Visual Identity

Invest in Typography

7 min read

Invest in Typography

very word in this article you're reading right now had a graphic designer involved in its creation. Every single letter. Every single piece of punctuation. Down to the shape of the period at the end of this sentence.

There’s the typographers who designed every single letter of the font used, one character at a time.

There’s the graphic designers who determined the spacing, the weight, the kerning (how much space goes between each letter), the layout, and the rhythm as you read.

When most people look at a sentence, they analyze the value of the sentence's meaning. They’re focused on reading and comprehending the symbols. But when it comes to branding, we look deeper. The font family of your brand can be the difference between a customer being able to read your website or not. Or blending in with every other competitor website or not. World-renowned graphic designer Michael Beirut compared a graphic designer choosing a font to a casting director picking an actor for a movie: "What kind of characters do you want to speak these lines?"

It’s the reason why lawyers don’t send a cease and desist letter typed out in Comic Sans. Wrong personality for the lines that need to be said.

Typography should never be an afterthought.

So when we look at a brand, what role does typography play?

Take a moment to envision all of the places within your brand where something is typed out. Your business card, your product design, your ads, your presentation decks. It’s everywhere. A brand’s core visual identity is composed of three ingredients: logo, color, and typography. Of course there may be patterns and illustrations and photography involved, but logo, color, and typography are foundational. Coherent brands understand the value of typography as a key ingredient; it allows them to mark every surface with their distinct visual communication style. Typography is the visual vehicle for the verbal brand language. It is how our words are brought to life. Honest and well-crafted typography communicates credibility and authority — no matter the content.

And when the chord is struck just right, the typography can sing with emotion and imagination.

SRV Alphabet BLK
SRV Specimen 03

Serverless custom typeface.

Investing in Typography

A formal design process during brand work will assess typography across the competitive landscape. It will also uncover how best to align the brand voice and tone in writing with the visually typographic voice in practice.

If you are considering investing in an identity design (or redesign), typography should be a budgeted item, just like any other visual asset (photography, motion, illustration, and more). Similar to photography, the cost of a typeface can vary depending on the foundry and their licensing options. The options typically fall into three categories:

Free Fonts
Premium Type
Custom Type

Free Fonts

Google Fonts or the fonts that come pre-installed on your computer like Arial and Times New Roman may come to mind when you think of free fonts. They are fonts that are free to use and widely available — Google Fonts touts how their font library is used by billions across the web. While free fonts allow for greater affordability and access, it also means these fonts are seen and used everywhere, the opposite of unique. Moreover, free fonts are often designed to appeal to as many potential users as possible: clean, simple, unobjectionable. And when you choose a free font to represent your organization, know that anyone else can — and will — choose that font too.

Imagine choosing a free font as your brand typeface: Your customers come to associate that typography with your brand. But then a weird combination laundromat/clown store opens up down the block from one of your customers, and they are using that same free font. Are they connected to your brand? Definitely not! But it feels confusing, particularly as certain fonts gain popularity and quickly oversaturate markets.

Premium Type

Premium fonts are fonts that are paid for their use. Their access is limited to those who purchase them. A premium font is chosen to solve a design problem, in which case a brand designer searches to align the problem with the solution, to input an appropriate font. With premium fonts, there is a greater opportunity for your typography to embrace your brand’s unique set of values, attributes, brand goals and more in a powerfully unique way. Premium typography is a foundational way to enhance distinction in your brand. After all, the end goal of a successful identity design is distinction.

Custom Type

Custom typeface design is the crowning distinction in brand identity design. Unique typography, designed and set aside for a specific brand name, is a clear and emotive way to create brand awareness and customer connection. Custom typography can manifest as a fully tailored logotype or a completely custom-built alphabet for a brand.

Over time we’ve had the opportunity to create unique and functional fonts for our clients. Informed by strategy, we can create exact solutions for the problem at hand. We even created a custom typeface, Focus Display, when we rebranded.

Fl ampersand
Fl cloister

So how much does a font (family) cost?

Since there is no single industry standard for font pricing, the rubric varies depending on the foundry. A branding agency or foundry itself should be able to help guide you on the recommended licensing solution for your team. Generally speaking, it is a combined total based on a number of factors which can include: number of team members (seats) using the fonts, monthly page views to a website, and mobile app usage (usually a flat rate).

As an example, a company with a team of 10 with a website generating 100,000 monthly pageviews might pay $1,000 to license a full font family (with regular, italic, bold, and so on) as a one-time cost (not monthly or recurring). Another example might be a team of 100 with a website generating 1 million unique monthly page views to their website paying a one-time $10,000 for their font licensing.

Although dependent on a number of factors, smaller teams can generally budget for several hundred dollars to a thousand dollars, while enterprise-level companies and global organizations can go into the tens of thousands for high-end typography. Alternatively, custom typography is a sizable upfront investment, but you’ll own it outright and won’t have cost increases as your organization scales (and always read the licensing agreement before making any purchase).

Premium typography is an invaluable asset as a visual differentiator.​

Ultimately, the goal of a visual identity system is to signify a brand, to create distinction. A logo establishes distinction but is only a single symbol. How can a texture of distinction seamlessly wrap an entire visual system? Unique typography. Premium typography then becomes an invaluable asset as a visual differentiator.

If any of this sounds interesting or confusing, just ask us. This is what we do.

This piece has been updated to reflect new perspectives on typography's role in visual identity, and to provide more context about the different types of fonts brands may utilize.

Photos by Roman Synkevych and Giorgio Trovato on Unsplash

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