type management strategies

manage type

Type is present in essentially all marketing communications. Other than color, perhaps no other visual element plays a more crucial role in building a consistent presence across multiple forms of media. Yet, type is something few businesses use effectively, with even large established companies continuously making arbitrary choices with type. Not having type management strategies in place undermines their long-term ability to differentiate themselves and detract from the professionalism and credibility of the materials they create.

As is common for our industry, part of Shew Design’s branding process is building a type palette in much the same way as a color palette, usually a combination of typefaces designed to work with one another for years to come.  As designers, our tools and processes put us in an ideal world of sorts – one that makes it easy to follow our own guidelines. Not so with others, and with good reason: technology and the marketplace create so many barriers to managing type easily and effectively.

Here are some strategies we’ve used to help clients harness type to create an effective brand presence.

Documented standards that are accessible, understood, and observed

Standards can address which typefaces to use and how to use them, but standards are useless if they can’t be easily accessed, people don’t know how to follow them, or if no one is responsible for enforcing them. As a general rule, we encourage a division of labor where people who create content are different from the people who approve content.  We always make standards available online, through printed manuals, and when appropriate, as stylesheets in programs such as Microsoft Word.

The PDF format

Adobe’s PDF (Portable Document Format) can embed most fonts, allowing people to deliver documents with branded typography without requiring the viewer to purchase fonts [???]. In addition, form fields can use specific fonts and can be used to make templates for report covers, CD labels, and similar pieces that can be modified by anyone without requiring a purchase or special skills. These templates can be combined with preprinted materials to create attractive materials that are completely branded and easily changed using free software.

discounts on type purchases

If cost is the primary reason against using type consistently, savings can be built into the branding process by selecting type families that can be purchased in bulk or by buying cheaper versions of established typefaces. As with most things, you get what you pay for but there are deals to be had. For example: older versions of Freehand and Illustrator would often come with hundreds of type families free. A person who is willing to invest a little time could purchase several hundred dollars worth of type for only a few dollars.

Consistent use of default type

A two tier type strategy could use more interesting branded type solutions for marketing applications while using standard type (i.e. Times and Arial) for everyday use. The disconnect between the two materials can be softened by using assets such as logos, preprinted materials, graphical headers, style sheets, etc. to maintain consistency.

An attitude of restraint

Given the wealth of free decorative fonts and effects available, it’s possible to endlessly tinker with designs without significantly improving them. Before beginning the process of exploring type, we recommend you considering focusing more on content and less on formatting, picking simple solutions will hold up for multiple projects. Simple choices almost always work better for long term solutions.

Eric Shew is a graphic designer and front end developer living in Bellingham, Washington.

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115 West Magnolia, Suite 210
Bellingham, WA 98225

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