So many of you have asked me to do an episode about fonts and colours, so today we are going to look at how to choose fonts for your brand, and take a deeper dive into some of the options available to you. PS: This podcast episode has previously been published as an article in my resource library.
Fun fact before we start: Actually, when people say fonts they really mean typefaces – but that’s a whole ‘nother level of geeking out over typography, and to be honest it’s not like it’s going to matter in the context of this episode. I’m guessing you’re tuning in because you want some handy tips on choosing a font typeface for your brand, and you probably don’t give a damn whether I call it a font or a typeface. Am I right?
So, let’s get crackin’!
First things first, where do you even start when it comes to picking brand fonts? It’s all too easy to head on over to Google Fonts and just pick a random font that “kinda looks ok” – and while it might look fine, there are a few other considerations you need to have in mind too. Does your chosen typeface create the right associations? Have you thought about whether or not it communicates your brand personality? If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that I give all my clients homework. Part of this homework is for them to tell me about their brand personality, the very core of their brand, the values that they stand for and the feelings they want their brand to evoke. These all play an important role in the creation of a successful brand – and, you guessed it: they should be the starting point for your choice of typeface(s) too. If you haven’t given a second thought to your brand personality, step away from the typography!
I like to think of typefaces as if they were people. Well, maybe not. But they do have personality! And you want to find a typeface that is the equivalent of your brand’s soulmate.
I’m going to assume you have your brand foundations all sorted, and move on to talk a bit about different type classifications, to give you an understanding of how you can start to think about typefaces as a tool to help you communicate your brand’s values and personality.
Most typefaces can be classified into one of four groups: typefaces with serifs, typefaces without serifs, scripts and decorative styles. Within these four main categories you’ll also find various sub-categories. While there are no set rules (and you totally can use a more traditional typeface and still create a bold and modern look with it!) I’d like to give you some general guidelines about the characteristics of the most common categories:
Serif fonts have a traditional and classic vibe. They’re often used in longer paragraphs of text, as they’re easy to read. Many of the traditional serif typefaces are neutral, meaning the overall brand look will depend on which typefaces you pair them with.
Use if your brand is: traditional, classic, timeless, conservative
Avoid if your brand is: ultra modern, clean, sleek, minimalistic
This variation of serifs has an “edgier” vibe than the more traditional styles, and appears solid and confident. Bolder weights appear masculine and sturdy, while the thinner hairline weights can also give a lighter look.
Use if your brand is: modern, masculine, brave, edgy, robust, authoritative
Avoid if your brand is: delicate, feminine, soft, minimalistic, elegant
Sans serifs give off a clean and modern vibe. The weight you choose will also greatly influence the overall look, with heavier styles leaning towards the masculine side, and lighter styles being more feminine and delicate. Most sans serif typefaces are fairly neutral, and the overall brand look will depend on which typefaces you pair them with.
Use if your brand is: clean, minimalist, modern, upscale, inventive
Avoid if your brand is: vintage, retro, traditional
Formal script typefaces are feminine and elegant, and can be used to give a vintage feel. Their ornate detail means they can be harder to read in longer paragraphs, and they are best used as accent fonts.
Use if your brand is: traditional, vintage, feminine, warm, soft
Avoid if your brand is: modern, masculine, robust, edgy
These typefaces have an air of informality about them, as if they were written quickly. They can work really well to give a sense of playfulness to a brand, but are best used sparingly as they can be hard to read.
Use if your brand is: fun, relaxed, informal, creative, imaginative, quirky, whimsical
Avoid if your brand is: serious, masculine, formal, understated
Handwritten and brush typefaces can be a great way of adding brand personality. Great for logos and headings, but best avoided in body text.
Use if your brand is: warm, personal, informal, creative, edgy, quirky, whimsical
Avoid if your brand is: formal, timeless, understated
This is a huuuuge category that spans a diverse range of styles from retro and childlike, to grunge or graffiti. Many of these styles are time sensitive and should be chosen carefully if you want a timeless brand. However, if you’re building a brand around one specific trend, time period or theme, you could be on to a winner!
