For the love of fonts

 

It’s hard not to hang on Julia Gottlieb of Amadeus Brand’s every word – the woman talks about typography as if it’s the most awe-inspiring, bizarrely-romantic and historically-fascinating topic going. In fact that’s the way it is pretty much whenever she speaks – we tend to get a little side tracked when we chat. But the thing is, when she’s the one talking, it really is. She likens fonts to works of art and the perfect font pairing to budding dance partners, she reads books about the history of fonts for pleasure and made brochures for fun with Microsoft Publisher when she was just 12 years old.

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Suffice to say, Julia is a type geek. She’s also the creative director of Amadeus Brand – a business she established in response to being made redundant while on maternity leave with her first child. Who’s laughing now, right?

So it will come as no surprise that when we caught up recently to chat about all things font-related, I came out the other side feeling even more font-inspired.

On the days of Microsoft

Think back to 1992. What were you doing? Playing computer games? Riding your bike to the park? Sporting some kind of amazing hypercolour t-shirt and crimped hair combo? Julia, on the other hand, was getting up close and personal with Microsoft Publisher and loving every minute.

“My dad was an early adopter of the personal computer, we probably had our first when I was just five years old, but by the time I was 12 Microsoft Publisher had really come to the fore,” she says. “I was absolutely fascinated by how you could create brochures and flyers that looked so professional right there on your computer! I used to play around for hours creating different things, and I was tickled pink by being able to choose from so many fonts and also how changing these fonts could completely alter the tone of the piece. That’s when I realised the power that a good font choice could make.”

When I was 12 I got chickens for my birthday. So, you know, to each their own.

And that’s just it, Julia has always been true to type-loving self. She pursued her passion further in college where her teachers shared stories about how fonts came to be, their place in history and how they reflect a moment in time. Did you know that up until the Industrial Revolution, typefaces were generally gothic or serif, but the influx of people into the cities lead to the need for people to ‘advertise’ and communicate messages to the masses? No? Julia did.

“That’s when fat typefaces were born. Designed to be used as ‘display’ or ‘headline’ fonts, they were able to capture people’s attention and communicate key messages at a glance, far more so that the skinnier fonts of the time. Fascinating.”

On more fascinating font facts

Julia goes on to explain how fonts originated all together – when they were created for the printing press. Every single letter was literally hand-crafted and then manually assembled into

place to make words, sentences, paragraphs and pages. Before then books were hand-written and therefore the domain of the very rich, or the very religious. The printing press broke down that divide and made the written word far more accessible. But even as a shortcut for it’s time, in my mind the printing press process needed two things by the bucket load… passion and persistence.

“I think that’s why us type geeks get so worked up over beautiful fonts. Look close enough and they are still works of art in their level of craft. There’s definitely a visible difference in quality between your old freebie font and the high-calibre fonts from some of the established foundries.”

On why typography and font pairing is so important to a brand

I get the importance of branding – it’s integral to our day-to-day business here at O&C. What I do know is that brands are complex, multi-layered beasts and as Julia explains, the more layers you use, the clearer the image of the brand your audience will receive.

“Type is a powerful, yet subtle layer. Instinctively, we receive a message about a brand we are experiencing based on the type that they use,” she says. “A good example if between banking and airline brands. Banks, such as Westpac/Bank of Melbourne use beautiful, serif typefaces – great for communicating trust and credibility. Airlines, such as Qantas and Virgin, on the other hand use typefaces that are sleek, quite modern and imbue a sense of energy. This is perfect for the messages they wish to convey: travel with us and you’ll have an adventure – even if you’re travelling for business.”

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But brand life is about more than one font – the pairing of fonts is essential to create a cohesive brand experience. We’re talking a match made in heaven between your heading, display or title font and body text font. When it’s done well, Julia likens the pairing to dance partners…

“They need to move together, fluidly and as one to communicate cohesively. The is no one dominant player and each font brings something different to the equation.”

