Brand identity: Typography

Let's discuss jargon, file types and licensing

Typography is an art form that can manipulate the significance of what it communicates. Due to its effects on the context of communication, understanding typography is especially important when developing a brand identity. This article aims to give you a high level understanding of typography including its jargon, file types and licensing.

I love the way Wikipedia defines typography:

Typography (from the Greek words τύπος typos "form" and γράφειν graphein "to write") is the art and technique of arranging type in order to make the language it forms most appealing to transparent learning and recognition.

When developing a brand identity, you need to consider how typography will fit into the overall brand architecture. All communication in association with your brand will utilize your typographic decisions. Your typography can be simple and non obvious, or it can actually enhance your communication. For example:


Typeface : font : type family

Typeface, font and type family often get used interchangeably, but the terms have very distinct meanings. It’s easiest to understand how they differ by understanding how they’re all related:

  • Typeface: The overarching style of a group of fonts. For example, Helvetica, Arial or Times New Roman. Each typeface has distinguishing characteristics which are represented in its fonts.
  • Font: A specific variation of a typeface. For example, Helvetica Bold 12pt.
  • Type family: A comprehensive collection of all sizes and styles (bold, italic, medium, etc.) of a single typeface.

Font file types

As with most things in technology, as fonts have evolved numerous file types have been developed. There are over fifteen different font file types, but the ones you will most likely encounter are:

  • .ttf (TrueType Font): Developed in the 1980s by Apple and Microsoft, .ttf is the most common font format on Mac OSX and Windows operating systems.
  • .otf (OpenType Font): Announced in 1996 by Microsoft in conjunction with Adobe, .otf built on the .ttf file spec with some key advancements including: cross platform support (Windows, OSX, Unix), Unicode support and the ability to support up to 65,536 glyphs which is important for international character sets.
  • .eot (Embedded OpenType): A variation of OpenType fonts developed by Microsoft for embedding fonts on web pages. This .eot file format is used exclusively with the Internet Explorer web browser.
  • .woff (Web Open Font Format): Developed in 2009 and now a W3C Recommendation, .woff is a variation of OpenType/TrueType fonts that supports additional metadata and compression. The .woff file format is used in numerous modern web browsers and is gaining in popularity.

When working with web fonts, to support the majority of web browsers you will need to deliver .eot, .ttf and .woff versions of your fonts. You can use a tool like FontSquirrel’s webfont generator to convert your desktop fonts to various web font formats. Alternatively you can use a service to help manage delivery and commercial licensing, which we will go over next.

Web fonts, desktop fonts and licensing

Typography is an art form and licensing is a very real topic to consider. If you choose to use a commercial font you will need to review its end user license agreement (EULA). If you have selected a font on your computer, typically the license is only available for desktop usage, not delivery on the web. Additionally, anyone who works with your brand identity will need to have the font license if they are creating production materials for your brand using a commercial font.

To simplify this situation, there are some great services available:

  • Google web fonts: A great resource for free web fonts that can be embedded and delivered via Google’s infrastructure. A lot of the fonts here also closely match some commercial fonts in style, but have an open license.
  • Owned and operated by Adobe. If you're an Adobe’s Creative Cloud customer, you will get a free subscription to TypeKit. TypeKit is a very streamlined service for managing and embedding commercial fonts into a web page.
  • Owned and operated by Heofier & Co., is similar to TypeKit, except it delivers exclusively the Hoefier & Co. fonts. It houses some of the most desirable typography in the world, so it’s worth checking out.

Character sets and internationalization

As a brand develops so will its international customer base. To maintain your typography and target international customers in their language, make sure to review the character set for each font. We hit the problem early on while building Brandisty. Now when we make font decisions we blend aesthetic with available character set.

It’s amazing how instrumental and unique the topic of typography is. As your brand identity develops, use the above information to help guide your typographic decisions.

PS: If you're looking for some intelligent tools to distribute your brand assets we've built Brandisty just for you!