Custom Typefaces: Various Types of a Corporate Typeface
People have identities. So do typefaces. Fonts matter because identity matters.

Various Types of a Corporate Typeface

It is a normal Tuesday morning, but you just got an exciting message. Congrats, you just got a new client! They are looking for a new visual identity, and – obviously – you are just the right person for the job. Whether they want a redesign or imagine needing an entirely new design, a new typeface is needed as the current one does not fit the company’s image any longer. So, where do you start? What are your possibilities to obtain a new typeface for the Corporate Design?

On the way to creating a suitable corporate typeface, you have three different options to choose from: retail fonts, modified retail fonts & custom typefaces.

Retail Fonts

Retail fonts are fonts that are accessible to every graphic designer and every company. Type designers develop and design these fonts according to their personal ideas, concepts and influences and then publish them. These fonts are sold via own online shops as well as distributors. Everyone can buy them and thus, theoretically, also the direct competitor of the company. The aim of a retail font is to sell well on the free market.

These fonts are available to designers within minutes and their costs are relatively low, at least at first glance. Well developed and designed fonts can already be purchased in the desktop version with up to five workstation licenses for about 20 € per cut, a whole font families with 16 cuts cost mostly between 140 and 260 €. However, depending on the size of the company and the intended use of the font, additional licenses may be required: For additional workstations, for web fonts (depending on the number of page views, the amount is staggered), for embedding the font in apps, installation on a server (annual license fees), etc. Thus, the use of retail fonts can become expensive in the end. For example, IBM is said to have spent about $1.000.000 a year on licensing the font Neue Helvetica without all employees having installed it on their computers.1 Thanks to the corporate typeface IBM Plex, freely available as Sans Serif, Serif and Slab Serif, the company is now saving a considerable amount of licensing costs every year and also owns its own font. When licensing retail fonts, there are a few more things to consider. It is advisable to read the EULA (End User Licence Agreement) very carefully beforehand in order to use the font correctly. A few type foundries do not allow the font to be used in a logo. However, many type designers and foundries have simple and fair licensing terms, but you should always be very careful about what you are allowed to do with the font and what you are not.

Modified Retail Fonts

With comparatively few tricks, an existing retail font can be changed to better fit a company’s appearance - and thus its character. In this case we speak of a modified retail font. Depending on the modification, just a few letters can be enough to significantly change the visual appearance of the font. Even small, often recurring details can make a big difference. For example, changing from square i and j dots and square punctuation marks to circular dots already changes the font and its character significantly. Letters such as /a and /e are more common in certain languages like than /Q, and hence change the font character more drastically (unless the company name begins with /Q). Depending on the country and language, the frequency of certain letters can vary, so different letters can contribute to character changes of the font in other languages. Modified retail fonts are much cheaper and faster to implement than completely new designed custom corporate typefaces. The costs for the modification of retail fonts are difficult to quantify, as it is always the degree of modification that counts. It is often the case that the time required for the redesign of the font and its development is charged as well as the amount for the required licenses.

But be careful: Pay close attention to the licensing conditions of the retail font. Almost always the design adaptation may only be done by the designer or the type foundry of the font. In the case of fonts that are available free of charge and whose modification is permitted, the modified font must often also be freely available again.

Free Fonts

Yes, there are free fonts out there in the internet. Some are good, but probably 99% don’t have the quality you are looking for. Sources for good free fonts are google fonts and fontsquirrel. But again, take a look at the license, some free fonts are just free for personal use only.

Custom (Corporate) Typeface

Custom Typefaces are designed according to the wishes and requirements of the company. The typefaces have exactly the right character, the appropriate character set (diacritical marks, numbers, symbols, ...) and the appropriate number of fonts. Everything is perfectly adapted to the requirements of the company, both visually and technically. It’s your choice!

The Typologo

A Typologo, also known as a Word Mark, is a purely typographic implementation of a logo - without a figurative element.

So coming back to your client, who needs a new Visual Identity. Of course you want to convince the client to commission a custom corporate Typeface. But maybe, a custom corporate typeface might not fit their budget right now, so you can propose a Typologo. It’s the first step in the direction of a custom corporate typeface.

In most cases, the Typologo just consists of the letters that are needed to write down the company’s name. Maybe at a later stage a type designer can create a complete typeface based on that Typologo (see next chapter).

Despite the written words, Typologos work like images. As soon as our brain has seen and stored the typologo a good amount of times, the font is seen as an image2 - despite its composition of letters. We are familiar with the Typologo of Facebook or CocaCola, we don’t have to read the logo first to assign it to the right company or brand.3 We see familiar words as images, as discovered by scientists from the Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC).2

Next Chapter: Custom Typefaces / Pros & Cons

  3. S. 6, TypoLogo: Mit Zeichen Zeichen setzen!. Michael Evamy. Schmidt Hermann Verlag. 2012