Creative Director of Build, Michael unpacks the role typography plays in a brand's visual identity, charting recent examples of its effective application.

Based in Leeds and specialising in branding and design, Member Agency Build crafts visual identities for a client list including Nike, Virgin America and the Design Museum.

We caught up with Creative Director Michael to talk about typography. He argued that type is increasingly being sidelined in visual identities, emphasising what it can bring to a client’s aesthetic when implemented effectively, as well as charting emerging trends within the industry.

Have you seen any particularly impressive applications of typography across recent identity projects?

A lot of big rebrands we’ve seen recently have fallen very flat in terms of typography — a great new icon or logo, but with a poor, lazy type choice. The two should be able to used together, yet be equally as strong when separated. Typography is an important part of a brand's toolkit. It's like the accent of the brand. So a well-considered and well-researched piece of typography can pay huge dividends.

Brand personality can come across extremely well with the right type choice. Some want to shout, some want to speak quietly — all this can be achieved with well-considered typography.

It’s our responsibility as designers to make sure the right choices are made. This is not neccessarily down to what's fashionable at the time. We should cast our nets wide then drill down to make the right and appropriate choice for the project and client. Are we really looking at everything that is out there, really stretching ourselves to find that perfectly suited piece of type? Or are we just picking from what we already have loaded on our machines, and possibly our design minds? I really hope it’s not the latter. I do see that there is increasing emphasis being placed on typography, but perhaps not the rigour that is needed for a truly great piece of considered typography within branding.

Studio Build for Generation Press

Do you think custom typography is a necessity for a brand seeking to stand out? 

A lot of brands today seem very homogeneous — they should be looking to stand out in the landscape, but instead many have the same or similar typefaces, which can often seem to merge into one another.

Custom typography that is tailored specifically for a company or individual is a great way to inject a sense of ownability. Tailored typography can be a very subtle but immediately recognisable element in a brand, whose nuances might be difficult to pinpoint, but whose personality speaks volumes. Type doesn’t have to be custom to be a successful part of a brand toolkit, but it can help set a brand apart in the marketplace.

A favourite project of ours, where we were able to do just that, was rebranding for über-printers Generation Press. A big part of this was the creation of a bespoke typeface. We worked with type foundry Colophon to create ‘Poynings’, a beautiful Stencil Serif typeface named after the village where Generation Press are based. This was then used throughout the brand to create a very unique look. 

Studio Build for Nike

Who do you think is doing type design particularly well at the moment? 

A good example in terms of designers would be A2/SW/HK. These guys would typically design a bespoke typeface for most projects. On the back of this they then set up a type foundry called A2-Type, selling top quality fonts designed by themselves. In terms of a brand I was particularly impressed by the rebrand of Viceland by Gretel NYC. It’s a good example of a strong use of typography for a brand, super consistent and in-your-face.

Studio Build for TypeCon 2014

Are you seeing any trends emerge in graphic design and typography design?

Typographic trends tend to move much more slowly; it’s not at all fast-paced like fashion. With that in mind, it would seem the good old Geometric San Serif typeface is still king and it will take a lot to knock it off this spot! Since the release of LL Circular by designer Laurenz Brunner in 2013 (and to a degree Brown before that) on the Lineto site, type designers have been trying to come up with a similar take on it…and designers have been trying to find alternatives that aren’t as expensive!

Circular is an interesting creation, a bastard son of Futura and Neuzeit Grotesk. It’s pretty unmistakable and completely ubiquitous in today's modern design landscape, a Helvetica for the 2010s. You only need to look at recent rebrands like Airbnb, Spotify and Mint to see its influence. It started its life as a niche, cool underground typeface and by 2014 had emerged as a major player adopted by multiple brands.

We also love monospaced fonts here at Build. It’s been nice to see foundries extending their families to include monospaced versions, and great to see big hitters like Google entering the fray and commissioning small foundries like Colophon Foundry to create the beautiful Space-Mono.

One other trend that's really interesting, and a great thing for graphic designers, is the really healthy launch of new small independent type foundries. This can of course mean that there's too much choice, but I for one really enjoy discovering new foundries. Examples of smaller foundries producing great work include Milieu GrotesqueGrilli TypeOr Type and Klim Type Foundry. As a designer this has always been a bit of a mission for me, to try and find things other people aren’t using. It’s the golden needle in the proverbial haystack. For many years I have collected Letraset catalogues and digitised fonts from there that were not commercially available. This goes back to my earlier point of ownability — a point of difference is a great thing.

Studio Build for In The Making