For the most part, graphic communicators create short-term, one-shot designs. We are used to creating powerful, influential, handsome-graphics that are seen once, maybe twice. They make their point quickly and are then literally tossed aside. Design projects which involve visual identity, however, are more than a one-shot deal. They are long-term graphic investments. An advertising campaign can have a lifespan of several months, publication design can last the lifetime of the publication. packaging is rarely changed — and then only subtly: and corporate identity programs can continue for decades. As designers. we approach these kinds of long-term projects differently than we would the more perishable kinds of work. We think about images, layout, and even color a little differently than we normally would. So it should also be with type.
A DIFFERENT SET OF RULES
The criteria for selecting a typeface that will be part of a visual identity program should be different from that which we use for more ephemeral kinds of graphics. For day-to-day graphic design we might want to use what’s “hot,” what’s “new.” We might be inclined to use a new face our favorite type supplier just announced, or a typeface design used in a particularly good ad we saw recently. Faces like Airedale, Krone, or Spire might be the logical choice. Or, we could stick to the classics: Bodoni, ITC Avant Garde Gothic , or the old standby Times Roman. These might be the faces we would consider using for a typical piece of graphic design work. The problem is that many times what’s hot and new, and even the old standbys. may not be the ideal choice for a company’s product packaging, a building’s signage. or a publication’s visual identity.
There are four simple guideposts for choosing good typefaces for long-term design investments:
Livability is about longevity and comfort. If something is going to he around for awhile, it needs to be able to stand the test of time and remain comfortable while doing so. As a result, typefaces which call attention to themselves are normally not good choices for identity programs. First, these faces tend to be fashionable designs — and we all know what happens to things that are fashionable. No company or product wants to be dated by yesterday’s typeface design. The typefaces you choose for long-term exposure should be of a kind that will not be obviously dated before the identity program is over. The safest bet is to choose a face. or faces, that have been around for awhile. Conservatism in the choice of typefaces for long-term visual identity is usually a good idea.
Pick faces that are not difficult to read, faces that make the message, not the typeface, the most important part of graphic communication. Now, this is where the idea of comfort comes in: mini-skirts were fashionable for a time— and clearly made a strong statement; very high heels were fashionable; inflatable furniture was fashionable. The trouble is, none of this stuff was really comfortable — and none of it is that fashionable anymore. Levis are comfortable, cotton shirts are comfortable, duvets are comfortable, and they never seem to go out of style. Likewise, identity programs should use typefaces that are comfortable for the reader.
This, too, may lead you to think of conservative typeface choices, but sometimes even the tried and true, and seemingly most logical choices. may not be what’s best for a visual identity program. Many times the classics, typefaces that most would consider appealing, are not particularly comfortable over long periods of time. ITC Zapf Chancery, for example, is considered by many to be a beautiful typeface design. But it is not a face that is easy to read in long blocks of copy or for extended periods of time, and is thus probably not the best choice for extended visual exposure. Antique 01-ive is another typeface that, while ideal for a wide variety of normal graphic applications, should not be the first choice for an identity program — except perhaps for a logo or simple packaging.
Usability is about versatility. The face, or faces, you chose for most visual identity projects will probably have to be used in a variety of applications. Pick typefaces that will do this without a fuss. Bodoni, for example, is an elegant, classic type style. It’s great for sophisticated headlines and relatively short blocks of text copy. It’s not, however, a design that lends itself to variety of applications. Who knows what IBM uses for type when it comes to creating presentation graphics or a complicated parts catalog. Its “house face” Bodoni is clearly not the ideal choice. Helvetica and New Century Schoolbook, while somewhat prosaic choices, can be used to set just about anything from the small print on packaging to display headlines. If the identity program you are developing is involved, complicated. or multi-faceted, consider using a face, or faces, from a large. well-integrated type family. Often just the design continuity of families like Univers or ITC Garamond can pull the various aspects of the identity program into a cohesive whole.
Availability is about being able to find the face. Many times you will not be the sole provider of designs within an identity program. If you are the lucky one that puts the program together, consider your client and fellow designers. The typeface you choose should be one that is readily available. Specifying an obscure typeface (even if is a very good choice otherwise) may only cause problems for your client when future jobs are required. Stay away from faces like Railroad Gothic, City, and Lectura — maybe you have access to fonts containing these faces, but not everybody else does. In addition. faces that are available from various sources as different designs with a common name can also cause confusion for your clients and others who might do work for them. Typefaces like Bodoni. Garamond. Bembo. and Trade Gothic come in about as many different designs as Baskin-Robbiris has flavors. Think twice about using them unless you specify a particular version. like Adobe Garamond or Batter Bodoni.
Blendability is about mixing with other type styles. Many times the face you specity for an identit program will have to be used in conjunction with other typefaces. Take this mto consideration when choosing your fonts. Stempel Schncidler or Americana may he exactly the kind of design you want for your client, but because these are faces with strong personalities. By choosing them you have reduced the number of fonts which can be used as complementary designs.
