Typography & Visual Identity

Is there an inherent relationship between a brands visual identity and the cohesive use of typography within the branding process?

This essay will explore the relevance of typography within creating a cohesive and distinguishable brand identity. Through analytical research and case studies, this essay will demonstrate that typography has a vital role in the fields of brand identity and advertising, enabling consumers to differentiate brands through their use of typographic systems.

Typography is a fundamental element of graphic design and the modern world that surrounds us today. Brands in the postmodern era have a need to look transparent, friendly and welcoming. Exploring type is important because typography is used everywhere, it's ubiquitous. Information and communication is visual, the aesthetic design sculpts the user experience, emotion and perception in correlation with a brand, or product.

This essay will explore the historical, social and technological contexts that concern typography and brand identity. Within these fields this essay will examine the semiotic analysis of typography, using case studies as a specimen to observe the signifiers that associate typographic styles within different industries, brands and products. The first section of this essay will examine brand identity. This section will examine what is meant by the term, ‘brand identity’. It will follow on with an in-depth analysis of the different vehicles of a brand that create an identity.

The second section of this essay will examine typography. This section will explore the medium that is typography by investigating the management of letters and the architecture of type. This will then follow on with the exploration into the classification of typefaces,drawing from the aesthetics and personality of a typeface.

The third section of this essay will examine the relationship between typography and brand identity, identifying the role in which typography plays in creating a cohesive and recognisable brand. This section will refer back to historical and technological contexts that had a vital role within the relationship of the two mediums such as the international style type movement and the advent of the macintosh computer.

Branding is everywhere!

Before this essay explores the relationship between typography and brand identity, This section will first focus on defining what constitutes a brand, as well as identifying what is meant by various terminology in relation to a brand. First of all, brands are ubiquitous, they are engrained within our capitalist - consumer culture. They are everywhere in the modern world, in our homes, on our streets and constantly in our minds, whether you consciously realise or not, ”Think clothes labels, running shoes, TVs, and computers. From the moment we wake up to the moment we sleep, they're an ever-present part of our daily routine." (Airey, 2014, p. 2) Airey makes an interesting point, citing that every product we own, every service we see has some form of branding. Look around, how many logo’s and trademarks can you see?

There is an abundance of brands surrounding us, they have been engineered to affect every aspect of modern life. "It has spread into education, sport, fashion, travel, art, theatre, literature, the region, the nation and virtually anywhere else you can think of." (Olins, 2005, p. 14). It could be said therefore that consumer brands have become an important part of our culture, in every part of society, they are inadmissible and inescapable.

What is a brand?

The Term ‘brand’ refers to the way in which a business or organisation presents itself to the public, “The fundamental idea behind the brand is that in everything the organisation does, everything it owns, and everything it produces should project a clear idea of what it is and what its aims are." (Olins, 2008, p. 28) A brand looks to identify with its customers through the use of branding and brand identity. Every brand has a different ethos, and a different set of core values. These are important as the tone, identity and relationship with the consumer will depend on the ethos of that company.

Brands are created to show differentiation from one product or service to another, they are created to persuade the consumer to choose their product over a similar offering from a different company. Ambrose & harris state, "Brands are created to help us distinguish between similar product offerings through perceptions of quality and value. the brand then becomes a recognisable symbol for a certain level of quality." (Ambrose and Harris, 2010, p. 48) Not only do brands differentiate themselves from one another but they also represent their stature, whether it be a high-quality, high-cost item, or, a low cost, cheap commodity. Every sector has a low level, mid-range, and high-end product or service.

The marketplace is heavily crowded with hundreds of thousands of products. There is an infinite choice. The consumer has to deal with vast amounts of visual noise. Brands are constantly fighting for out attention by any means necessary. The saturated marketplace has compelled brands to craft a personality which is applied throughout the business, on all mediums that promote the brand.

The values and persona that represent the brand are designed to emotionally connect with the consumer, "As competition creates infinite choices, companies look for ways to connect emotionally with customers, become irreplaceable, and create lifelong relationships." (Wheeler, 2012, p. 2) The emotion between the brand and consumer are shown through the story of the brand. The consumer relates to a brand on a personal level. Consumers want to be perceived by our peers as a particular type of person. Consumers align themselves with brands that they see fit to show their own image through.

