The opening sequence of Feud: Bette and Joan by Prologue
If I ask you to think of any one of the most talked-about streaming series in recent years, chances are you will immediately conjure in your mind the show’s headline title with its often-iconic typeface.
Much has already been said of these now-famous title sequences, but less often discussed is how typography and orthographic design has recently found a new starring role, thanks to the meteoric rise of streaming services.
Intense competition for the attention and loyalty of the ‘peak TV’ generation has underlined type’s role as a powerful branding tool, capable of playing a central part in building the identity of a show as well as its marketing.
An indispensable branding tool
Type design has held an important role in film since the 1950s, when Hollywood’s studios were at their height and legendary designers such as Saul Bass began to experiment with daring new animation techniques for films such as North by Northwest and Vertigo.
The poster work of Saul Bass
With the emergence of streaming services and the sheer volume of content being created, typography has become an indispensable tool for production companies wanting their show’s brand to stand out from the crowd.
Title design has grown in relevance and experienced a major boom in the last five years, and increasingly elaborate design devices are becoming de rigueur for any self-respecting TV series.
In the modern, saturated streaming market, typography sets the tone to create a more impactful and comprehensive brand identity and gain a foothold in viewers’ memories.
At the same time, synergy between online platforms and social media can furnish a typographic identity with a life of its own, through the proliferation of memes, font generators or even being co-opted by fast-moving fashion brands, looking to capitalise on the latest hit show. Increasingly at Monotype, we’re seeing creative teams within studios seek out typefaces that work not only on-screen, but across all mediums, and consider how they’ll extend across mobile, outdoor, social, VR and even apparel.
The rise of trailer titles
As the streaming sector becomes ever more crowded with content seeking to stand out, typography is now getting top billing. Individual typefaces are becoming synonymous with the worlds created in these series.
For instance, the Game of Thrones title sequence would look much different if a regular serif typeface, flat and without embellishments, adorned the map of Westeros, or if the type used for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel title wasn’t instantly associated with 1950’s Americana.
Streaming also gives show creators and their audiences a new freedom to focus on title sequences without having to worry about commercial breaks. These sequences are like their own short movies – they break out across social media and serve as their own teaser trailer.
Brands, businesses and YouTubers co-opt well-loved sequences and offer their own ‘take offs’ – often to comic effect. The most successful show titles, with typography front and centre, can spawn hundreds of homages, so much so that audiences regard them as part of a wider cultural zeitgeist, not merely the credits of a particular show.
A tool by digital creative David Arcus uses AI to read a picture and develop a Stranger Things poster
Of course, some shows seek to stand out by not having an elaborate title sequence. They jump straight into the action with a pared-back title and simply present the show’s logo over the scene. Even so, typography still remains central. The power of typography works on a subconscious level, and remains absolutely essential to setting the tone for a story and its narrative.
Some streaming services, having helped the rise of the title sequence, are now allowing users to skip the intro. While some viewers binging on a series may choose to save a few minutes by skipping the opening sequence, there are no signs that producers are investing less in the design of their show titles.
Elaborate sequences and their typography remain central to a show’s ability to convey meaning, emotion and brand essence, and get a fickle audience hooked immediately.
Brett Zucker is executive vice-president and chief marketing officer, Monotype.