspective to guide you as you explore a world of exciting possibilities for your brand.