It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.

Do you want your brand to be perceived as warm and friendly? Or formal and structured? Do you want to inspire feelings of fun and connection? Or do you want to establish yourself as a trusted leader? Whatever brand identity you want to introduce (or reinforce), it’s important to keep two important rules in mind:

  1. Delivery is just as important as the message!
  2. Details count.

People are wired for visual cues, which often pack a much heftier punch than the written word. In fact, our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Attention-grabbing, memorable, and emotionally compelling, visuals tell an instant story. Since humans are visual by nature, it’s extra (extra) important to make sure that ALL of the graphic elements associated with your company send the right message—starting with your brand’s typography.

Let’s Take It from the Top—What’s a Typeface?

When we refer to typeface, we’re talking about the design characteristics that make up a specific style of lettering. Think Times New Roman, Helvetica, Gibson, Bely Display, Nunito… you get the idea.

Anything that involves text—from your logo to your website, from emails to brochures, from newsletters to digital advertising and so much more—includes typography. That makes it a powerful tool for building brand identity and influencing customer sentiment. The act of organizing type and arranging text is a true art form—one that reflects value, shapes tone, and helps you connect with audiences in nuanced ways.

There are thousands of typefaces to choose from (with more created every day), and there’s an entire psychology related to how typography impacts more obvious things (like readability) and more philosophical things (like mood and emotional response). When selecting a typeface, it’s important to understand how audiences might perceive and react. So, let’s explore all the different options.

Typography – from A to Z

Serif: The Tried, True, and Traditional Typeface

Serif typefaces, which contain projecting features (serifs) at the end of their strokes, give a more traditional, formal impression. The OG of typefaces, this one goes back—waaaaay back. This typeface is said to have originated from the first official Greek writings on stone and in the Latin alphabet…at least according to Wikipedia. Today, serif is considered a classic typeface that’s often associated with the logos of luxury brands: Vogue, Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Rolex, etc.

Widely used in newspapers, books, and magazines, serif typefaces can evoke sentiments of intellect, heritage, tradition, and sophistication. Because of their fine details, serif typefaces are often thought to hinder readability on screens, especially mobile devices. That’s probably why you haven’t seen this typeface as much lately. That being said, serif typefaces carry a unique charm and eloquence that may inspire a comeback. Don’t count this typeface out yet!

Examples: Times New Roman, Caslon, and Playfair
Sentiments Serif Can Inspire: History, traditional, eloquence
Cons: Can be difficult to read on screens and mobile devices. Serifs can also be perceived as old-fashioned and stuffy.

Slab Serif: The Bold Choice

Heavy, bold, and distinctive, slab serif typefaces have a squared-off serif—one that’s more dramatic than the serif counterpart. With lots of flair and heaps of personality, the slab serif is a memorable and eye-catching choice— conveying a deeper sense of authority and strength. That may be why they were the typeface of choice for “wanted” posters back in the 1800s. And it could also be why big businesses (such as Sony, Honda, and Volvo) opt for slab serifs. BUT, there’s a disclaimer; slab serifs should only be used for short bursts of copy (like headlines and logos). They’re not ideal for large bodies of text.

Examples: Roboto Slab and Clarendon
Sentiments Serif Can Inspire: Power, drama, strength, distinction
Cons: Can be difficult to read when applied to larger bodies of text.

Sans Serif: The Poised and Popular Pick

First invented in the 19th century, sans serif typefaces are all the rage. They convey a contemporary sense of progression, innovation, adventure, minimalism, and approachability. Easy to read (particularly on screens and mobile devices) and easy to manipulate and apply, sans serif typefaces have become the most prevalent and dominating of all typefaces—particularly in the marketing world. Simple and clean, sans serifs are versatile, legible, and sensible. It’s no surprise they’re the typeface of choice for a wide range of brands, including Facebook, Apple, Nike, Pepsi, and countless others.

Examples: Helvetica and Gotham
Sentiments Serif Can Inspire: Innovation, readability, contemporary ease, approachability, modern flair
Cons: Used frequently, this typeface can feel less memorable and offer a little less personality than other choices. On the plus side, this does allow for versatile design application.

Script: The Epitome of Elegance

Elegant, fluid, and artistic, script typefaces mimic traditional handwriting and classic calligraphy. Decorative, eclectic, and memorable, they’re often used in small doses—applied purposefully to incite a sense of nostalgia, creativity, and eccentricity. Script typefaces can also feel more personal, warm, and inviting. In fact, brands like Barbie, Coca-Cola, and Kellogg’s have retained their iconic script typefaces. Newer brands are jumping on the bandwagon too (i.e., Instagram).

Examples: Pacifico and Coffee Service
Sentiments Serif Can Inspire: Nostalgia, fluidity, elegance, romance
Cons: Application should be kept to display font (like headings and logos) to ensure readability.

Display: The Exhibitionist

If a typeface can’t neatly fit into any of the above categories, it’s likely a unique display typeface. Often applied with heavy stylization, display fonts are used to create a distinct identity, convey a sense of individualism, stand out from the crowd, and inspire increased recall. What are some examples of these novel, eye-catching typefaces? Sega, Fanta, Lego, and Kool-Aid… just to name a few.

How to Choose a Typeface that Works for You

Now that you’re fully educated on typefaces (and are prepped to win a Jeopardy round on the subject matter!), you may be wondering which typeface would work best for your brand. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Understand What You Want to Convey

Consider your audience, your key objectives, and the feelings you want your brand to inspire. Knowing this information will help you determine the typeface that most aligns with the tone you want to reinforce, the connection you want to build, and the personality you want to reflect.

Maintain readability

Above all else, you need to ensure your audience can easily read your message. Improve scanning and create a visual hierarchy by applying varying sizes and weights for headlines and body text. If you plan on using different typefaces, remember to pair wisely! Ensure all elements complement each other in a cohesive way, so your reader isn’t visually fatigued. Don’t forget—less is more! Design best practices indicate that no more than two to three different typefaces should be used at one time.

  • To heighten readability, use fonts with a taller x-height (the height of a font measured from the bottom to the top of a lowercase letter).
  • Don’t write long lines of text in ALL CAPS unless you want your audiences to think you’re YELLING AT THEM. It’s too tough to read and doesn’t send a positive brand message.

Consider your medium

How are your audiences going to be viewing your message? Online? On printed materials? On mobile devices? The answers to these questions (along with ALLLLL the information and tips we’ve shared) will equip you to make the best choices for functional, legible, and brand-aligned typefaces.

Be true to your brand

If you have a brand style guide in place (where brand typography is documented), make sure you’re following it! Maintaining consistency and upholding your brand identity are key to building brand recognition and inspiring trust with both current and prospective customers.

Have questions?

Now that you have a basic understanding of the essentials of typography, you may have more questions about your brand identity. Luckily, our creative and strategic experts are here to help. Reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you and explore this topic in greater detail!