How to Choose Your Brand Fonts: The Strategy Your Business Needs
We’ve all been there, scrolling through the fonts in Canva (or other design software) trying to decide what looks best - but not really knowing what we should be looking for. Or maybe we didn’t even know that we should be looking for something, and our aimless scroll culminates in us choosing a random, "that’ll do" font.
In many ways this was me, until I was taught that there should be a strategy to font choice, and that if executed well, could significantly increase the performance of a brand’s message. So in this article, I’m going to give a run down on why being consistent with fonts is important, and how you can implement a strategy for choosing the right ones for your business or organisation.
But firstly, to clear things up, when we talk about ‘fonts’ we are actually usually referring to typefaces. The typeface is the family, and a font is a specific weight, style, and size of that typeface. For example, Arial is the typeface, and Arial Bold 16pt is the font.
When deciding what typefaces to use for your business or organisation’s website, social media posts, or print design, the number one rule is consistency. Consistency. Consistency. Consistency. I cannot stress enough how important having a set of pre-defined brand typefaces for titles, body copy and accenting is for the performance of your brand. Just like your brand colours or logo, the typefaces you use create recognisability for your organisation; and being consistent with your typefaces enables your audience to quickly recognise you, without even seeing your name or logo; thereby increasing the power of your brand’s communication.
Choosing Your Typefaces
So now you know not to go about using random typefaces willy-nilly, how do you decide which ones to actually use? There are millions of typefaces out there, ranging from completely free ones, to ones costing thousands of pounds. Or you could even invest in getting a custom typeface designed for your brand (which could cost up to £100,000!). Big brands spend thousands on their typefaces, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to fork out too. In fact, if you don’t have a designer - I wouldn’t recommend spending any money at all on typefaces. If you are wanting to invest, it would be much more beneficial to hire a freelance designer to do your branding and font work for you - so you get it just right and don’t end up wasting money on poor design choices and risk tarnishing your brand image.
Ultimately you’re going to need 2-3 typefaces for your brand. One for your headlines & titles, one for your body copy & subheadings, and potentially one to be used as an accent typeface. (When designing for my clients there are many factors that determines the specifics of this, so this is just a rough guide).
When choosing the typefaces you’ll use for your brand, the first step is thinking about your business/organisation’s purpose, mission, identity and message.
• What industry does your brand fall into?
• What are the common typography styles used in this industry?
• What message is your brand trying to communicate?
• Who is your target audience?
• How do you wish your target audience to perceive you?
• How are you different from competitor brands?
• What is your business/organisation's main mission?
Once you have the answers to these questions, you are in a much better place to begin thinking about what typefaces would be best for your brand in order to correctly communicate what your business/organisation is about.
However, this isn’t to say you can’t diverge from the traditional style of typeface used in your industry - in many ways this is important if you are trying to shake up an industry and provide a highly different product or way of doing things. Think of modern banks such as Monzo and Revolut for example, who are challenging the ways of the traditional financial industry and subsequently reflecting that in their design and typography choices.
Choosing Your Title & Headline Font
Serif typefaces communicate luxury, authority, tradition and prestige, whereas their modern sans serif counterpart communicate a more youthful, approachable and relatable message.
Decorative fonts are fonts with unique stylistic elements and can only be used sparingly and at large sizes - so they can be appropriate for headlines and titles only. Script fonts should be used even more sparingly, only for a couple of words at a time, so a script font could be an appropriate choice for an accent font (more on that later).
Typefaces can also come with different character width, such as condensed narrow versions or stretched out wide versions. Either of these can be used for a headline and title font.
So its time to go back to your brand strategy you reflected on earlier to make the most appropriate choices. For example, high end luxury fashion brands are often characterised by high contrast Serifs, tech companies by clean and bold Sans Serifs and children’s brands by bold and curvy Sans Serifs. What style would work well for your brand and the message you want to communicate?