Use if your brand is: creative, unorthodox, fun, bold, distinct, eclectic, loud
Avoid if your brand is: formal, classic, timeless, understated
Now think about your brand. Do you want it to feel modern or more vintage? Should it be playful and light or serious and authoritative? Feminine or masculine? Traditional or unorthodox? Which of the above font categories do you reckon would best reflect your brand’s personality?
WHOA, WHAT A GREAT PAIR!
Once you have an idea of what kind of personality you want to communicate and what kind of typeface(s) will work for your brand, it’s time to have some fun and play around with font pairings. It’s important to choose typefaces that go well together and complement each other. You could choose to add contrast and interest by pairing a clean and modern sans serif for the headings with a more traditional serif for the body text for example. Or you may want to keep it all clean and understated by choosing different weights from a single typeface. If you’re using a really distinct typeface for your logo and/or headings, you may want to choose a more understated typeface for the body text to avoid it looking like a shit hot mess of a typography experiment. Unless that’s the look you’re going for!
Test, tweak, have some fun! If you’re using Google fonts, they have a built in feature that allows you to test different font combinations, or you could try services such as FontPair or Flipping Typical.
HOW MANY TYPEFACES SHOULD I PICK?
In order to keep your brand looking cohesive, avoid using more than 3 typefaces. Some brands use only one (but in different weights/styles), others use one typeface for headings and another for body text. And some brands choose a third typeface for accents.
CREATE A HIERARCHY
To get that instantly recognisable look, you will need to put a system in place for which typeface and/or style to use where. If you have brand guidelines, this would be a good place to outline this hierarchy. Think of this hierarchy as assigning roles to each typeface. You might have a primary, a secondary and a tertiary typeface – and your hierarchy could look something like this:
Primary – Typeface A
Secondary – Typeface B
Tertiary – Typeface C
Used sparingly as accents or to highlight certain elements.
You could even go as far as specifying the typeface, weight and size for each separate usage area, but be wary of creating a system that is too rigid. While it’s a good idea to standardise the look of key elements such as your business cards and your website, you want to be able to implement it and have some fun with it too!
I’M READY, WHERE CAN I FIND MY PERFECT TYPEFACE?
There are so many type foundries out there, it might be hard to know where to start looking! Start by considering whether you want to use open source (free) typefaces, premium typefaces – or even if you want to have your own custom typeface created. There are pros and cons to each approach.
Pros: They’re free and readily available.
Cons: They’re generic. Anyone can use them, so you won’t get that unique look. They might have limitations, in terms of the number of characters. A lot of free fonts don’t have multilingual support for instance. A lot of them are free for personal use only, so it’s really important to check if you can use it for commercial purposes without buying a licence.
Pros: A huge selection of typefaces makes it easy to find one that suits your brand, and that isn’t already over-used. You’ll have a greater selection of weights and styles. Premium fonts often have premium features (like a larger selection of glyphs and fancy ligatures).
Cons: There are licencing costs, and they can add up if you need many licences.
Pros: You get something truly unique!
Cons: There’s a bit of an investment to be made. It can take considerable time.
ARE WE DONE YET?
Almost. But there’s one more aspect you should consider: Flexibility. Make sure your chosen typeface(s) offer a variety of styles and weights. You can get away with only one style for an accent typeface, but your primary typeface should give you enough options to ensure you won’t end up swearing at your computer when you realise you need an extra bold and your brand typeface doesn’t have an extra bold.
As a very minimum, your primary typeface should offer a light, a regular, a bold and an extra bold, as well as italic (slanted) versions of all the weights. The more style and weight options – the more freedom you have to play with your typography and still keeping it on brand!
(Hint: in Google Fonts, if you check the box for “number of styles” you can filter out all the typefaces that don’t fit the bill.)
- Your choice of typeface(s) can make a massive difference to how your brand is perceived, so make sure to pick typefaces that match the message of your brand.
- Determine your brand’s personality, and pick typefaces that communicate the personality traits you want your brand to be associated with.
- Consider purchasing a premium typeface if your budget allows, as this will give you a greater chance of finding a typeface that suits your brand and isn’t already used by “everyone else”.
- Play around with pairings, to see how different combinations impact the overall look and feel, and create a hierarchy/system to ensure your brand typography always looks consistent and recognisable.
- Make sure your chosen typeface offers a good variety of weights and styles.
If you follow these tips, you should hopefully be well on your way to finding that perfect brand font!