As communication becomes increasingly more digital in nature, there’s a vital brand touchpoint which requires more consideration: typeface. As a brand asset, type possesses the ability to subtly convey brand values through the choice of letter shape. When Coca Cola followed in the footsteps of AirBnB, Nokia, General Electric, Intel and BMW to launch its own custom corporate typeface, the new typeface was designed to “encapsulate from Coca-Cola’s past and its American modernist heritage.”
Typeface, or font, is a key brand touchpoint - the majority of brand communications happen through words, which must be presented in a typeface. With hundreds of thousands of existing typeface options available, the decision is whether to invest in an already existing licensed typeface, or have a bespoke one designed for your organization's exact needs.
There are benefits to both choices, but the decision of which to use must be based in knowledge of your brand. As type is a touchpoint that encompasses so many of your brand communications, it can strongly enhance the brand image. Using a brand-relevant typeface is a clever and strategic brand move, which helps center your brand values and present them to every customer you interact with.
“Whether it’s licensing a retail font or creating a bespoke one, a company about to choose a font need to know who they are – they need to have an awareness of what their core values are. This way we won’t choose something that will just look good, but instead can find something that is really them, and really invokes who they are. We spend a lot of time getting into how a brand feels, and figuring out the story it should tell. We believe that's where the real value comes in."
To further understand the value that typeface adds to branding, we took a look at how two of the world’s most recognized enterprises - YouTube and IBM - have incorporated bespoke corporate typeface into their marketing strategies and the impact it’s made to their brand world.
YouTube: logo-inspired typography
YouTube unveiled YouTube Sans, its first ever corporate typeface, to coincide with the launch of YouTube TV, the company's new live streaming service. The simple, bold yet quirky typeface expressed a “uniquely YouTube aesthetic”, with options for different styles within it, including light, medium and bold weights to suit all product and marketing communication.
Detailing the creative process, the design agency Saffron explained that existing brand visuals such as its business logo had to be reconsidered to align with a new typographic system. The YouTube ‘play’ icon was revisited by design teams to ensure its curves and angles were perfect to the point the logo like all good business fonts, could be “typed just like any other letter or symbol”.
Why did YouTube choose a bespoke type? YouTube were in need of a new type as they had been using one originally designed for newspaper print back in 1903, and due to the range of devices YouTube is used on, it was important to ensure accessibility by creating a type that could be optimized for both small screens, such as mobile phones, and also large cinema-style screens. Another factor of importance for font choice was ensuring a minimalistic form that held the brand together. As YouTube is a holder channel for different content types, it's a brand that needed to be minimalistic to allow users' content to shine, but also a brand which is limited in terms of what brand assets it can use. Aside from the logo and the font, there are not many ways in which YouTube can make its brand visible, as its job is to highlight the other content. Through choosing a bespoke font, YouTube ensured the font was a strong brand connector touchpoint, which framed all the content stored on the site accordingly, and meant that the navigation of the site was a place where brand could be apparent.
In closely re-aligning brand visuals in order to create a bespoke corporate branding typeface, greater consistency was added to the YouTube brand; with each design element instantly recognizable in its own right. Standing out amongst competitors in a fast moving industry, YouTube now has a modern font that “can communicate its brand with only a glance.”
IBM: the death of Helvetica
After a century of utilizing Helvetica Neue, IBM Plex was born last year, and has since become the poster boy for custom corporate typefaces. Designed to be used across all content and platforms, IBM Plex was created after Todd Simmons– IBM’s VP of brand experience and design - realized that IBM's brand was not reflected through anything other than the logo. With numerous other companies using Helvetica, IBM was missing out on a key way to engage users in its unique brand experience.
When discussing the need for a new type which was befitting of the organization in an interview with Fast Company, Simmons reflected on the nature of their brand, stating: “We’re on the front lines of new technologies that are going to transform the way we do things... Helvetica was designed to be neutral. IBM is not a neutral company; it’s an opinionated company”.
To reflect this, the bespoke typeface, IBM Plex, was created to highlight the brand values and purpose of IBM. One aspect of this is the relationship between man and machine that IBM prioritize. To show this, the typeface reflects this relationship, and was a reason for discarding other types suggested in the design process, as they felt too soft and not engineer-relevant enough, or overly rationalized and not human enough. The chosen type hit the middle ground of showing both sides and their relationship. It is also based on a grotesque style, which is a type that originated in the Industrial Age and this was also when IBM began, to show the journey which the organization has been on, as well as reflecting the current and future positioning of the business.
In addition, as a corporate identity typeface IBM Plex promotes brand accessibility. Compared to Helvetica, the typeface lettering takes up less space and is easier to read - particularly as a web font on small screens. As the organization is international, the type has been created for glyphs in 100 different languages to ensure brand coherence regardless of location. Through the creation of IBM Plex, the brand values of IBM shine through and the brand is accessible across all touchpoints.
How to ensure use of new typefaces
Regardless of whether a bespoken type is created or a licensed one is chosen, the most important thing about a type is to ensure it is used by all employees, across all locations.
Mathias Jespersen, head of Playtype type foundry, explains the difficulty:
"The distribution of font is critical for a successful design. Even though we are in 2020, you'd think that this has been solved ages ago, but it has not."
When you've gone through the process of selecting a font that epitomizes your brand, it's a waste of time and money when it's not used properly at the end of it. A font is like any file, it needs to be downloaded, distributed and shared, so any barriers for in this process need to be considered. The technological challenges to font implementation, particularly across multiple different office locations are sizable, but this doesn't mean that there are no solutions. Options such as Templafy's Font Distributor immediately roll out types to the entire organization, and can update the typeface or remove options just as easily, as it expands for new styles or bugs have to be fixed.
Ensure success in font uptake, and enhance your brand through ensuring all brand touch points that include typeface are using the correct one. Every document and email can be a vital brand tool and drive home brand values through using a brand-centered typeface, and the potential power of type as a brand asset is incredibly valuable for your organization.