Choosing Your Body & Subheading Typeface
For your brand’s body copy (the bulk of your text) your main priority should be legibility. Not all fonts are designed to be used for body copy and read at small sizes, therefore choosing a suitable typeface is paramount for enabling your audience to easily read your message. Choosing an inappropriate typeface or font for your body copy will increase the difficulty of reading and comprehending your text. And unless your readers desperately want to read what you’ve written, they aren’t going to stick around to hear what you have to say, and they'll simply click off your website, scroll past your post, or put down your leaflet before they even know what you do. It’s that damaging.
So the first choice you are going to make when deciding on a typeface for your body copy is, what will work best - a Serif or a Sans Serif? (no decorative or script fonts here!)
Serif typefaces generally have better legibility at smaller sizes and are usually the best choice for printed materials; making them a popular choice for newspaper and book copy, but also online blogs and articles. Sans Serifs can also be highly legible, due to their clean and crisp nature, and they can work equally as well as Serifs for online body copy. Therefore, when choosing between a Serif or a Sans Serif, it is essential to think about the context in which the typeface will be used, as well as your brand strategy and the message Serifs and Sans Serifs communicate.
• Will your text be printed, online, or both?
• At what distance will this text be read from?
• Will your brand be using the font for long form reading- such as blogs or articles?
• What is your brand strategy that you identified earlier?
Once you’ve chosen between a Sans Serif or a Serif typeface, there are still hundreds of typefaces to choose from, so we need to narrow it down further. Given that this typeface will be used for body copy, we need to prioritise legibility at small sizes (around 14pt). Usually typefaces with a high X height, a medium amount of contrast between strokes, open counters (the space inside letter forms), and wider letter spacing will be highly legible. You should avoid narrow fonts here as their squished letter forms are harder to decipher in long form reading.
You also want to choose a typeface which has a large family of fonts in different weights and styles so you can use them for a variety of heading sizes, and for accenting with bold and italic versions.
Some good free typefaces to choose from for body copy are:
• Times New Roman
Choosing Your Accent Font
To further increase recognisability and to add more style and personality to your brand, it may be a good idea to also choose an accent font. This font will be used sparingly, usually just for a couple of words at a time, across social media posts, web titles, or printed assets, to highlight important words.
When choosing this accent font, it is important to choose a typeface that isn’t too similar to the one you are pairing it with, yet complements it nicely. An important tip to keep in mind here is that Serif fonts pair very nicely with Sans Serifs. A script typeface can also work well as an accent font that complements and provides contrast to your other typefaces.
You can see here how my brand accent font nicely contrasts and complements my other brand fonts, pairing a Serif with Sans Serifs and using an italicised version for further emphasis.
The Take Home Message
To sum it all up, having a set of 2-3 pre-defined typefaces for your brand and purposefully choosing a headline/title font, a body copy & subheading typeface, and an accent font in accordance with your brand strategy can do wonders for improving the effectiveness of your brand's communication.
When choosing these fonts & typefaces, it is important to first think about your brand's overall strategy, as well as understanding the meanings and connotations behind different typeface styles. You can then begin to make more informed and calculated decisions on what typefaces would work well for your brand in order to optimise the effectiveness of your brand's communication.
You’ll be using this font in the places of highest hierarchy where you want to direct attention to first - for example your website headline, page titles, social media posts etc. These are the text elements which you can inject the most personality into and be the most creative with to communicate your brand message. However, as we want people to be able to simply glance at our type and be able to read it, we need to make sure our type is well legible. If it takes people a few seconds to work out what our type actually says, the likelihood is that they aren’t even going to put the effort in to try and read it. Imagine that. Therefore balancing personality with legibility in your titles and headlines is paramount.
The first choice you are going to make when deciding on a typeface is, what will work best - a Serif typeface, a Sans Serif typeface, a decorative typeface, or a script typeface?
A Serif is a typeface with a little stroke attached to the end of the main strokes of the characters, and a Sans Serif is a typeface with characters that don’t have these strokes.