Why Are Big Tech Companies Designing Their Own Typefaces?

by RedEye

Whether you know it or not, quite a few of the big technology companies out there have designed and exclusively use their own typefaces. Google, Airbnb, Netflix and Apple are just a few well-known names that have invested in their very own typeface, adding to their unique identity and serving their brand.

This seems to have become a trend for the big guys, but why are they doing it? Is it necessary to design your own typeface? Is it simply because they have the spare cash floating around to do so? Does it mean that if you have the money, you should be designing your own typeface? Are the differences between standard and bespoke fonts worth the millions spent?

So, the main question is why are they doing it? We can split our responses to this question into two – firstly for brand and advertising purposes and secondly for usability.

Let’s take a look at this topic from a brand and advertising point of view.

Recognition

It is very important for consumers to recognise brands in seconds. If a company is defined by the typeface they use and that typeface becomes synonymous with the brand, they have achieved a level of recognition from the consumer that is coveted by all. Let’s take a look at Airbnb’s billboard for example.

Figure 1

After looking at Airbnb’s advert, a passer-by does not have to look at the text for long to immediately know which company the advert is for. The logo and brand’s colour scheme will contribute to this, but their bespoke designed typeface dominates the billboard. The consumer may not remember the company in the short term, as most only briefly glance at adverts, but the essence of the brand will remain and impact future interactions with communications from the brand.

Identity

Another reason why these big companies are designing their own typefaces is so that their identity is obvious and defined. Using a popular typeface, such as Futura, can make a brand’s identity a bit ‘blurry’. ASOS uses Futura alongside many other companies. Because Futura isn’t a specifically designed typeface for ASOS, their brand lacks the immediate strength of identity that Apple or Netflix have.

Figure 2 – atlanticrecords.com

Figure 3 – asos.com

Although Atlantic Records (Figure 2) is not a clothing website, it is easy to see the similarities to ASOS. There are many elements that add to why these two screenshots look the same,such as black borders on the CTAs and a grey/white background, however it’s the prominence of the Futura typeface that makes them look so similar.

Interestingly, Supreme clothing use Futura for their logo, but the image still manages to emanate their strong brand identity. This may be because of the unique and quirky layout on their website. Ableton create their own identity by using Futura in a colourful manner and have turned it into ‘their own’ by using bright colours and uneven grid boxing. However, their identity would be would come across even stronger with a bespoke typeface.

Figure 4 – supremenewyork.com/previews/fallwinter2018/all

Figure 5 – ableton.com

Consistency

Maintaining and keeping to your typeface helps consumers recognise your brand. Experiences tend to be very uniform and follow a repetitive path, so the more you use a product, the more you’ll recognise the typeface. The stronger and more obvious the message or typeface is, the stronger the brand will be.

For example, the more you use your iPhone or your Apple devices, the more you’ll get accustomed to, and recognise, their bespoke typeface – San Francisco.

Figure 6

This leads us nicely into our next section of discussion which is Usability, as Apple’s San Francisco typeface was created essentially for usability purposes.

Usability And Changing With The Times

Helvetica (used by Apple prior to San Francisco) was designed in 1957, long before text was being used digitally. Having been designed for print and not for the screen, typefaces like Helvetica are not exactly ideal from a usability point of view.

As we’ve seen with the tiny screen of an Apple Watch, the digital world we live in now is much more varied and complicated than the old world of print, and the typefaces we use should reflect this.

Figure 7

Consequently, the San Francisco typeface is not just one, but actually four, all designed for apple’s range of devices. All of the individual typefaces have the same look and feel, creating a strong sense of brand identity – San Francisco. Whilst unified, each individual typeface has very specific differences and variations which increases its usability for the device it is displayed on.

The San Francisco typeface is created from a standard typeface and a compact typeface, with each one of these parent typefaces having two child typefaces – display and text.

Figure 8

With each of the individual typefaces slightly changing the aperture of open letters, the spacing, and the overall shape to make the design of them perfectly optimal for the device on which they’re being used.

Figure 9

What’s even more impressive about Apple’s typeface is that when used within a device the typeface changes automatically depending on the environment in which it is used. For example, on a Mac, the default is the standard San Francisco typeface and when the text size is below 20px it goes to the text version and when it’s above 19px it goes to the display version.

Figure 10

This is just touching the surface of the level of design which went into the San Francisco typeface and it’s not just Apple that went to this level of detail. Airbnb’s typeface Cereal, is equally as impressive, but within their own brand and visual design language.

Figure 11

We need to keep up with the times and ensure our typefaces have high usability regardless of the device, screen size, or internet browser they’re being read on. Owning and controlling your own typeface allows you to change it where necessary and implement these changes for different purposes. You can manipulate it with more finesse, which comes in handy when things move even further into the future with virtual and augmented reality.

Is It Worth The Money?

So, is it worth spending your money and time on your own typeface? How much does it actually cost? If we look at the top tech companies previously mentioned, we’re talking about the people who have more than enough money to invest in their design team. This doesn’t stop smaller companies working with their design team to make something work, but it’s important to remember that there is a lot of time and cost involved.

Ultimately, big tech companies are designing their own typefaces to define their brand and improve the usability of their products. As the majority of regular typefaces don’t match their design needs or their brand strategy. However, brands do have to consider time and money, as designing your own effective and impactful typeface is a long term investment.

Before deciding to design their own typefaces, they knew it wasn’t just about it looking great, but about representing the entire company, and because of this you know they really care about their brand.