So how do we find the perfect pair? Begin with the visual – are they wide or narrow, what’s the kerning like (the space between each letter), and then move to the less tangible – what’s the overall mood of the font? Is it traditional with a sense of history, or designer-focused making it better suited to a modern or refined context?

“All of these questions need to be formed and answered by the person building the brand, but much like matching colours, there are no hard and fast rules, and sometimes the most unexpected combinations can really sing,” adds Julia.

On the four things every brand manager should know about typography

When talking shop with someone full of knowledge and goodness, it’s crucial you milk those moments for everything their worth. I know this. So before calling it a day, I asked Julia to share her top typography wisdom with the brand managers among us. She imparted these four gems:

The font must be easily used by all stakeholders

“I’ve seen so many (very expensive) brand development projects throw up some lovely fonts that are incredibly complex to licence and use within the enterprise."

Inevitably anyone outside of the design department finds it too difficult and starts to go rogue with their own font choices. This really compromises the visual integrity of the brand and makes it difficult to build brand equity when the customer is seeing 27,567 versions of typography when they interact with the business.

This is where I find Google Fonts to be a Godsend. Sure, they’re not the most wonderfully crafted works of art (this is a frequent lament from the design community), but there are some great choices that work just fine, and you know what? I’d prefer the consistent use of a Google font versus a beautiful font that doesn’t get used properly because it’s a pain to licence or install on everyone’s machines. Or it reverts to Times New Roman when you send a PowerPoint prezzo.”

Sort out your Heading 1, 2, 3 (and even 4, 5, 6 in web design)

I’m talking body text, link styles etc – sort them out in granular detail and Style Guide the shit out of it! Make sure everyone knows how to apply and use the fonts. Make the rules, and then allow them to be broken (just a bit) by the people who know how to ( that means designers or branding experts).

"There will always be occasion to bend the rules for the sake of clearer or better communications, or even just art. But the rules should definitely be there."

Template, template, template

Sure, Microsoft applications ain’t sexy, but they do keep a brand tight for most small (and large) businesses. Ensure all of the type specifications are set and templates accessible to everyone who requires them. Also – if your business doesn’t quite need the grunt of the Adobe CC suite of programs, Canva for businesses is a fantastic application where you can also plug in your typography specifications and keep your type game strong.

Always nominate an MS Office Compatible font for your brand

If you need to send a native Word document or PowerPoint presentation, at least you’ve dictated the font that you want it to be viewed with. Now, it’s slim pickings from a design perspective, but my go-tos are Arial, Georgia or Franklin Gothic. Although Calibri is nice, it’s the default on many machines, so you run the risk of looking like you haven’t made an effort!

On her favourite fonts

Of course, I couldn’t walk away from a font legend without also asking about her favourite fonts to boot. Here’s Julia’s cream of the crop…

“Miller and Chronicle are typography’s equivalent of the Little Black Dress. Easy to style and will always look classy. Lora Italic is a beautiful lady in and of herself, and she’s a Google font to boot, making my job so much easier.”

“Futura Next is a superb modern take on possibly one of the best-loved fonts of all time. The subtle curvature of each letterform make it so very special. As for Cooper Hewitt, I actually visited the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum when I was in New York; it has a special place in my heart. Imagine my delight when I (a) came across this impeccable font and (b) it was free – a true gift to design world right from the museum itself. Montserrat is another Google font (winning) and a true workhorse. Use it best as a Heading 3, all caps, generously spaced. It works beautifully as a body text too. Match it with a lovely serif typeface for the larger headings and voila, a typography match made in heaven.”

As for the great fonts in all the land… Julia rates Orpheus, Contax Pro, Archer, Futura Next and anything monospaced like Roboto Mono.

And with that, I feel it’s safe to say that Julia herself is the greatest typography-enthusiast/historian/supporter in all the land.

 
Tess Mol