Fonts are the unsung heroes of the design world, communicating messages about brands that consumers pick up in milliseconds – and don’t even notice. Luxury brands need to be especially careful with the fonts they use – and make sure they conform to their personality and tone.
We’ve finishing reading Just My Type by Simon Garfield. It’s a book about fonts. No, not in a boring, geeky way. Really. It’s a rollicking ride through the world of printing, type and what fonts have been communicating to us subliminally since Gutenberg made the first typefaces in the 1440s.
Who knew that Barack Obama opted for Gotham to proclaim his supremacy in the elections, reflecting in its straightforward boldness, honesty and openness? Or that Londoners have been staring at the distinctive Johnston Sans since 1916 on the Underground – the font known for the perfect circle of its O? Or even that the Parisian Métro can’t quite make its mind up, shifting from the swirly Art Nouveau lettering to the all-cap Alphabet Metro and then to Parisienne, a blocky modern font that you can’t help feeling will be out of date quite soon. Like by next year.
We love type. We respect how fonts convey information subliminally. Like the cover artwork to John Gray’s bestseller Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus that neatly uses a masculine typeface (Arquitectura) for the male line, and a feminine one (Centaur) for the female one. Simple but very effective.
Creating character with fonts
It’s fascinating when you turn to how brands can use fonts to communicate their character. Absolut’s dark blue bold logo has smooth rich lines and implies luxury, while Ben Sherman’s hand-written font is immediate, quirky and non-corporate. Lyle & Scott and Burberry convey their long history with serif fonts (ones with curly bits at the bottom), along with the British Museum’s Baskerville, a typeface that dates back to the 1750s when the museum was also founded.
Other brands choose to project a clean, baggage-free identity with sans serifs, like French Connection and LG – as well as sports brands such as Nike, Adidas and Puma, who all convey power through their simple, chunky lettering. Some brands are more problematic: Marks & Spencer changed their familiar logo to a modern, pencil-thin typeface in an attempt to update their image, and succeeded in junking their heritage – and any warmth – in the process.