How Fonts Help Clever Footwear Brands Tell Fascinating Stories

New Balance Global Flagship Store
Courtesy of brand

Amid a notoriously shaky retail climate, footwear brands and businesses are increasingly searching for points of differentiation. Compelling visual ads and crafty messages are often recruited to meet the challenge. But some branding experts offer a more (deceptively) simple answer: it’s in the font.

Consumers and retailers alike interact with fonts on a daily basis, from noticing the lettering on a shoebox to the reading of a book, but often overlooked is the deliberate detail that goes into font design (think mapping characters and designing how letters should look next to one another) — as well as what tailored solutions they might offer to businesses.

One firm, Monotype, has worked with thousands of brands — from Nike to New Balance — to provide type designs (the company’s library boasts more than 20,000 typefaces in addition to offering custom design services) and the associated technology as well as expertise that allows those designs to render text legibly and consistently across channels. Monotype’s website promises a font technology experience that enables text to look just as sharp in pixels as it would on paper.

“The typeface that a brand uses to communicate via written language sets the stage for how that brand’s message will be interpreted,” explained Monotype type designer Lynne Yun. “Most people do not consciously notice typefaces, but the subconscious impact that type has is profound and, in fact, measurable.”

Nike Air Force 1 Low Nike Air Force 1 Low Nike

And the typeface a brand or business chooses isn’t just helpful in establishing its identity — according to some, it’s critical. “If a chunky, bouncy typeface with swashes is used to suggest you try out the new farmers’ market around the corner, it can blend in to the message and help make you more likely to heed the advice,” continued Yun. “But if that very same typeface was used to suggest you hire a particular divorce attorney, it might cause you to look elsewhere.”

Dyana Weissman, senior custom designer at Type Network — a company whose team members have designed typefaces for the likes of Reebok and Adidas — agrees that the font on a storefront or of a brand’s logo on a shopping bag is key to brand identity, as well as consumers’ response to that identity. “Type is the thread that runs through a brand and makes it come together,” she offered, adding that consumers are becoming increasingly savvy. “A consumer might not have the words to describe the differences in the typefaces, but they instantly know whose ads they’re looking at.”

Her team provides guidance to clients unsure of which direction they want to go in. “We find out what a project’s limitations are and offer solutions within those,” she said. “We’re sensitive to internal constraints and work with our clients to ensure we can help them meet deadlines. We’re also happy to educate them about typography as needed.”

The company uses an application they helped develop called RoboFont, which Weissman described as having become one of the leading professional typeface design programs. “It’s customizable, so individual typeface designers can tailor their personal version to include tools that help them work most efficiently,” said Weissman. The result? Brands are provided with high-quality typefaces, generated in a variety of formats.

Weissman noted that variable fonts, a new technology, have the ability to drastically help brands. “While working with Adidas, we began to expand the idea of a consumer-controlled technology,” she recalled. “Now a brand can choose from a range of optical sizes, terminals, outlines, and any other axes they can imagine.” All of these options can be held in a single file. The result, according to Weissman, is the significant reduction of production costs.

André Mora, a designer at Process Type Foundry, said that designing a custom typeface for a company is less common than a brand simply licensing an existing font, with no consultation with the studio. “We may notice that a retailer or brand has purchased something from us but not have insight into their branding strategy,” he said.

Still, more personalized services are out there, as are the opportunities for brands and businesses to collaborate increasingly with type foundries to find the fonts that will amplify their branding and help establish their identity. The options are endless — from Times New Roman to Tazugane.

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