Why you should consider a custom typeface

By Brad Smith

12 June 2018

You'd be surprised how many brands have invested in a custom typeface. Here's why you should consider doing the same.

What do the BBC, Spotify and Airbnb all have in common? Apart from being global entities with huge scale, take a glimpse at their websites and it won’t just be the name you recognise, but the way they speak to you. They all look, feel and sound comfortable in their own space. Look a little closer and you’ll notice they have invested in a custom typeface to solidify their brand identity.

Until recently, the BBC used a confusing mix of Gill Sans and Helvetica. David Bailey, BBC’s Creative Director of GEL (Global Experience and Language) sums up why they designed their own: “Here was an opportunity to bring about a more consistent typographic approach for the BBC – speak with one voice across all of our different touchpoints.”

But, there are more benefits to typeface ownership than meets the eye. From conveying personality to saving money, here’s why you should consider a custom typeface for your brand. Oh, and just to get the geeky bit out of the way, a typeface (like Arial) is traditionally made up of a number of fonts (like Arial Bold, Regular, and Italic).

Build a brand image

First and foremost, a unique typeface can help make your brand immediately recognisable. Instead of relying on your logo to put your stamp on things, your font will have the same effect. In fact, many brands let their typeface do all the talking and have a text-only logo, like Amazon.

Show more personality

A bespoke typeface can also speak volumes about who you are as a brand. It should convey your personality, whilst underlining how you would like to be perceived by your audience. Do you want to be seen as formal, or have an air of fun? Whichever applies, everything your audience sees should evoke your personality, and most of the time they see letters and words.

Formula 1 is a good example of a brand which uses its typeface to communicate differently. Previously seen as stuffy by some audiences, the brand recently benefited from new management and a new outlook to appeal to younger people. The typeface and logo were central to that shift.

Out goes the old nondescript sans serif and in comes the new family of fonts, displaying a character that is more alive, dynamic, and exciting. While some may argue that Formula 1 Regular is hard to read, there’s no denying that it sets the brand apart from everything else.

Consistency is key

Another huge benefit of having a custom typeface is that is ensures consistency across all platforms and outputs. It facilitates a unified approach on both print and digital media, making sure you don’t have any confusing variations in style. Having an accessible asset library of custom fonts to pull from also assists employees and leaves less room for error.

A great example of consistency would be Audi. Back in the mid-nineties they designed a custom typeface with the help of renowned typographer Erik Spiekermann. The font family had a freshness that befitted their new corporate outlook, and over 20 years later that work is still evident in their brand guidelines. Pick up a glossy brochure and you’ll see the relationship between that and their website. In this case, engaging with a specialist type designer ensured that the typeface could withstand the test of time.

Adapt to different languages

Speaking of consistency, it can often be easier to achieve this across different languages when you’ve designed the typeface from scratch. Multi-national companies should consider, early in the design process, how the fonts will adapt to different scripts. Doing this ensures the brand’s identity isn’t lost in translation.

Nokia is a brilliant example of this. Their Pure typeface, which replaced Nokia Sans, was designed to be used in multiple languages across the globe, as it supports Latin, Hebrew, Chinese and many more scripts. As a global brand, Nokia understood the importance of communicating in a consistent way, everywhere.

Be better than the rest

Having your own typeface is also a great opportunity to stand out from your competitors. More importantly, people are more likely to pay attention to something different. Apple used the perennial Helvetica for many years in their interfaces, after the introduction of the iPhone. Helvetica is widely known to portray exactly zero personality, and it dates from 1957 with its origins firmly in print, so even then it was a questionable choice.

In 2015, the company introduced their very own typeface, San Francisco. Whilst drawing inspiration from Helvetica, it was designed from the beginning to be more versatile, work better on small screens, and be more personable. This was particularly important given the release of the Apple Watch the same year. Readability improved, without anyone realising. Notably, the company was able to iterate on San Francisco and create a slightly narrower version for the Watch, something which would have been more complicated with a standard typeface.

Save money

While it may be a costly investment to design a typeface initially, it will save you money in the long run. Licensing a font which isn’t yours costs money. As your company grows, naturally the cost to use the typeface grows.

IBM, as part of the wider Carbon design system, introduced Plex as their typeface. Previously, the US tech giant was paying over a million dollars each year to use Neue Helvetica – and that didn’t even allow all employees to access it. Now that they have Plex, which everyone can use without any more licensing costs, the company is saving time and money.

Have control and flexibility

Yet another tech giant, Airbnb recently introduced its typeface Cereal. This is a friendly but clear typeface which has been designed to work, in their own words, “from button to billboard”. This means that whatever the application, small or large, outdoors or on screen, their brand should come across the right way.

If you own a typeface and are the originator of it, you can make it bend to your needs. Currently, typefaces need to work in countless environments, but there are new technologies and requirements being introduced continuously, an example being the VR/AR space.

Express yourself

Technicalities aside, designing your own typeface gives you the opportunity to be creative and communicate the character of your business, without the constraints of standard fonts. You can dig deep into the company’s values and produce something that’s not only expressive, but functional.

All of the above are good reasons to invest in a bespoke typeface, something which is often overlooked in branding exercises or digital projects. Consistency, expression, flexibility, superiority, and even cost saving can all be achieved through type. For more advice and help with your brand, get in touch with us today.