Typography surrounds us at all times, on all mediums. We see type used on websites, physical products, digital, print and television ads, magazines and on every book cover. The use of type is so pervasive that it ends up becoming invisible to most people. After all, very few people go around saying, “Wow, that’s a nice typeface!”
That being said, typography can communicate a lot of ambient information in an immediate and emotional way. Readers will respond to the size, the different shapes, weight and color of the type as well as bringing their own cultural references to bear before they actually read the words. By using the right typeface, a startup can create a strong emotional impression that, combined with effective messaging, can lead to more successful brand communication.
For example, when Red Antler was considering a typographic approach for Allbirds, a brand that uses premium natural materials to make comfortable and stylish shoes, we needed to find a typeface that would be a counterbalance to the looser script style of the logo. While the logo communicates a curious sense of ease and movement, we wanted the rest of the type to feel very modern and dynamic. In contrast with the logo, which summarily skips along, the headlines feel very bold and direct, connoting a sense of confidence and a no-nonsense attitude.
When thinking about typography as you build a product or site for your startup, you want to think through several key things, including what kind of impression you want to make, and make sure that the typography matches the message and purpose of your communications. Typography is the most effective and meaningful vehicle for your brand personality; not only does typography convey your message, it also communicates your personality, brand attributes (is your brand trustworthy, playful, serious) and your tone of voice.
Below are seven specific things to think about as you explore the world of typography for your startup or business:
1. Understand the value.
Typography is an essential element of your overall brand identity toolkit. Along with your logo and colors, type is one of the core elements that make up your brand identity. While photography and illustration are important to help visualize your offering, no other tool is as immediate, flexible or readily available to you as your typefaces.
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2. Create a distinct and recognizable typographic image with your logo.
While a logo can’t communicate everything about your business, it can help give your audience cues as to who you are and how you might behave. The right type choice can help position your company in a meaningful way. Are you empathetic and accessible, are you trustworthy and credible, are you unique and one of a kind?
3. Find unique opportunities to embed meaning.
Typography can be truly empowering, as it can enable you to create a distinct set of shapes that are memorable. Typography can also position you differently from your competition.
Red Antler’s recent work with GoodUncle, a new food delivery service that gives people access to crave-worthy food no matter where they live, illustrates exactly that. We created a logo that is pretty weird looking, with a stretched G that also doubles as a U. The dripping goopy G evokes the delicious dripping ingredients that makes your mouth water. In this case, we embraced a more unexpected treatment that really brought to life the personality of the Gooduncle name and their unique offering. The primary intention of creating this was that if we pique curiosity in the typeface, then the overall brand experience will be infinitely more memorable.
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4. Be versatile.
As a startup, there’s a lot to communicate, from headlines on your homepage to the detailed FAQ page. You need a selection of typefaces that can speak in different tones and at different volumes depending on the context. It’s important that your type choices complement each other. Strong, logical type hierarchy allows you to communicate the various layers of messaging. For example, bold display for headlines, clear and credible value props, hardworking with great legibility that works at small sizes in print and digital.
5. Sweat the details.
The amount of space you specify between letters, words and lines can impact the overall perception of the message or content. When we are working with a fashion or beauty brand, for instance, we’ll pay particular attention to the spacing of letters in the logo and headlines often adding a lot more space between letters to evoke a sense of elegance and luxury.
6. Invest in quality.
There are thousands of typefaces, and some are better drawn than others. Be wary of badly constructed typefaces for use as a workhorse typeface that needs to service your many needs. The nuances of weight, height, width, thick and thin strokes as well as how the letters relate to each other are all carefully calibrated by an expert typographer. Chose a “cut” that has good pedigree and a large family that gives you adequate flexibility to communicate through the many layers of your business whether it’s a PowerPoint deck, a subway campaign or your “How It Works” web page.
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7. Consider going custom.
A custom typeface is unique to your brand, has the ability to accurately express your tone of voice and brad personality, and if executed well can be as recognizable as your logo. Some challenges do exist, including the need to commit time and budget to enlist an expert typographer to draw the typeface, ensure a tight brief and pick the right partner.
Typography is a powerful tool that, if given the right amount of attention by a founder, can be incredibly valuable as you build your startup brand, and can convey your message and personality in an authentic, understated and effective way.