In her blog for Eye magazine, writer Jessica Jenkins made a number of interesting observations about the current vogue for big organisations using ‘friendly, rounded typefaces’ and it got me thinking.
Given the amount we read it’s always surprising that most people don’t notice the difference between one typeface and another. If we discern any different visual experience from reading The New York Times or The Financial Times most of us do so only subconsciously – as long as we can read easily, we don’t really care. Yet typefaces have an enormous part to play in the way an organisation projects itself. They help people read easily in different situations and in different media; typefaces guide readers through information in the correct order and help them navigate their way through documents.
Typefaces are the workhorses of the visual identity, but just as importantly they have a vital and often unrecognised role to play in conveying personality.
Just as science fiction films have historically reflected our attitude towards technology, so typefaces, it can be reasonably argued, reflect the way companies want to project themselves. Organisations of all types have wanted to be our friends in recent years, so their choice of typefaces naturally drifted towards the softer and friendlier. They wanted to ditch the hard, ‘corporate’ typefaces of the 70s corporate monoliths (almost always variations of Times and Helvetica) and started to soften their edges in an appeal to our hearts. In many ways this could be seen as a natural, if literal, interpretation of what branding agencies were telling them – that products were commodities and brands had to appeal to emotions in order to create loyalty and growth. So what better way to appeal to somebody’s emotions than to become round and cuddly?
This was understandable during a boom, but now looks hopelessly outdated and clumsy. Recent history has severed the public’s trust in government, politics and big financial institutions and in order to win our trust back they will need to start projecting a high degree of stability, stature and seriousness of purpose. Additionally, demand from the public for ethical and appropriate behavior will be higher than ever. Most of us won’t want organisations to be our friends anymore – we’ll just want them to actually know what they’re doing!
Many companies are still trying to work out how they should position themselves in the new, even more cynical post-banking-collapse world, and visual identities will be playing catch-up. But in order to reassure us that they are competent and ethical, most organisations will have to review and re-deploy all of the communications tools at their disposal, typefaces among them. Serious typefaces with hard edges, or serif faces with ‘heritage and gravitas’ will be back in vogue, while their friendly and curvy cousins will have to make do with the back seat for a while.
So if anyone advises you to adopt a nice rounded corporate typeface, beware. Go serious – it might just help you send out the right message for the next few years.
Published on Tuesday, July 26, 2011 in