What the type? Insight Creative’s Brian Slade on the importance of typeface

For some, if it’s not available in PowerPoint, part of the system fonts or in the identity guidelines, it’s simply design affectation. Others stand back, open the floodgates and try a whole bunch of things … just because. So why do we have this hotly debated issue?

If we go back to basics, we start to get some clues. The four building blocks of virtually all visual communications are typography, colour, imagery (photography/illustration) and the intellectual content. These obviously also form a significant part of any visual identity guidelines and by their very nature tend to be about creating consistency, ruling out any debate or subjectivity. 

But should it? 

As all things evolve and tastes change, advertising agencies often refer to the importance of speaking specifically to a need or an audience. Think about furniture, architecture or fashion. Even the classic black dress or jeans are reinterpreted time and time again to keep up with contemporary and evolving tastes. Typography is subject to these same forces of fashion, evolution and purpose. But it should always be considered in the widest spectrum of impact and implications on the visual identity and extended communications. Never in isolation as a one-off or just because.

Working with type is quite an art form. The mere fact that it’s on the page doesn’t mean it’s easy to read (assuming that’s what you want to happen) or that it effectively connects with the overall idea of the communication. It’s often undervalued; but, if ignored, it can be horribly hard on the eye, forming an obstructive barrier between you and your audience. Whether it’s basic layout that is easily digested or headlines that capture the essence of the communication, having a client that appreciates typography is really liberating and allows it to be a powerful feature of their communications. 

We’ve worked with Stand Children’s Services, Tu Maia Whanau, over a number of years. Last year, they commissioned us to work on a communication aimed at funders (government agencies), staff, and key partner organisations as a positioning and marketing tool. The messaging theme was ‘renew.’

To clearly connect with the concept, we introduced a bespoke display typeface that visually captured and expressed the lead statement ‘Wave upon wave of evidence tells us that one of the most crucial ways of changing the end result is address the main cause – child poverty.’ 

We referenced all aspects of their visual identity in the communication. However, to ensure the strongest possible connection to the overall concept, we identified the communication need to introduce a bespoke display typeface that also acts as a metaphoric and illustrative element.

Drawing on waveforms in a graphic and linear way, we abstracted these ‘waves’ that appear relentless in their endeavours. As these waves hit the beach there is a ‘reflected wave’ that is also picked up within the type forms, creating light yet bonded characters. There’s a meshed quality in the overlaps yet each strand appears independent.

Stand Children supports and leads collaborative inter-agency work to find the best solutions for children, whanau and families. Agencies have to interlink, and this purpose-specific typeface captured this notion of working together for the same end goal.

The client’s feedback was incredibly positive: “It’s fabulously beautiful, very classy, sophisticated and grown up!”  

Feedback from key audiences suggests the overall design delivered strong cut-through for the messages that underline this work. This simply wouldn’t have been achieved without the introduction of a display typeface that connected directly to the business purpose of the communication.

As one of the building blocks of visual communications, typography should be considered a powerful tool to not only deliver the intellectual content but, if used well, capture more emotive qualities that connect the reader to aspects of the overall idea that ultimately gain cut-through and enhance communication. 

  • Brian Slade is the creative director of Insight Creative ([email protected]).
  • This story was initially published as part of a content partnership in the July/August edition of NZ Marketing.

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