The power of type

By Richard Cousins on Friday, 17 March 2017

Last year, Samsung revealed a new universal typeface, designed by world-renowned typographer and designer Neville Brody. Unveiled with a rather well shot film, reminiscent of Jony Ive’s product introductions at Apple keynotes, it told the story of why a corporate typeface was needed and how they did it. It wasn’t an easy task; the typeface needed to work on screen, on device, in print and in numerous languages. Essentially it’s a design device that connects every part of the business together; people, products and marketing comms too.

What the launch did, more the anything else, was showcase how Samsung is prioritising design, and using it to transform the way it communicates with its customers and the wider world.

In fact Samsung are a little late to the game. Looking at their competitors. Apple released ‘San Francisco’ in 2014, and before even that in 2011, Nokia worked with type foundry Dalton Maag to develop Nokia Pure, which was accompanied by a rather beautiful book and limited edition prints from high-profile design studios.

It’s important for these tech brands to keep design central to their business objectives. They are making products known, and more often than not, scrutinised for their design. Design is more than just the finished veneer, the glossy exterior. It’s the hidden language, the consistent brand identity that makes it feel inherently recognisable, the UX research that goes behind an app’s design, the product’s ergonomics, even the design of the staff’s workspace. Although most consumers will never be aware of the whole story, by spending significant time and money investing in design, they will benefit from it, and therefore the brand will too.

But what can FS brands learn from the likes of Samsung? On the face of it they are not producing whizzy, shiny, expensive iPhones so is design even necessary? Of course, and while design in the broader sense is key, let’s talk specifically about typeface design.

A typeface inherently communicates. It needs to speak numerous languages, and especially an FS brand, to every type of person. FS products and services can be complicated and hard to understand. Pair that confusion with a badly designed typeface that’s too hard to read at small sizes or is visually too fun, can result in consumers feeling cheated, patronised, just generally not so happy.

It also communicates a brand’s personality. The typeface can subtly convey tone, whether that be serious, friendly, tech-y, human, quiet, confident etc. The brand wants that personality to come through in everything they say and do, emails, website, apps, letters. Something as seemingly simple as a typeface can actually transform a whole brand identity.

As Brody says, a bespoke typeface can unify a global brand, create consistency, and can give it instant recognition. Select an off-the-shelf typeface and they could end up looking like a competitor.

That recognition is also even more important with FS brands. For example, if the email from your bank uses something different to their website, or just use something plain whacky like Comic Sans(!), you’re a lot less likely to trust them.

So, legibility, personality, ownership, recognition, trust… there are many ways a typeface and design in general can impact a brand’s image. Invest in the details of your customers’ experience, and it shows an actual care for them. Care about them and they’ll become advocates. And that’s what we call a win-win.

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