What is branding?

In order to understand what makes a successful brand one must examine the differences between branding and brand identity. The term ‘branding’ refers to process used to build awareness of a particular brand and extend the loyalty of the consumer. Branding is the promotion and marketing of the brand aimed at making the demographic purchase their product over another. "What marketing, branding and all the rest of it are about is persuading, seducing and attempting to manipulate people into buying products and services." (Olins, 2005, p. 7) Thus, it can be seen that the main objective of branding is to influence the consumer to purchase that company’s product.

The tangible discipline of branding spans across many mediums. In the present day, digital branding such as social media marketing plays an important part of connecting with the consumer. This direct interaction affords the opportunity for the brand to understand the consumers needs, wants and values. This personal interaction instils trust in the brand, as business’ can align their values with those of the consumer.

Branding is an essential part of a business and brand strategy, it is the crossover of business and visual communication, "Branding is a melding of marketing and design, and this crossover between business and creative has created its own lexicon." (Davis and Baldwin, 2006, p. 9) Once a strategy has been devised, a brand needs to create touch points in order to deliver an experience that is consistent on all platforms. The consistency of these touch points shape the consumers perception of a brand. When done effectively, the process of branding can create a strong reputation in the marketplace.

Good branding can translate to an ever-lasting relationship between a brand and the customer, "With the right branding, businesses can increase their products perceived value, establish relationships with their customers that span ages and borders, and nurture those relationships into a lifelong bond.” (Airey, 2014, p. 6) Customers choose products based on the value of which they are thought to be, rather than their actual value.

A consumer buys into the promises of a brand, such as the quality of a product and the status that the product carries with it. If the promises of the brand and the products they produce are kept, the consumer will most likely buy that product again and even purchase other products from that brand. Consistent adverting and branding, united with a highly reputable product creates familiarity and trust on behalf of the consumer. This cocktail persuades consumers to keep selecting that product, rather than similar offerings from rival brands.

What is brand identity?

Brand identity, or corporate identity, differs from branding in the use of its context. Brand identity is all about the cohesion of elements within a brand. The consistent use of colour, imagery, type and other mediums are aimed at making the recognition and differentiation of a brand instantaneous by unifying elements into a single system, “The same visual identity seen time and again builds trust, and trust keeps customers coming back for more." (Airey, 2014, p. 21) Therefore, a recognisable identity creates a trustworthy brand that customers will associate with credibility. This gives the customer assurance that the product is of a certain quality.

This trust fabricates into a bond in which the consumer will always choose that brand, rather than one if it’s rivals. In the modern day, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of brands, and what they represent. Consumers are interested more than ever about the ethics surrounding brands. Corporate brands have the need to become more transparent, look friendlier and evoke trust into the minds of the public. This makes brand identity almost second nature to the brand. "Identity expresses itself in every touchpoint of the brand and becomes intrinsic to a companies culture - a constant symbol of its core values and its heritage." (Wheeler, 2012, p. 10) Wheeler is stating that brand identity is a core component of a brand, representing the underlying principles of the brand, this must be apparent within all the mediums that the brand uses to market its product.

What is typography?

In this section, the essay will examine typography. This purpose of this section is to identify what is meant by the term, ‘typography’. This section will also explore the emotion of typography through cultural and historical contexts before subsequently analysing the semantics of typography. In its simplest form typography is the architecture of language.

Typography represents the arrangement of letters that make language understandable, ”Typography is concerned with the structuring and arranging of visual language. Type design is concerned with the creation of units to be arranged." (Baines and Haslam, 2005, p. 6) Baines and Haslam are saying that the purpose of typography is to sculpt and experience for the reader, arranging the glyphs into a legible format that we know as language.

With this in mind, one may conclude that all forms of text, whether they are written, or digitally printed would constitute as typography, never the less this is not is not the case,"Only type uses standardised forms that rearrange and reproduction expression without end. Systemised character sets fit for repeated use with ranges of text distinguish typography from other letter-marking methods." (Cullen, 2012, p. 12) Cullen states that the term ‘typography’ can only lend itself to units that can be regulated and reproduced. This definition implies a complete distinction from any other form of lettering including handwriting, graffiti, or any other form of mark making that is concerned with creating letterforms that are not able to be reproduced.

