How Crucial is a Company's Typeface to their Brand?
A lot of thought and decision making going into branding a business. The various aspects that make a brand identifiable, such as the logo, colors, imagery, etc., are important to consider. The typeface a company uses is no exception, which is why, particularly as of late, we’ve seen major companies like Apple, Airbnb, and IMB either update their font or entirely create a font family for their brand from scratch. But what’s better? Using public, attainable fonts such as Helvetica and Roboto, which anyone can easily get their hands on, or spending time and money on an entirely new typeface? Let’s look at some examples:
Nike is an athletic commercial chain known internationally and the brand's typeface is as equally accessible. The company uses Futura Condensed Extra Black, which is a typeface easily found on anyone's word processor. Why would Nike choose such a common font instead of using something more unique? This familiarity is exactly why this company chose Futura. It is a font that has become universally popular and identifiable while still having character since its unveiling in the 1920’s. After all, as the phrase goes, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.” For more about Futura, check out our article “The Future of Futura.”
Another company that is known for using common fonts is Apple. While Apple’s original logo was set in Garamond, the company moved towards Helvetica Neue, which was also the main typeface for their advertisements, iMessage, and their website. However, most recently, the iOS font has been branded in Apple’s own San Francisco. While this font is nearly identical to Helvetica Neue, the ligatures and angles in typefaces are oh-so-subtly disparate. So why the slight change? While Helvetica Neue is considered one of the most favored fonts in the marketing/design world, Apple wanted to go for something a bit more theirs. According to Design For Hackers, “[Helvetica Neue is] not Apple’s. Apple is famous for being a leader in design, so something just doesn’t sit right with them using the world’s most popular font across all of their devices. They need their own voice, and a custom typeface gives them just that.” In addition, San Francisco not only gives Apple “their own voice,” but it also serves functional purposes. This typeface has higher readability on digital screens over Helvetica Neue (which was designed in the 1980s), and is fitting for their digitally-focused brand and products.
Similarly to Apple, IBM recently ditched Helvetica Neue for their own font, Plex, which is accessible for anyone to download. The company has decided to embrace a new design for their products. Quartz Media interviewed IBM designer, Mike Abbink, stating their opinions on the new font: “Abbink and his team have spent the last two years deliberating on a typeface that would capture IBM’s essential qualities. They were inspired by gothic fonts such as Franklin Gothic or Bell Gothic, which look modern but not soulless like Helvetica.”
This again begs the question, why use common fonts over established ones? Well for one thing, creating a font owned by a specific brand can create a lot of controversy. For example, last year Pandora rebranded their logo from one that looked a little too close to the Pandora jewelry company. The reasoning behind the new logo, according to Pandora’s blog, was, “Music is a personal experience for everyone, from the artists creating it all the way to the fans listening to it. And as Pandora continues to evolve the most personal music experience, our new look embraces the dynamic range of sound and color, visualizing the energy and emotion that artists pour into the creation of music, and that we feel as listeners.” However, not everyone was thrilled with the change. Last spring, PayPal decided to sue Pandora since both of their “P” logos looked nearly identical. An article on Fortune states that PayPal attempted to have a conversation with Pandora, but the music company “ignored” PayPal’s responses.
Airbnb is another company that chose to create their own font, fittingly called Air. This typeface is a result of their rebranding done in 2014. Airbnb director, Brian Chesky, asserted that the company’s main goal is creating a sense of belonging, which was the main idea behind their updated look. The redesign represents “a major aesthetic shift,” as described by Venture Beat, but this change also brought doubts. The new logo spurred a social media discussion where internet users talked both positively and negatively about the new branding (i.e. some thought the logo was a little too similar to Automation Anywhere). Was the rebranding worth the disputes? Or did these changes give the company the right amount of attention they needed?
So, perhaps the reasoning behind company typeface customization is to claim ownership over a business. Not only do companies have their own angles and products, but they can also brand themselves with originality. On the other hand, companies rebranding their logos and fonts will always face resistance to change from the public and potential copyright lawsuits in which case, it may be better to stick to the classics.
What are your opinions on traditional, common fonts vs. new, customized type? Comment below.