Should you follow the trend towards simple fonts?
If you are considering rebranding your business or non-profit or are in the early stages of forming your identity, you will probably be looking around for inspiration from other brands.
It is likely you will have picked up on a trend which has been ongoing for the past few years: a move towards simple, bold and capitalised sans serif fonts (i.e. lettering without the 'twiddly bits').
This is particularly noticeable with high end fashion brands where the colour has also been drained away to leave a desert of black and white sameness. Visit the websites of Yves Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, Berluti and Balmain and you will see what we mean. Even Burberry have ditched their 100 year old styling for a simple sans serif font.
Outside of fashion, the trend is similar but slightly different with brands such as Google, Spotify, Airbnb and Pinterest also opting for sans serif fonts but presenting them in lower case, using bold colours and often incorporating a simple but distinctive logo.
What's behind this movement? We have highlighted the three main reasons we have come across to explain this trend
Why are brands jumping on the sans serif bandwagon?
Various commentators have given their theories about why big brands have opted for so-called 'blanding.' Here are the three which seem to make most sense:
The most logical reason for embracing simple, easily rendered fonts is to ensure a brand's identity is immediately recognisable in every context, even on low resolution, small size mobile screens.
Although we in the West are spoilt with relatively cheap access to high resolution devices, many in poorer countries are getting by with the most basic technology. Global brands want to be seen in all corners of the globe and simple sans serif fonts are seen as the flexible option.
An argument against this explanation is that graphic designers have always created logo variations to fit multiple contexts. Where space is restricted, detail is stripped out for more clarity. Why would the emergence of mobile tech mean changing a long-established identity, as in the case of Burberry?
Simple, high contrast fonts are also more easily recognised by people with visual impairments. In recent years, companies have become more aware of their responsibility to make their resources accessible to people with disabilities. This trend could be reflecting the new drive towards inclusivity and equality of access.
Homogenous branding agencies
Some commentators have put the shift in sensibilities down to a simple lack of creativity from branding agencies. They point out that huge agencies have so many brands to look after that they opt for the simple, efficient method of homogeneity. Looking at the branding of Dior, Marc Jacobs and Luis Vuitton, all clients of LVMH, it is easy to see their point.
Bucking the trend
Whenever a design style becomes established, counter-trends are never far behind. Some designers have kicked off a 'serif redux' movement in order to bring creativity and fine detail back into the world of branding and there are certainly businesses that have kicked back against sans serif sameness and switched to serif fonts.
One example is London's Southbank Centre. In 2018, the centre clearly felt that its flexible sans serif font had run its course. They made a radical U-turn and created a novel font based on the centre's iconic architecture. The chiseled 'Noe Display' font by Schick Toikka is bold, creative and distinctive.
Which way should you go when branding?
Should you jump in with the corporate agencies and embrace sans serif uniformity or would heading in the opposite direction and bringing back the frills be of greater benefit?
Both roads have their pros and cons. Bold, sans serif capitals are included for free in every design software package (Arial Black anyone?) They are easily rendered on any screen and the file sizes are small. On the other hand, you may find it challenging to stand out against the competition.
Sourcing unusual serif fonts is more difficult and the rights to use them are expensive. Designing your own fonts will take time and plenty of creative input. You will then have to decide what to do to ensure your logo renders well on small screens. This effort could all be worth it though if you end up with a unique logo that wows your audience.
As with all great branding, choosing a font is often about finding that sweet spot between the unique and the useful.