Cullen’s definition reflects the traditional nature of the craft. Although this definition is not false, in the present day, with the advent of the computer and the birth of digital typefaces, there are a wide variety of definitions that struggle to define what typography is. All of which adapt based on the context of the discipline, referring to the aesthetics, arrangement and duplication of lettering. "Such a diversity of definitions reflects the complexity of typography and the extent of its influence. It also demonstrates its continuing need to adapt both to new technology and to its users." (Baines and Haslam, 2005, p. 7) One might search for the concluding definition of typography, however, it becomes apparent that the ever changing medium is always in a state of flux. It is almost impossible to definesomething that is always developing due to technological knowledge and understanding.

Type as communication

Typography is engrained in the modern culture. It is universally comprehensive. Type is everywhere, on your alarm clock, on your mobile phone, on your breakfast cereal packaging, on your shirt label, it is inescapable. "Typography is everywhere, crossing mediums that include environments, interfaces, packaging, and print." (Cullen, 2012, p. 14) The influence of typography in the urban landscape is astronomical. Type is always communicative, it exists as a vehicle for all the messages and information that we, as humans and consumers see. Typography is designed to convey a message.

Typography can transmit meaning through many signifiers, the context in which it is used, the aesthetics of the typeface and it’s relationship with other elements, ”A letterform, one element, might be staged on a screen, and therefore exist in relation to its background and screen edges." (Crisp and Temple, 2012, p. 40) This shows that the function and meaning when using typography changes in relation to its surroundings. This can be said regarding type within print, digital and packaging mediums. The environment in which type suits is connected to the message that the information is promoting.

Emotion of typography

Furthermore, being a useful communicative tool, type can also be expressive. Typefaces create atmosphere due to their own individual personality, charm and their own set of values. The characteristics of letterforms within a typeface or font family often signify meaning through their aesthetics. "Typefaces influence communication through appearance and legibility. Aesthetics provide first impressions and express personalities, much as friendly, professional, or sweet and youthful, masculine, or utilitarian." (Cullen, 2012, p. 55) Therefore one might conclude that the meaning hidden within a typeface is a connotation of historical and cultural contexts.

For example, the neoclassical typeface Didot is evocative of the age of the enlightenment. This style has become synonymous with the fashion and beauty industry, mainly for the Didot’s usage as ‘Vogue’ and ‘Harpers Bazaar’ logo’s respectively. Typefaces that have lighter weights, contrasts and serifs are often perceived as looking more expensive and superior. Compare this to the transitional sans-serif typeface Helvetica, that is synonymous to clean, minimalistic and transparent design, which is applicable to anything. This is due to the neutral nature of its aesthetics, achieved by Helvetica’s upright axis, large x-height and uniform strokes.

Semiotic signifiers

The attributes and emotion that are linked to typeface design is in part due to their usage within society. There is now a universal language in which a certain style of typeface asserts a different meaning and evokes a different emotion. It is as if typefaces have become a brand within themselves. One can associate the intent and meaning of a piece of text with the style of typeface used. "With roles of semantic and aesthetic, type that expresses text at its best serves both roles at once." (Cullen, 2012, p. 12) To summarise, the varying styles of typefaces have the ability to trigger emotion on the part of the reader through their appearance. This concludes that in addition to the primary task of serving as a visuals means of language, typefaces can also create atmosphere.

Fonts & Typefaces

Letterforms each have their own distinct design. These can be classed into two categories, typefaces and fonts. Many people use these words in the same context, however, these terms do not mean the same thing. A typeface is a collection of characters that share the same visual identity. "A typeface is the consistent design, or distinct visual from, of a type family. It is a cohesive system of related shapes created by a type designer." (Cullen, 2012, p. 55) It can be seen that a typeface relates to the underlying aesthetic values of a set of letterforms that share the same architectural structure.

A font refers to the individual typefaces within a font family. "A font can also describe family members comprising typefaces, such as light, regular and bold.” (Cullen, 2012, p. 55) Cullen explains that a font is a variation of a typeface that inherits the same aesthetic characteristics. For example; Garamond is a typeface, whereas Garamond regular, italic, semibold and bold are all font variations of the parent typeface, Garamond. As a collection, they are known as a font family. It can be said that a font can be explained as the means of typeface reproduction.

