How Typography Impacts Brand Perception
Throughout history, the evolution of production methods has changed the role of typographic design from being merely a functional representation of text to becoming an art form in its own right—one that, not unlike any other art, is reflective of its cultural, social and political context.
Today, with tens of thousands of digitized typefaces and sophisticated reproduction methods at our fingertips, we have the opportunity to create typographic layouts that not only clearly communicate meaningful messages but also shape personalities and trigger emotional responses. This is an important consideration, in particular when we determine which typeface has the appropriate characteristics to reinforce a brand’s image, and how a specific typographic standard can become an essential component of a brand’s expression.
A number of prolific brands have recognized the positive impact typography has on the perception and recall of a brand. Let’s look at a few examples.
The parent company of Mercedes-Benz, Daimler has been using the typeface Corporate across all its communications since the late 1980s. This robust type family includes serif, slab serif and sans serif cuts in various weights. Corporate was designed by Kurt Weidemann, who replaced Daimler’s 50+ typefaces with a single family of related typefaces, bringing consistency to the typographic layout while still providing flexibility for various typesetting needs.
Daimler assigned the different cuts to different business units, thus using typography to create sufficient differentiation while retaining a recognizable family look. For example, the sans serif version, Corporate S, is used by Daimler, while the serif version, Corporate A, is used by the Mercedes-Benz flagship brand. The Corporate typeface is also the basis for the Mercedes-Benz logotype, which creates an immediate connection between logo and typographic layout, further increasing brand recognition.
AT&T has a long history of commissioning proprietary typefaces, in the past driven by specific requirements and the technical limitations of telephone directory book printing. In 1938, AT&T invited Chauncey H. Griffith to design the typeface Bell Gothic, which was replaced in the late 1970s by Bell Centennial. Both typefaces featured large counters and exaggerated incisions to maximize the amount of information that could fit onto a page while addressing the ink spread common in directory printing. Fortunately, phone books are now a thing of the past and AT&T can focus on a less restricted, more emotive typographic layout in support of a more approachable brand image.
Today, AT&T uses a range of cuts and weights of the typefaces Omnes and Stag, mainly for large typographic elements. The unexpected combination of stencil and italic cuts creates a unique typographic layout with a playful and dynamic character. This playfulness has impacted perception of the AT&T brand, shifting it from stodgy and monolithic to vibrant and approachable. Also, by using the typefaces in conjunction with simple graphic shapes in legacy colors, communications can easily be identified as belonging to AT&T, thus enabling the brand identity to be less dependent on repetitive use of the logo.
In 1984, Apple began using a modified version of the serif typeface Garamond. This more condensed version set the company name and tagline, and was used across all promotional materials. This typeface soon became a key component of the Apple brand identity, building awareness and setting the company apart from competitors who used modern sans serif typefaces.
By choosing a typeface that was unique within its competitive field, Apple positioned itself as a brand that challenged the status quo. The more traditional and somewhat “academic” appearance of Garamond supported Apple’s identity as a sophisticated brand targeted at the discerning user.
After almost two decades of using Garamond, Apple introduced Myriad as its new corporate typeface. Even though it is by no means a unique typeface, Myriad’s consistent use across touchpoints—from highly visible advertising campaigns to simple purchase receipts—creates a contemporary and professional appearance that can immediately be identified as Apple, even if other visual components of the brand expression, such as logo or imagery, are not present.
It’s not hard to see how powerful this can be. However, one could argue that Apple’s pursuit of perfection stops short of extending its typographic layout to the design of interfaces and devices. For example, the keyboard of a lap- or desktop is labeled using VAG Rounded, a typeface that was originally design for Volkswagen. And the iOS relies on Helvetica Neue to display information.
But such details of implementing a typographic strategy across all touchpoints of a brand experience should be a key consideration when choosing the principal typeface of a brand’s visual expression.
When shaping a brand’s identity, keep in mind that how words look can be just as important as what they say. A piece of communications designed with purpose can evoke specific emotions and enhance customers’ experience with a brand. As much as our own handwriting is an expression of our character, the typeface used in a brand’s visual identity is an indication of the brand’s personality.