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In verbal speech, vocal inflections can change the shades of meaning in a phrase. A soft whisper, a firm command, an incredulous shout. All of these are conveyed through the tone and pace of our words.

Your choice of typeface can be used to set a similar tone in a visual design. And nowhere is this more apparent than in a logo.

A quick note to start: you’ll notice this article uses the term “typeface” more than “font”. Though both have come to mean the same thing in common parlance, a typeface actually refers to the shape of the letters, while a font is the computer file that collects those characters.

For our example, we’ll use the first two words of Lorem Ipsum, a common placeholder text.

The words themselves are meaningless, but if I asked you which of these logos belonged to a law firm and which belonged to a cupcake bakery, you’d likely have no problem pointing to the left as the attorney and the right one as the sweets shop.

A typeface’s “voice” is partially due to the shape and appearance of the letters. Rounded edges convey a softness, while heavy block letters convey a sturdiness. But the mood of a typeface also has to do with its history. We’ll discuss some of the most common typeface categories here.

A serif typeface has small “feet” at the base of the letters, and matching shapes on the edges at the top. You can see this in fonts like Times New Roman, as shown here. Serif type has been in use for centuries, and is incredibly easy to read in print, since the serifs help carry the eye from one shape to the next. Most printed books in English use serif type for this reason. It conveys a sense of timelessness, of reliability.

A sans-serif typeface is “without feet” and refers to fonts that lack the extra flourishes. Arial is a common example. Sans Serif typefaces are newer than serif ones, dating back to 1816. While this is still considerably old, sans serif typefaces became the original go-to fonts for early digital screens, as the complex shapes of serifs can get lost among the square pixels at small sizes. Because of this, serif typefaces tend to feel more modern. They can seem more relaxed when featuring softened edges, like the current Microsoft default font Calibri, or they can convey a clean simplicity, as with the omnipresent Arial and Helvetica.

Script typefaces like Brush Script look like handwritten cursive, and can range from the casual, friendly option shown in the bakery example above to formal script often used in wedding invitations.

Blackletter type has a stately, calligraphic feel. It recalls the days of old illuminated manuscripts and conveys a long passage of time, of antiquity. Its most common logo usage is in brands known for a long history (or who want to convey that sense), such as distilleries or newspaper mastheads.

Decorative is a catch-all name for more elaborate typefaces that don’t fit neatly into any of these categories. Decorative fonts can be hard to read in paragraphs of body text, and are best used only in logos or short headlines. Their tone, as seen above, can range from retro nostalgia to post-apocalyptic grunge to childlike whimsy, among many others. They can be used to great effect, but consider them thoughtfully.

One final note on italic type: italicizing a serif type can soften the sturdiness of a serif while still feeling timeless. Italicized sans-serif type gives a feeling of leaning, of forward motion. If you’d like to convey movement or forward-thinking with your logo, consider an italic sans-serif font.

When choosing a typeface for a logo, reflect on the voice or mood you’d like to convey. Do you want customers to see your company as reliable and steadfast, like a bank or high-end watch manufacturer? Or are you personable and fun, like a boba tea shop? Classic or modern? Your logo’s typeface will be one of the first things a potential customer sees.

These type attributes just scratch the surface of possibilities for branding. If you’re developing a logo and would like to speak with us about design options, please contact us today!

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