In this (Premium
, heads up) Medium article
written by Shawn Sprockett
, we’re given some pretty convincing arguments as to why, contrary to popular typographical belief, a custom brand typeface may actually be a good idea.
Most of us are familiar with this experiment already: a random scientific fact about gold, written in both Baskerville and Comic Sans, with participants being asked about which one looked more trustworthy. Notably, anything written in Baskerville, a very classic serif typeface, was generally seen as more believable. But this is far from the end of the story.
Shawn makes a bold claim:
Custom typefaces often get a bad wrap as the fetishized, self-indulgent projects of “visual designers,” but platforms risk ignoring real metric-moving opportunities by failing to invest in typography.
Designers learn about how typefaces shape perception in school, but the experiments confirm the role that serifs and sans-serifs play in visual communication.
Brands have been leveraging this influence for over a century. Today, tech logos lean heavily on lower-case, sans-serif type (Airbnb, Lyft, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Tinder, etc.) to appear approachable and unassuming, while banks, financial institutions, and government agencies rely on the Western traditions of serifs
to project authority and security. Companies wishing to remind consumers of their founders or their creative legacy, like Coca-Cola and Disney, often prefer scripts and decorative typefaces.
Most of these companies have resorted to creating their very own unique typefaces, often, to great disaster (I’m looking at you, Youtube). Perhaps most notably, Google has been doing the most stellar job at this:
Google’s Product Sans is perhaps the most impressive. It is a great example of communicating friendliness without being juvenile; of inspiring trust and competence without appearing intimidating or overbearing. It supports a global portfolio of products in many languages and can be adapted to many tones and feelings. But it is more than just legible and readable, it gives the Google brand a way to connect to users in an almost invisible, yet tangible, way.
But sure, Google can afford to spend the time and the money.
Shawn got most of my attention when he mentioned something about “raising the bar for inclusivity”. In fact, here lies an opportunity to make a difference.
In the last several years, typographers have dug into the core usability challenges of the Western alphabet and made strides in designing typefaces that are more inclusive
. Letters like p, b, q, and d, for example, are all mirrored reflections of each other compounding the difficulty for many with reading disabilities, like dyslexia.
Vanity typefaces that rely on high contrast letterforms often sacrifice legibility to those with visual impairments. Poor kerning and leading controls in digital spaces means carelessly rendered typefaces can dramatically impact the usability of products.
My mind was blown away with something I had, perhaps shamefully, never noticed: an anti-pattern in which important text in a design is intentionally set in the most unreadable capitalised text possible, so it’s ungodly difficult to read.
Take, for example, the surgeons’ general warning in cigarettes’ packs: