Outlining just how much the world has shifted from its axis in the last 5 years, the streaming giant Netflix garnered 8 nominations at the Oscar this year, with its documentary Icarus winning the prize for Best Documentary Feature, kicking off what is predicted to be an impressive year for the upstart company, merely a few months after being engulfed with scandal in one of their shows, House of Cards and its leading man, Kevin Spacey. That isn’t the only notable news coming from the American company though, just last month they announced a new original typeface named the Netflix sans, dropping off the Gotham font they’ve been using for years mainly because of two simple reasons. One, the cost of licensing the Gotham font has gotten expensive and using an original, in-house font is claimed to save the company millions per year. Two, as a company that interacts its customers through an online media, typeface is a critical part of its identity, following on the footsteps of major internet companies like Google, eBay and PayPal.
Typography is two-dimensional architecture
When it comes to web design, typeface is a small but crucial part of a company’s aesthetic, and the importance of picking the right one should never be underestimated. A good typography is like listening to quality ambient music; it whispers its good qualities without drawing unnecessary attention to itself instead of the quality content it was supposed to help focus on. It’s supposed to be subtle, unnoticed, inconspicuous and only appreciated by those of finer taste. If that sounds too hyperbolic and abstract for you, here are some valid reasons why you should consider typography:
- It’s how you present yourself to your audience
Think of a typeface as a suit. You can always shop around to find one that fits with how you want to present yourself but nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, could compete with going to a tailor and fashion a bespoke suit of your own. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should go right ahead and design a typeface of your own as that’s actually quite a monumental task on its own but even when going with an off-the-shelf font, you still need to take extra care and consider how your audience is going to perceive you.
- It’s how you convey your identity and personality
This ties in to the point above, just what kind of business you’re running on? What works for a law or an accounting firm might not work for an outerwear fashion company. A typeface should be able to convey the personality and identity behind the text. This project in designing typefaces based on musicians’ writing is a pretty good, albeit a very extreme example. Given that they’re based on an actual handwriting, the result is visually distinctive but obviously not very legible and balance should be struck between the two, which ties into my next point
- It’s your main medium of communication
Obviously, this depends on what kind of business you’re running but it’s not a stretch to say that it’s statistically probable that your typeface is what your audience is going to spend most of their time on. Consider this when choosing your typeface, don’t just rush ahead and pick one that looks the nicest, also consider whether it’s comfortable to read for an extended period of time. Take a gander at Formula 1’s new corporate typeface for example. The one they used for the main body of text is fine but the lowercase font they use for the headline text is of a questionable nature, especially when it comes to the letter a and x. Position yourself in the shoes of your audience, it’s better to be legible than to be simply conspicuous. Remember, your typeface should work for you and draws attention to your content instead of the other way around.
- It’s the most versatile part of your design
Your typeface should work everywhere, whether I’m reading in on the train to work, on my desk while on a break or lying in my bed before sleep. Apple’s bespoke San Fransisco font for example was designed to work across all of their devices, including desktop iMacs, living room Apple TVs and the Apple Watch on your wrist. With the way internet access has expanded across a variety of devices we never expected a decade ago, making sure your typeface works consistently across these devices is paramount. It helps create a harmonious ecosystem for your brand, which expresses professionalism
- It’s how you set up an information hierarchy
Information hierarchy is how you categorize the blocks of text within your website according to their importance. The usage of placement, different font sizes, colors or even the type of font used and any combination of the four are usually used for this exact purpose. Again, using an example works best so go ahead and take a look at the tech blog The Verge’s website to see an example. As you can see, headline articles are placed right on top of the page with the titles colored in white while all of the titles for regular articles further down the page is colored in black. Additionally, the two most prominent headlines use a considerably larger font size to further catch the attention of readers and every single text for the writers’ name in the page is colored in a reddish hue for consistency. This is just one way of establishing a hierarchy; there are a lot of different examples out there. I suggest you experiment and take note of designs you’re fond off to figure out one that suits you.
Still, typography alone isn’t enough to define your aesthetics in web design. Together with the appropriate use of color palette and layout, typography makes up just one piece of the puzzle and that’s without going into the technicalities of site animations and the navigation of your website. The devil’s always in the details and sometimes, typography takes a backseat when compared to other most obvious parts of web design but just as how a simple felt-tipped pen enables astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong from getting off the surface of the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, it’s usually the small things that make a big difference.