BORING CAN BE GOOD
The guidelines of livability, usability, availability and blendability may seem like the formula for choosing a typeface which is, well, boring. It can be- but it isn’t necessarily so. Few would call typefaces like Gill Sans, Syntax, ITC Berkeley Oldstyle’ ,Trump Mediaeval, or even Walbaum, boring — and yet all these styles, and many more fulfill the criteria of being livable, usable, available and blendable. Flip through your favorite type catalog, you’ll be surprised at how many really good type families are available for identity graphics.
Often, a designer will try to create a graphic “mood” for a client through the choice of typeface. Most of the time this kind of thing happens in advertising and other ephemeral graphics, but it can also be tempting to add to an identity program. On the surface this sounds like a good idea. Most of us have been taught, at one time or another, that various type styles can create certain moods. (There have even been a few books published on the subject.) And if a strong graphic design can be combined with a typeface that creates an emotional reaction, most would think that the end result would be some pretty good identity graphics.
Wrong. Typefaces don’t create specific moods or feelings. Typefaces are like people: Few people are always happy. or sophisticated, or sexy or anything else for that matter. People’s moods are dependent upon circumstances and environments. So it is with type. The “mood” or “feeling” a typeface evokes is primarily dependent on the graphic circumstance or environment in which it is used. Oz Handicraft can be festive. whimsical, powerful. and probably even urbane, depending on how it is used. Graphics create moods, not just type.
There are, however, no absolutes in typography, and as a result there are some typefaces that can almost always evoke the
same mood or feeling. It’s hard to imagine, for example, a typeface like Nubian or Cottonwood being used for anything but that which elicits a flavor of the Old West; Arnold Bocklin is hard-pressed to represent anything but art nouveau; and Quartz is probably doomed to represent high-tech until LED readouts are no longer used. The problem with using these faces, or others like them, to represent the obvious, is that doing so only heightens their perception as a visual cliché — and limits your design to about 1½ stars on the 5-star creativity scale.
OIL AND WATER
Some styles of type just don’t lend themselves to visual identity programs. The following is a list of six categories of styles that should probably be avoided if you are creating a visual identity. (They may be fine for other kinds of graphics, so don’t cross them off your list of available fonts and styles.) Under each main typeface category are a few examples of specific faces. These are aimed at providing guidance: the list is riot intended to be all-inclusive.
Distinctive Old Style designs: Nicolas Cochin: Stempel Schneidler: Breughel: or Locarno.
Faces which have become hackneyed or cliché for a mood, feeling, or period of time: Arnold Bocklin: Kismet: Rustic; Broadway: or Playbill.
Script typefaces: Pick one — any one, like dingo Gothic; or Xavier.
Faces with very strong design traits: Americana; ITC Bauhaus or Congress.
Most Modern typestyles: Bodoni; Fairieldor Torino
Other good choices: ITC Berkeley Old Style “;Century Did Style; ITC Weidemann”.
EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE
OK. there are exceptions to every rule, even those typographic. Not every identity program needs to, or should, be typographically safe. Soiretimes a walk on the wild side” is graphically the correct thing to do. One only need to look at the faces used in RollingStone or the Norwegian Cruise Line
A FEW GOOD CHOICES
The good news is that there are lots type styles that are ideally suited to visual identity graphics. Choose any face from the type style categories listed below and you realy can’t go wrong. Again, only a few spedllc faces are listed under each category, as examples only.
Almost any sans serif: Helvetica; Univrs (actually more versatile than Helvetha); ITC Franklin Gothic Gill Sans; Synhx; Frutiger
Faces from large type families: Acbbe Garamond Adobe Caslon; Adobe Myriad (try the Multiple Master version if you’re adventurous); New Fairfield; New Century Schoolbook; New Caledonia; ITC Mendoza Roman: ITC Legacy; ITC Stone
Serif designs with moderate contrast in stroke thickness: ITC Bookman : Melior; ITC Slimbach : Plantin: Garth Graphic”; Swifi.
Slab serifs: ITC Lubalin Graph: .Serifa Glypha”.
ads to see that “dangerous type” can also be the right type for a visual identity program. Just remember that typography has no safety net: Make a mistake and you will suffer the consequences (like seeing it printed 100,)OO times, or worse, not being called upon for additional work).
Graphic visual identity calls for a different kind of thinking. When it comes to the choice of typeface, our palette may be reduced somewhat, and we may not be as playful as we normally would. But we don’t have to become graphically boring - just a little more careful. Think of it as “safe sex” for graphic design.
A regular contributor to Step-By-Step Graphics, Allan Haley is author of the Step-By-Step Publishing book, ABCs of Type, and is editorial director ofU&lc. The International Journal of Typography, published by International Typeface Corporation, for which he serves as executive vice president.