Invest in Typography

Premium typography is a keystone to a successful visual identity system

This piece was originally written for Focus Lab.
Illustration by Liz Kelley

I have written on typography, cost, and value in the past. Read Typography, Branding, and Value for more. This article continues the same narrative but it is not a sequel.

A brand’s core visual identity is composed of three simple ingredients. Of course there are patterns and illustrations and photography, but the ingredients that compose the true essence of a visual identity system are the logo, color, and typography. This trinity creates a holistic visual texture that distinguishes one brand from another.

Typography should never be an afterthought.

When designing visual identity systems it is one of the first things to consider. Coherent brands understand the value of typography as an ingredient of their core visual system; it allows them to mark every surface with their distinct visual communication style.

If you are considering investing in an identity design (or redesign), consider, without question, establishing a budget or setting aside appropriate resources for commercial font licensing or custom typography.

A formal design process will outline 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. Typography is the visual language that is the vehicle for the verbal brand language. Honest and well-crafted typography communicates credibility and authority—no matter the content.

If the chord is struck just right the typography can sing with emotion and imagination.

Free fonts

There are, of course, free (open source) options. Google Fonts comes to mind. Google Fonts touts the usage of their font library in the millions and billions across the web. This defines the opposite of unique.

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/sandwich shop 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! It feels confusing, particularly as certain fonts gain popularity and quickly oversaturate markets.

Moreover, free fonts are often designed to appeal to as many potential users as possible: clean, simple, unobjectionable. Retail (i.e., paid) typography, however, often tries to solve a design problem—in which case a brand designer searches to align the problem with the solution, to input an appropriate font. When brands want to be set apart or distinct in any way, premium typography is low-hanging and well-ripened fruit. The end goal of a successful identity design is distinction; free typography absolves distinction and uniqueness.

Custom type design

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. Whether it is a tailored logotype or a complete alphabet to typeset a headline, custom typography is invaluable for brand recognition and customer relation.

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. Here are a few: Serverless, Atlantic, Galvanize.

So how much does a font (family) cost?

The pricing rubric for font licensing is crude but it is generally based on the number of team members 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 along the lines of $2,000 or $5,000 for their font licensing. Again, that’s a one-time cost for the lifetime license of the font.

Although dependent on a number of factors, smaller teams can generally budget for several hundred dollars, while enterprise-level teams 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.

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.

Back to Writing