Making Fonts Work for Your Customers

This Font Knowledge article series discusses how font awareness can increase revenue and involve your print company earlier in the project development cycle.

Running a printing business in the 21st century means offering full service, one-stop shopping, including a full range of graphic design capabilities.  You need to be able to match fonts currently used by a brand in a variety of media and also recommend the best new fonts to make the right impression with a document.

This article is our third installment in a series about fonts and typography.  In our first article, we reviewed the history of the art form. We discussed the tension between form and function and the debate between typographers inspired by calligraphy and those who look more to the principles of geometry. 

Then in our second instalment, we reviewed font categories.  Within the broad divisions of serif and sans serif styles, we saw that most fonts fall into subcategories; the humanist (old-style/grotesque), intermediate (transitional/neo-grotesque) and the modern (didone/geometric).

Font Choices Affect Reader’s Experience Through Perception and Meaning

In this article, we’ll think about the role fonts play in the print world of the 21st century.  Font choices contribute to the reader's experience.  They do this in two ways, perception and meaning.  Marketing expert Nick Kolenda explains this in detail in his article Font Psychology.

A font’s appearance triggers visual cues from daily life.  We can all perceive traits like weight, size, proximity and speed without formally studying the graphic arts.

We automatically associate weighty fonts with strength, tall fonts with lightness and angled fonts with speed, for example.  Aligning these perceptions with our message reinforces the underlying mood just as a stirring music score enhances a film without intruding on the action.

Fonts also carry meanings.  The history of typography has imbued us all with some cultural norms.

To begin with, those of us of a certain age learned to read from books printed in Century Schoolbook.  Most other textbooks we read throughout our academic career used the same font.  Designers still use Century Schoolbook to give the impression that their content is definitive.

Similarly, we’ve all seen Helvetica on signage and government forms.  It represents dependable authority for most of us.  We see Helvetica as the font we can rely on.

On the other hand, those of us whose misspent youth included comic books have trouble taking any document printed in Comic Sans seriously.  Satirists can use that font alone to elicit laughs from an otherwise deadpan text.

Shared Experience and Context of Every Word We’ve Ever Read

It's undeniable that changing fonts impacts reader response.  Fonts do that because of our shared experience, and due to the graphical context of every printed word we've ever read. 

The challenge for marketers is to learn to harness the influence of fonts to evoke the intended reader response for our brands.  Typographers have long-established ways of doing this.

Contemporary printing businesses can master these techniques and use them to provide a more comprehensive service offering.  Knowing the rules of typography, when to follow them and when to creatively break them can make your business stand out in the crowd.

Step one is to establish a standard font for every brand.  Accomplishing this may involve taking a brand inventory if a business hasn't done that in a while.

A case in point is Coca-Cola. Its iconic script wordmark with the time-honored Spencerian font has been around for more than 130 years.

Yet, in 2018, despite its worldwide visual identity, James Sommerville, VP of Global Design, announced that the fonts Coke used in ad copy were the "forgotten part of the jigsaw."

Coca-Cola, Apple and Google All Have Custom-Designed Fonts

Coca-Cola joined brands like Apple, Google, IBM and Netflix in declaring one, custom-designed, standard typeface for use across all media.  Coke’s new font is called TCCC Unity. It balances calligraphy and geometry to express the "uplifting, positive moments" the brand represents.

Closer to home, let’s look at some typical brands and font decisions a full-service printer could support. We should start with a disclaimer.  There will always be exceptions, and when you know what you're doing, breaking the rules may be the best way to apply them.

Let’s start with a local accounting firm.  Their work involves tax advice and preparation, audits and financial planning for other small businesses around town. The firm’s brand entails authoritative competence and trust.  They want their clients to feel confident and secure.

Based on that, this firm might choose a transitional serif font.  These sans serif fonts have been favourites of form designers for decades.  Presenting ad copy in this font projects reliability.

What about a high-end fashion boutique?  They've positioned themselves as providing ladies apparel with elegance and sophistication.

The shop keeps current with the fashion industry and stocks elegant and luxurious styles.  They have to do this because their customers and competitors stay in tune with the latest looks and trends.

This brand would be well-served by the didone fonts. These modern serifs maintain a traditional link to elegance while displaying a chic, feminine character.

The brand needs of a British pub down the street would change again.  This pub works to project an old-world image of quality tied to the rich history of the U.K.

Their brand projects an ambience of tradition, comfort and nostalgia. Their customers are discerning, and many of them were born in the British Isles, so they know what's authentic and what's not (at least, as they remember it!)

A font from the old-style serif family would fit the bill here.  These fonts evoke the charm of the Victorian era.  They are elegant, familiar and nostalgic.

A local realtor would be using yet another branding strategy.  This company works to project a friendly and familiar, homestyle image. The brand is family-centred and promotes the brokerage’s experience and reputation. They also position themselves as down to earth and hassle-free.

The humanist category of sans serif fonts would be a sound choice for this brand. Humanist fonts have informal charm along with the practical elegance and sharpness homeowners look for in a broker.

Once the realtor makes those deals, a local law firm will take charge of closing the transaction.  Imagine a firm that prides itself on maintaining high professional standards, providing quality services and sharing proactive advice.

The firm is convenient and accessible to its clients.  It offers a sound and practical approach to the practice of law.

Our attorneys would be well represented by the transitional serif font category.  Readers find these typefaces familiar and authoritative.  Transitional serifs have a dignified yet forward-looking appearance that would complement this brand very well.

Finally, think of a consumer electronics store.  This brand looks to the future.  Its customers are early adopters of the latest digital tools and gadgets. The company stays one step ahead of its customers, continually offering "the latest thing."  They don't ask, "what will they think of next?"  They already know.

Brands like this often draw from geometric fonts.  They project a forward-thinking image that is technical, modern and futuristic.  At the same time, geometric fonts look businesslike and efficient.

Those were some quick matches that brands and printers could make with well-suited fonts to drive their strategies.  Bear in mind that they’re only a broad-brush of what understanding generic font categories can do for marketers and their products.

Successful Brands Use Specific, Tailor-Made Fonts

The most successful brands use specific font styles that are tailor-made (sometimes literally) for the image they intend to project.  With roughly 250,000 fonts available online today, it takes expertise to find just the right font within a category to resonate with a brand’s reputation.

That’s where Dr. FontZ and his COPI Font Team come in. They assist printers and mailers in providing their knowledge of the best in font technology for high-volume production environments. You can learn more at their website

In the next article in this series, we'll cover the skills marketers and printers need to craft a strategic relationship between brands and fonts.  These include historical knowledge, understanding the meaning each font carries, and how to apply font strategies in a range of contexts.

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