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The Right Typeface: Not All Fonts Are Created Equal

The Right Typeface: Not All Fonts Are Created Equal The Right Typeface: Not All Fonts Are Created Equal The Right Typeface: Not All Fonts Are Created Equal The Right Typeface: Not All Fonts Are Created Equal
08/15/14
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by Hilary Martin
Do you notice the difference between these two signs?

chambers

Probably not--unless you are a typeface fanatic. The sign on the right is in Sans Serif, while the one of the left is in Helvetica. And even though the difference seems negligible to most of us, many graphic designers would argue that it matters. Different fonts—even those that appear similarly—conjure different perceptions.

While there is not necessarily a causal relationship between typeface and brand equity, there is definitely a correlation that businesses can leverage where positive and heed where negative to change their perceptual imagery.

The first notable pattern is that brands that pick the same typeface often have similar brand equities. We see this in the BAV data. For instance, brands that use Helvetica—like American Airlines and Sears—often fall into the mass market. But brands that use Futura—like Hulu and all Wes Anderson movies—often fall into the Niche category. Trajan, Hollywood’s favorite typeface, tends to correspond to brands in the leadership class.

font power grid

And while businesses may not be able to use typeface alone to become a leader, they can certainly use it to shape their perceptual imagery. One way to illustrate this is to look at logos in the “wrong” font. For instance, the Hulu logo (which uses the niche Futura) in Helvetica (a mass market typeface) looks quite different:

hulu

When altered, the logo no longer matches our perception of the brand. That is, the formerly fun and trendy Hulu now appears more down to earth and traditional. The sidebar enumerates additional corresponding BAV brand attributes to each respective font.

Another way to show how typeface can shape a brand’s imagery is by examining altered perceptions after a change in font. One such switch was the New York Subway’s transition from Sans Serif to Helvetica in the late 1980s. Originally, the system was perceived as confusing and disparate. And so the switch to Helvetica was part of a greater plan to add order and reliability–both attributes that are closely associated with brands that use Helvetica—to the transit system.

street

After the switch was fully implemented in 1989, perceptions of the subway have continued to improve steadily to this day, and the reliable Helvetica has become the official typeface of New York.

What this reveals is that carefully selecting a typeface can make it easier for brands to control their perceptual imagery. And that changing a font alters perceptual imagery. So much of a brand’s perception is comprised not of overt judgments, but of subconscious ones—and the subconscious is exactly what typeface piques. By carefully examining which typefaces solicit which associations, it subsequently becomes possible for brands to visually channel consumers’ preconceived notions and, as a result, to take greater control their own identities.

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