Opinion Piece / Creative Review / Type v Tech / Published 2018

The modern brand doesn’t only need to look and feel like the brand, it has to sound, move and interact with other technology like the brand. As brand becomes less of an identity and more of an entity how will typography evolve alongside it?
The font you are reading this in is a workhorse for the publisher, it needs to express the plethora of material they need to publish, whilst maintaining their consistent character across every platform it is read on. Optimised typography has never been so important; it is the drumbeat of a brand, delivering what the audience wants on a day-to-day basis, without compromising the brand’s broader ideology.
Typography is commonly one of the only non-negotiables in a brand’s guidelines. It stands independently as a consistent, an interface between the consumer and provider of information.
Branding exercises continuously spark heated debate, especially around typeface choices and logo design. We need something human yet digital, creative yet assertive, objective and confident yet subjectively personable. Get the balance wrong and anyone with a keyboard becomes a ferocious design critic, and rightly so, they are exactly who we design for.
In Donald Barthelme’s writing from the 1960s he addresses the increasing use of sans-serif fonts in the brandscape, ‘A brand no longer only has to say “this is baking soda” it now has to say “this is modern progressive scientific, nuclear baking soda made by people who are your friends”’.
‘The burden of carrying all these messages falls ultimately on the design and the designer’. This extract was extremely sharp for its time, but since then, the task of the modern typographer/designer has become exponentially tougher, paralleling booms in technology and emerging platforms to which their products need to work. As Barthelme stated, ’The alphabet is staggering under the tremendous variety of functions we ask it to serve’.
The form of a font throughout history has been as much an extension of its modes of creation as to what its final use is. Previous generations of type designers presented process as character. Serif fonts are a legacy of outmoded mediums such as the chisel and the paintbrush. Significance and meaning grew around these embellishments over time.
When designing typography on and for the digital interface, the tools used to create the letterform no longer need to influence the letterforms themselves, the design of a typeface can be solely based on its prospective application and intended meaning. The set of restrictions have shifted along with the role a typeface plays in design; the letterform is now influenced mostly to facilitate optimisation across platforms without losing brand integrity.
What a typeface choice meant in 1960 and what it means on the digital interface is now incomparable. With this in mind, a good knowledge of the history of type is imperative to a branding process and any complication has to be neutralised before launch.
Typefaces aren’t loyal, their meaning almost always strays from the designer’s original intention, once a font leaves the hands of a typographer, it adopts a life of its own. A graphic designer is the only bridge between the typographer’s intention and the typeface application. When choosing a font for a logo, you are channeling the entire chronology of the typeface – how it was made, where it has been and how it will be perceived in the future. You are partly in charge of its reputation; it’s a big responsibility.
The process of choosing the right typeface today is formed of two main factors; historical knowledge and future technological foresight – this is how we progress and although we now have less physical restrictions in creating the form of the typeface, the restrictions have been set culturally since type began.
My colleague told me that he used to subtly re-arrange the furniture in his living room to ‘optimise the flow’, but when his mum came in she immediately noticed and freaked out. It wasn’t the better looking, more functional living room she was opposed to, it was the fact that his mum made an emotional investment in the original. Her personal relationship and pattern of thought associated with the space had been threatened and instead of accepting a few of the changes, she wanted to put everything back to how it was.
This is something I feel we should bear in mind as typographers, designers and creatives today; as we move into new digital spaces, we need to adjust the brand’s furniture without disregarding the organic memories and trust cultivated within the original space. The craft of building and maintaining trust is just as important as the craft of creating something new.

Original article published in Creative Review / March 2018: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/type-v-tech-world-digital-brands/

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