Marketing Bootcamp

Should Your Business Use One Font Only?

Should Your Business Use One Font Only?
Image credit: sharkhats | Flickr
This story appears in the February 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If you want to ensure that existing and potential customers recognize your brand, you need to go further than just designing a memorable logo—you need to create a cohesive experience. One of the most undervalued yet effective ways to do this is by selecting a singular typeface to use for all client communications, marketing materials and other representations of your brand.

Graphic designers are happy to discuss typography as well as style guides for company use—often as an extension to any branding work they’re already doing for you. The resources available to improve your typographic brand are better today than ever before: Typographers are releasing new typefaces every day, and software developers are creating better tools to let companies integrate good design into every part of their business.

Wistia, a Cambridge, Mass.-based provider of video hosting and analytics, employs two key fonts universally: Interstate (a digital typeface utilized throughout Wistia’s online platform) and Whitney (used in print materials, as well as on the website). Both fonts were designed by Tobias Frere-Jones of New York. 

When customers use Wistia’s web-based application or read the company blog, they feel like they’re visiting different parts of the same whole. That result is due just as much to the company’s consistent use of typography as to the logo at the top of the page.

“For a brand to have a personality, all the things it makes need to look like they were drawn by the same hand,” says Joe Ringenberg, design lead at Wistia.

Abbott Miller, a partner at Pentagram, a design firm with offices in the U.S., London and Berlin, agrees. “If you think about typography as ‘voice,’ then it’s imperative that voice is carried across all marketing and other public communications if you want those messages to be effectively connected to your brand or organization,” he notes. “By maintaining consistency in that voice, you stand a far better chance of having these messages accrue and aggregate and reinforce each other. Otherwise disparate, unconnected messaging becomes just more chatter.”

Wistia’s typeface selections drive home the company’s clean aesthetic and mission. Both are easy to read at multiple sizes yet offer up style, telegraphing the company’s devotion to making even the most functional elements attractive, while the clean, sans-serif look ensures across-the-board appeal. 

Keeping the use of these typefaces consistent across all materials Wistia creates requires a companywide commitment. When everyone has the correct typefaces installed and the correct fonts set up as style sheets inside of creation tools like Microsoft Word, sticking to style guidelines is a simple matter. But you can’t expect everyone on staff to use complicated design software or typeface-management tools. 

“You have to be realistic about the payoff and choose where good typography has the most impact for the biggest audiences,” Miller explains.

Encouraging an entire company to think about design on some level is the ideal. Doing so makes it easier for everyone to stick to branding guidelines.

“The best way to convince your team of the importance of typography (or any design move) is to expose the reasoning behind your choices,” Ringenberg says. “Even when it simply comes down to a matter of taste, being able to rationalize and describe your thinking gives the skeptics a chance to follow along or, at the very least, respect the consideration that went into the work.” 

What’s your type?

Choosing a new font? Beyond aesthetics, there are a few key factors to keep in mind.

Check that the typeface is complete: Not all include a full assortment of glyphs (letters, numerals and punctuation marks). To be useful across all materials, a typeface needs letters with accents and common symbols (such as ampersand), in addition to numerals and the 26 uppercase and lowercase letters.

Consider the licensing details: Anyone with an internet connection can download plenty of options, but not all of them are free to use in commercial settings. There are some high-quality free typefaces available online (such as those offered on Google Web Fonts), but double-check who created the typeface and how it’s licensed before using it in any company documents.

Test legibility at varying sizes: A typeface that looks great on a computer screen may not be as readable on a phone screen or blown up for a billboard.