Can typography tell a story? Can the design of a typeface, the width of the strokes and the presence of a serif affect the way that we perceive a message? I would answer with a resounding yes.
In this post I would like to unpack how to effectively pair typefaces with our marketing messages to support our overall communication objectives. So lets get started.
When discussing typography and its use in different marketing environments I believe it’s important to first define two separate but complementary concepts. The concepts are: visual language and verbal language.
Visual language: is the meaning created by the visual appearance of the typeface.
Verbal language: is the literal meaning of the words.
It’s these two concepts working together in tandem that allows marketers to successfully convey an impactful message to their audience.
So how do we ensure that we are using the proper fonts to support our marketing messages? To understand how to use typography, we must first have a clear understanding of how typefaces are perceived by society. Type falls into three overarching categories: serifs, san-serifs and scripts. Below is a brief definition of each typeface, an explanation of each font categories perception, and a few of my favorite typefaces.
This refers to a small line tailing from the edge of each one of the letters. Fonts like Times New Roman have short projections at the top and the bottom on each character; these short projections are the serifs.
Serif fonts typically denote formality. The perceptions associated with these fonts are: delicate, expensive, warm and old. Serif fonts are most commonly used in more formal marketing applications.
Beautiful Serif Fonts
Corporate A Std:
This is a font that is devoid of a serif, so it has no line attached to the end of the character.
Serif fonts are associated with less formal correspondence. The perceptions associated with these fonts are: young, cool, modern and rugged.
Beautiful San-Serif Fonts
FF Milio Web Thin:
Freight Sans Medium SC Web:
Script fonts are cursive or handwritten fonts. They produce an elegant feel and are appropriate for headlines and decorations.
Script fonts are associated with the following characteristics: feminine, beautiful, expensive, soft, delicate, relaxed, quiet, happy, and warm.
Beautiful Script Fonts
PF Champion Script Pro:
Selecting The Right Fonts for Your Marketing
As you build out your marketing copy, it’s imperative that your content’s message influence your typography design elements.
- Think through the message that you are trying to convey.
- How would you like your writing tone to come across? Casual, friendly, formal, or sarcastic?
- What are the emotions that you would like to evoke from your reader?
- What is the purpose of the message? Is it to deliver information or to drive conversions?
Once you have answered these questions you can effectively assign a font family that supports your overall communication goal. Remember that the typography you choose, the font weight you select, and the color that you assign can either support or detract from the message you are trying to communicate. So choose your typography elements wisely for your next piece of marketing collateral.
A Case Example
For the second half of this post I interviewed a close friend, designer, and talented typographer Jordan Fretz. In his current role Jordan develops logo concepts and typography designs for clients of Jackson Marketing Group. Recently I sat down with Jordan to discuss the typography creation process as it pertained to a motorsports logo that he created for Jackson Marketing Group. Below are the contents of the interview:
Pavoni: “What did your typography concepting process entail for the Jackson Motorsports Logo”?
Fretz: “As I was working on the typography for the logo, I was trying to think through common elements that would resonate with the motorsports enthusiast crowd. Things like engines, tires, and apparel. Then I stumbled upon the idea of using a racing helmet for the typography.
Pavoni: “Once you came up with the helmet concept how did you develop that into a typeface?
Fretz: “When I am working to develop a typeface I typically like to start out with a pencil and paper and draw out some different concept ideas. However, before I started to draw, I researched a bunch of different motorcycle and racing helmets via google images and industry websites. Then I started drawing my own on a sketch pad.”
“Once I had a helmet concept that I was happy with, I took the angles from the helmet and decided to use them in the development of my typeface. “
Pavoni: “What were some of the other elements that you were cognizant of incorporating into the typography?”
Fretz: “Well, being that the concept was for a motorsports logo I wanted the typography to be tough, modern, and edgy. I think the concept that I was able to develop clearly incorporated these element into the typography.
Here is a short video that showcases the ideation and development process of the Jackson Motorsports logo.
Jackson Motorsports New Logo Introduction from Jordan Fretz on Vimeo.
Typography is an incredibly powerful design tool that marketers can use to enhance their communication. Effective typography marries the use of both visual language and verbal language to stimulate a visceral response in the reader.
So carefully select your typeface, font weight, color, size and spacing to deliver marketing messages that resonate with your target audience.
