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What’s your type(face)?

In late August, The New York Times published an article about the new Goldman Sachs typeface called Goldman Sans. Goldman Sachs is not the first company to have a bespoke typeface and they won’t be the last. But why do companies spend so much money on a customized font and what can you do if you don’t have the budget for your own “Name of Company” Sans?

A short history of typefaces
Different type styles existed even when all content was handwritten. As Robert Bringhurst explains in The Elements of Typographic Style, “In the later Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, a well-trained European scribe might know eight or ten distinct styles of script… and each had certain uses. Sacred scriptures, legal documents, romance literature, business and personal letters all required different scripts…”1

Gutenberg changed written history in the 1450s. From that point through the 1900s, many of the classic fonts were designed, including Garamond (1540), Bembo (1495), Bodoni (1798) and Akzidenz Grotesk (1896). In the mid-1900s, new typefaces rapidly hit the market, especially in the 1970s-1990s. Now, it is estimated there are over 500,000 different typefaces. 

Font or typeface?
Although technically not correct, the modern-day use of “font” and “typeface” is interchangeable. As described by Stephen Coles in The Anatomy of Type, here are the real definitions:
• A glyph is the graphical representation of a character.
• A font is a collection of glyphs, represented by a digital file or a set of metal pieces for a typeface.
• A typeface is the design of a set of characters. In simple terms the typeface is what you see, and the font is what you use.2

Typography is an important part of a brand
As the scribes knew, typefaces can elicit different emotions, such as boldness, elegance, authoritativeness and many others. Because of this, a brand should have a typeface that expresses the company’s value proposition and positioning, as well as its culture. The typeface should also address specific company needs or requirements. In the case of Goldman Sachs, it wanted a font that aligned tabled numbers in a readable and accessible way.

Make it yours
Most companies can’t afford a bespoke typeface, but with over half a million available fonts, a firm can certainly find one that represents its brand and core attributes. Financial services in particular can benefit from fonts that express stability, transparency and confidence. Used consistently, a typeface will help shape a brand. A typeface itself does not constitute a brand’s look, feel or voice. However, as Robert Bringhurst so eloquently wrote: “Well-chosen words deserve well-chosen letters; these in their turn deserve to be set with affection, intelligence, knowledge and skill.”3

Choose your words (and your font) wisely.