How To Choose Your Brand Typography

Julian Wan
August 18, 2020
Make your brand's development easier by following this simple system for choosing your brand typography quickly and easily.

Identity Pop curates fonts for your brand's visual identity that build your identity through words on a page. That's the power of good brand typography. The trick to strong typography in branding is to ensure that all core branding elements play nicely with each other. Brand typography needs qualities that ensure ongoing harmony.

Core Branding elements

  • Brand Mark (Logos, etc...)
  • Brand Colors
  • Brand Typography Each of these core elements are tricky. It's a challenge to uncover that perfect balance in a logo. Colors mean so much on first impact, yet understanding color systems is daunting. And typography — more than any other element, may be the most challenging for new businesses.

Defining Typographic Terms

Before jumping in, let's recall the history of typography. Just as photographers have used language like "Focal Length" and "Aperture" for over a century, certain typographic terms haven't changed either. Namely, "typefaces" and "fonts" are very different things. A font is one variation of the type face, and the typeface is the complete collection of bold, italic, thin, variations of similar fonts. So for branding, you are choosing among typefaces, each full of many font variations, to determine the look and feel of your words. Ok, so let's get to it.

How to Develop Your Brand Typography in 4 Steps

You are about to go on a typographic treasure hunt. It should be fun. However, keep in mind that once you're done with this process, you will have 2-3 typefaces chosen from countless possibilities.

Step 1: Decide on free, licensed, or custom typography

To narrow your options, first decide if you want a free font, a licensed font, or a custom font. This is like choosing between taking public transport, hiring an Uber, or flying private. Ultimately, it's about getting to your destination, which is a beautiful brand.

Free typefaces have pros and cons

  • **Pro: **They’re free and easily found.
  • **Con: **They’re off the shelf and sometimes generic. Google Fonts is a great font provider that guarantees cross-platform consistency. But if it's free for you, it's free for everyone. And if someone else is using your brand's fonts, it can become associated with you as well. That said, there are so many free font outlets that you will always find something worthwhile:
  • Font Squirrel
  • Font Library
  • Fontface Ninja
  • Google Fonts

Licensed typefaces can get expensive

  • **Pro: **There is a huge variety of beautiful well-priced options
  • **Con: **Things can get expensive quickly. Licensed typefaces can give you extra creative options, flair, and flexibility, but when we say the costs add up — we mean it. Each person who designs with a licensed typeface needs a license, and that includes freelancers. And then each platform requires a different license, one for websites, another license for publishing, and another for apps. If you are comfortable paying these licensing fees, here's where to start looking:
  • FontShop
  • Linotype Library of Fonts
  • Typekit

Custom typefaces are a different beautiful beast altogether

  • **Pro: **Entirely unique, yours and yours alone
  • **Con: **Ain't nobody got time for that. Building a complete brand typography system from scratch is a huge undertaking. You will need trusted designers and a process to approve each curve and character across entire alphabets, weights, numbers, symbols, and more. For the big brands, this can make sense. Famously, Netflix created Netflix Sans to save “millions” on font licensing. Go custom with these foundries:
  • Fontstruct
  • Font Shop
  • Glyphs
  • Robofont
  • MCKL Type
  • Delve Fonts

Step 2: Bookmark your options

Time to start shopping. Novices will seek out fonts that make them "feel good" or that "look cool" without maintaining a smart system of sorting. When hunting for a typeface, you want to hit these criteria:

  1. Flexibility — is your typeface going to allow you to work with it in all the places you need it?
  2. Memorable — will your typeface stand out and make an impact, or will it fade into obscurity as copy on a page?
  3. Complete — you may love a typeface with a beautiful bold font, but is it missing characters or an italicized variation?
  4. Complementary — will your typeface actually strengthen your other core brand elements, and play nice? Or is it muddled and mixed.
  5. Legible — the alphabet is a revolutionary human invention for a reason, but illegible type takes all the magic away. You should keep these 5 items in mind and choose roughly 5 typefaces that qualify for step 3. As a final test, make sure you look at common letters and numbers that often appear the same. A lowercase l (L) and a capital I (i) are sometimes the same.

Step 3: Do some font pairings

Here's the mad scientist part of this tutorial. You're going to permute your font options into pairings (aren't you happy you only picked 5?) and see how they look together. You want to walk away from this choosing 3 (at most) options, eliminating at least 2. A few helpful tools to make brand typography pairing and experimenting easier:

Step 4: Design your font hierarchy

Once you’ve shortlisted a few typefaces, you'll put together a hierarchy that lets designers know how to use your fonts in a logical and intuitive way. These are rules for use. From your shortlist, identity which typeface is your:

  • Primary option: Default and used most often. It's the hero of your typographic family.
  • Secondary option: This is your hero font's sidekick, it's used as a complementary pair. The Robin to your Batman.
  • Tertiary option: This can be used for occasional accents, like the "Pow" in classic Batman. Now, give your brand typography a job. You will choose one font, size, and setting for each of the basic categories of word layout:
  • Headers
  • Subheads
  • Body copy
  • Callouts
  • Pull quotes
  • Product packaging If you want a team of experts to walk you through your options and show you what's possible — contact us. We will build a beautiful brand together.
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