For those of us who don’t deal in fonts every day, the number of fonts on offer can seem overwhelming – but it doesn’t have to be.
Serif vs sans serif
Fonts generally fall into two categories – serif and sans serif. Those with small projecting features are known as serifs. Examples include Times New Roman, Garamond and Bookman Old Style.
Fonts that lack these small projecting features are called sans serif (from the French for ‘without’, but usually pronounced ‘sanns’ by printers). Arial, Helvetica and Verdana are the most common. They’re usually used online, but are becoming increasingly acceptable in printed materials.
Print vs screen
The generally accepted wisdom is that serifed typefaces are better for printed material, because the serifs guide the reader’s eye along the line.
However, as the eye doesn’t travel in a smooth line when reading, but in quick jumps known as ‘saccades’, this argument is questionable. In fact, it’s so traditional to use serif for printed material that using sans serif can be a statement of modernity or even (small) rebellion.
Serif fonts aren’t usually used for text intended to be read on screen because on lower-resolution screens the serifs can look fuzzy and inhibit readability. However, some serif fonts, such as Georgia, have been specifically designed to display well even on low-resolution screens (and you can see it in action on the New York Times website).
So are serif fonts more readable than sans serif, or vice versa? In a word, no. Ask a graphic designer or an editor, and they’re almost certain to give you their personal opinion one way or the other, but studies into readability generally find little or no difference. As user experience consultant Alex Poole says, ‘if there is a difference, it is too small to worry about’.
Reader expectation, however, does have an impact on readability. Hand someone a 50-page report in a sans serif font, and the unfamiliarity of it may well strike a blow. Likewise, people don’t expect to read newspaper-style fonts online. If you’re using one as a conscious style choice, go for it – just be sure it’s justified. (By which we mean that you have justification for it, not that it fits snugly to both sides of the page.)
It’s worth noting that as the quality and resolution of computer screens increases, this distinction is likely to fade. For now, though, it remains.
Fonts often look their best when paired in a complementary fashion, where one is used for headlines and another for body text. A good rule of thumb is to use serif for headlines if the body text is in sans serif, and vice versa. But fonts from the same ‘family’, such as Lucida Sans and Lucida Bright, also often work well together. As a general rule, don’t use more than two fonts on a page, unless you’re confident you have good reason. For variation, use different weights or styles within the same family.
When pairing fonts, have a quick look at the proportion of the ascenders and descenders (the tails on your ds and ps, for example) in relation to the letters as a whole. Try to use fonts with similar proportions.
For something that will be read online, the default safe option is Arial for the body text and Times New Roman for the headline. Or you could try Helvetica for the body and Century Schoolbook for headings. For print, if you’re fed up with Times New Roman, try Garamond for the body text and contrasting it with Frutiger or Futura for the headlines. Font availability varies depending on your software and whether you’re using a PC or a Mac, so for comprehensive lists, see Will Harris’s list of font pairs and Douglas Bonneville’s 19 top fonts in 19 combinations.
The final decision is a matter of judging which one looks most suitable for your message. People can have very different opinions on what ‘looks right’, so there are few hard rules. Generally, serif typefaces appear more traditional, and sans serif typefaces look more modern.
Give some thought to the impression you want to give (and if you’re in any doubt about the impact a font can have, take a quick scroll through these typographical posters). Take into account the intended audience, your own brand identity and the surrounding colour and design. Fonts can have quite distinct personalities. Helvetica, for example, is clean, crisp and neutral. Gill Sans has a 1950s Voice of Authority feeling to it (the BBC use it, and it’s also very close to the now-ubiquitous Keep Calm and Carry On poster). Times New Roman has a certain sense of ‘I’ve not given it any thought, so I’ve used Word’s default font’.
Bear in mind, though, that if the font you want isn’t available in standard packages and you have to buy it in especially, it’s possible that your readers – if they’re reading online – won’t have access to it. In which case, their software or browser will use a substitute font, and there’s no telling how that might change the overall presentation. So, unless your document will be read only in print or on PDF, keep it simple and only use widely available fonts.
Experiment with different combinations, but unless you’re thinking of a whole brand overhaul (in which case, contact a designer, and be prepared for a long and impassioned conversation) don’t overthink it. If it looks good, it’s easy to read and it’ll work on most computers, you can’t go far wrong.