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Ch 6: Defining Use of Typography

Sure, your logo has a font in it–maybe it’s the font used to spell out the name or initials of the company or organization. However, as MTV’s brand standards manual states eloquently, “The words ‘music television’ proportionally spaced and placed under the ‘M’ are not a font. It is art; do not change it.”

If you’re a designer, you might be saying “Come on now. It’s a font. I ran it through It’s ‘Corporate S Bold.'”

You might be right…but from a design standpoint, you’re wrong. The MTV logo is art, plain and simple. If the words “MUSIC TELEVISION” were displayed in any other font, it would not be the MTV logo.

As the article explains, “Frank Olinsky, Pat Gorman, and Patti Rogoff, young independent designers at the time, created the first MTV logo. The original design consisted of a blocky 3-D “M” with a graffiti-scrawled “tv” on top of it. In the spirit of pure-nonconformity – rather than choosing ‘corporate colors’ for the logo, they decided that the logo should always change, as music, art, and culture changes. Over time, it has changed size and style, but the fundamental logo design has stayed consistent. The ever-evolving design has kept the brand strategy current and trendy.”

Side note from Jason:
I remember watching MTV at midnight on August 1, 1981. I heard a man’s voice say, “Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll,” then video footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the flag Neil Armstrong planted featured the MTV logo in hundreds of different color forms. Being the 80s, they ranged from blue and green plaid to hot pink polka-dots. It was, to me, amazing. Defiant. Avant Garde. It flew in the face of convention. It set the tone for a television channel that did the same.

Here’s the moon man video, for those of you who missed it, and for those of you who did not:

So here’s the key point: your brand standards manual should not define the type fonts that are a part of the logo. The letters in your logo—and all letters in all logos, for that matter–are art, and the art should never change. No alternative options should be offered. With a different type font, your carefully-designed logo would become a fraudulent representation of the brand identity you’re establishing and protecting.

When creating brand standards for type used in printed materials, be sure to define fonts used for headers and sub-headers, as well as body text. You might need to define other type uses as well.

This is a great time to consider serif/sans serif pairs, or pairs of type fonts which complement one another well. In print, it’s long been the norm to use serifed body type in combination with sans serifed headers. Additionally, sans serif type is generally considered the more legible choice for body type displayed online. A sample pair is of type choices is Garamond and Gill Sans. With similar line weights, letter structure, and character curvature, they complement each other very well, but provide distinctive qualities suitable for print and online applications.

Consider all the possibilities for using typography within applications of your defined brand identity: online and print ads, catalogs, television and web video, online sites and mobile applications, brochures, annual reports, and more. Be sure your brand standards manual provides clear guidelines for all situations specific to your organization.

It’s difficult at times to control font use on computers, but to maintain consistent brand identity, it’s essential to specify the requirements for fonts used in online applications such as websites. Not all computers are loaded with the same fonts, so the web page that looks great on your computer could look completely different on another computer.

However, some type fonts (referred to as “web safe” fonts) are likely to be loaded on all Mac and PC computers. When creating a website, use these web-safe fonts. A list of those fonts, and information about how they look in various browsers, can be found here .

As web design technology progresses, more options are being provided for font embedding through cascading style sheets (or CSS – specifically part of CSS3). Font embedding allows type fonts to be installed temporarily on a user’s computer, so the web page is displayed exactly as the designer intended.[}

The fonts included in the above lists may not be your ideal choices, but when you specify fonts for online display of your brand materials, choose common web safe options that are most similar to your brand-specified fonts.

New Media Applications
Technology is constantly changing, permitting ever-changing applications of brand identity materials. We don’t claim the ability to know every new technology that may emerge over time, and how brand identity materials should take advantage of these new possibilities. However, we can say with certainty at this moment (in late 2010): screens are getting larger, and screens are getting smaller. Right now, mobile technology is at the forefront, and it’s certainly prudent to think about how you’ll display brand communications on handheld devices.

New fonts like Segoe, which is specifically tailored for small screens, are increasingly popular. Companies at the forefront of mobile technology, like Nokia (see, and companies that are leaders in online experiences, like Yahoo!, are creating their own proprietary type fonts which focus on open space and compact design, paramount to mobile usability.

These are not the only companies leaping headlong into font design. (See Technology: Small Screen Types, How, Feb 2010, p. 106)

Take time to test your online brand communications on both large and small screens, to ensure the customer experience is consistent regardless of the device. When needed, specify distinctive fonts for the mobile version of your site. Pay attention to the kerning of the letters and the amount of white space in the bowls of round letters. Less “letter” and more “space” is definitely the rule of thumb when choosing a font for a small screen. And pay attention to letter shapes for both upper- and lower-case letters.

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