Marketing

The shape and size of brands to come

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on April 18, 2021

With a flourish: From pizza to publishing, under-designed fonts are in vogue   -  Partha Pratim Shama

Monotype’s 2021 type trends report points to a return to hand and the familiar

How has an increasingly digital world shaped and influenced typography? How will futuristic technologies like virtual reality affect the written text? Has the earthshaking Covid-19 pandemic impacted the way brands speak through their fonts?

Monotype’s recently released type trends report for 2021 explores these questions and more. Peppered with case studies, it casts an interesting lens on the way brands are using fonts to communicate and empathise with a current event or reality. Subtle changes in the way a font is used can humanize a brand.

For instance, during the pandemic, as the world hurtled into a digital world, there was a need for brands to connect physically with consumers and give a semblance of an offline relationship. Gucci found that by using a wobbly handwriting text. Return to hand in fact is a powerful trend according to Monotype Studio.

“Fonts are very powerful subliminal cues,” says Ajay Gehlaut, CCO and MD Publicis Worldwide India. People may not know why they are affected emotionally by certain brand communication, but the font plays a role, he says.

In a way type faces are the first view of a brand for consumers. Hence, they are super important. And that’s why, points Prathap Suthan, CCO and Managing Partner, Bang in the Middle, many brands today invest in a bespoke typeface that is uniquely theirs. Think Apple, for instance.

The way brands in India use fonts has come a long way from the time when he started out in advertising, back in the mid 80s, says Suthan. At that time there was a big Letraset book that advertising agencies had. For creative campaigns, you drew inspiration leafing through global magazines, especially fashion magazines, and then picked up the font book and chose the typeface that came closest to the one you liked. “Nobody was well versed in typography, and the thinking that one font could belong exclusively to a company was not there.”

Contrast it today, when despite the existence of more than 1,50,000 commercial fonts, companies see merit in investing in their own fonts, commissioning font foundaries to create one for them. Even if choosing a font from a licensed pool, they shape it to their persona with a set of defined, rigid rules on usage. And you cannot deviate from the rule book.

However, 2020 with its explosion of digital communication between companies and consumers, and the way it has changed people’s emotions, may see brands adapting their fonts as they seek to bring more empathy in their messaging. At least, that’s the impression one gets listening to a webinar by Monotype Studio’s typeface designer Charles Nix and Phil Garnham on the trends dominating 2021. Here is a gist of it:

Variable fonts

Look around and you will see how creative professionals have been experimenting with uneven sizing to communicate something out of the box. As the Monotype designers explain, there is a new dynamism in text thanks to variable fonts that make words stretch and shrink, speed up and slow down. An example of this is Studio Dumbar’s work on screens in railway station platforms displaying names of cities. They employed motion graphics to display the name of the city – the A is screaming bold and fat, the M slightly smaller, the T is thin and long and so on and suddenly they all move with the A becoming thin. It is absolutely quirky and mesmerizing. The motion graphics was created keeping in mind that people today have short attention spans, especially when they are on the move.

Virtual is Reality

Do backgrounds matter? What happens in an alternative reality universe where fonts have to hang in space, may pop up in the middle of a road as you gaze into a world through a Hololens or an Oculus Rift? For brands, that may be entering an augmented reality universe, this is food for thought. Pokémon Go has already explored type behavior in immersive experiences. Digital company Scout24 too has experimented with breakthrough movements in an immersive reality environment.

Touchable types

When the digital era began, what worked on print did not necessarily work on the web. And so geometric sans serifs fonts — like humanist sans serif, gotham, vision — saw spiraling usage. However, according to the designers at Monotype, brands are now turning away from the over tidiness of geometric sans serifs and putting calligraphic flourishes and warmer notes into their fonts. They are cultivating contrasts through rounded edges. An example is the logo of language app duolingo.

Hand is back

There is a gravitation towards handmade and handcrafted, in a bid to build a more human connect in an increasingly digital world. In a Covid-traumatised world, people are seeking the familiar. Apart from the Gucci example cited earlier, take the lettering used by The Oatley Company, which embraces imperfection.

Bold and big

Bold and brash letters maximize a brand’s presence as it spells brand confidence. However, brands that have successfully gone bold also do so with a tech minimalist feel. An example is Twitch.

Measured austerity

From pizza to publishing, under-designed fonts are in vogue. There is a defiant embrace of non design with punkish elements.

While these trends are absolutely fascinating, it is not easy for a brand to follow a fad. Continuity has to be maintained after all. Can you think of Nike in a font other than Futura?

However, Suthan says, the brand voice represented by the font may remain the same, but the tone can be changed. “When I am reciting poetry, or shouting at somebody, or making a presentation, my voice remains mine – it is the same,” he points out. However, the way I speak changes – from soft tone, to harsh, to businesslike, he explains. Just like that the brand font can remain same but subtle changes in expressions can be made by employing all caps, shadow, and so on.

Published on April 18, 2021

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