Fusion of typography and the brand

In this section of the essay, close attention will be paid to the examination of typography within brand identity. This investigation will determine if there is an inherent relationship between a brand's visual identity and typography within the branding process. Typography has the power to communicate the style, tone and voice of a brand. In other words, the typographic style of a companies branding can encapsulate the personality of the brand, thus defining the identity of that brand.

A distinct typographic system conveys a clear message about that brand and its values. This gives the impression that the brand has careful consideration and appreciation for aesthetics. "Typography plays a key role in establishing visual identity because of its inherent personality characteristics. Type can appear as austere, conservative, futuristic and many other things that depending on the font it is set in." (Ambrose and Harris, 2010, p. 136) It could be said therefore that the personality of a typeface has a direct impact on the identity of a brand.

The characteristic aesthetics of a typeface have unambiguous connotations of what a brand might be. Type can become integrated with a brand in the public imagination, aiding perception into the classification of the brand, its position in the market, and the underlying principles that establish the brand.

Typography is an intrinsic figure within the identity of a brand, enabling consumers to instantly recognise a brand. This is achieved by a brand creating a unified and coherent image through the use of a carefully considered and consistent typographic style. A consistent typographic voice helps consumers distinguish a brand across all platforms that it utilises. Type design plays an important role in advertising and marketing as it is the primary medium in which companies transport their message to the consumer. The aesthetics of typography are just as, of not, more import as the message it carries. Whilst the personality is an imperative part of typography, inherent legibility is crucial. Consumers must be able to interpret and understand the content that is presented to them. Brandsmust adhere to the careful consideration of typography and the contexts of which type is positioned.

A wide variety of typefaces are used within branding, each indicating the personality and nature of a brand. A brand may choose an existing typeface whereas other brands may create their own typeface in order to attract attention through differentiation. These custom typefaces become and extension of the brand and give the company ownership of the asset rather than licensing an otherwise conventional typeface. One typeface however has been exhausted amongst brands in recent history. That typeface is Helvetica. Helvetica is a well known ubiquitous typeface that has been applied to many corporate brands such as; American Apparel, BMW, Lufthansa, Microsoft and Toyota to name a few.

Helvetica was designed as a clean and minimalist typeface that could be adapted for a number of purposes. The typeface was created without connotation in order to aid visibility and clarity within the reading process. The ubiquity of the typeface gives the sense of transparency that large corporations crave in order to appear honest and welcoming. The neutral nature of Helvetica makes it an enduring and timeless typeface that can be applied to any brand.

The modern day consumer is conscious of the ethical values of a brand. There has been an increased need for corporate brands to appear transparent in order to be acknowledged as a caring and trustworthy brand that consumers can align themselves with. "Emotion and creative expression are now becoming fundamental drivers for all consumers and this needs to be bought into the business approach." (Davis and Baldwin, 2006, p. 9) Davis and Baldwin stated that emotion is a core attribute for that consumers look for in a brand. This helps consumers identify with a brand and express their beliefs through the brand. The use of typography within the branding process is a considerable aspect of showcasing a brand's emotion, heritage and ideology. The characteristics of a typeface, along with the considered typographic treatment applied throughout the branding stimulate a set of associations that the consumers have with a brand.

The success of a brand is not solely down to its, product, or its identity, but the emotional connection that the consumer has with a brand. Capturing emotion within a brand creates an intrinsic relationship between the brand and the consumer. "They can make those emotions immediately accessible, in many cases overriding mountainous barriers like ethnicity, religion and language. They have an immense emotional content and inspire loyalty belong reason." (Olins, 2005, p. 19) This establishes that brands use emotion in order to connect with the consumer, triggering an emotional response. This creates a desire for that brand and its products that cannot be rationalised. One strategy of achieving an emotional connection between the consumer and a brand is humanising the brand. These brands that connect with the consumer on an emotional level by considering the demographics needs.

By recognising what the consumer wants and what they aspire to. Brands need to communicate with the consumer in a consistent manner, every touchpoint needs to reinforce the message that the brand responds to the emotional needs of the customer. Two brands that do this well are Apple and Coca-Cola. Both brands connect with their customers through the use of emotion and consistent branding, utilising a cohesive typographic system throughout all their products and branding material.


Coca-Cola is the world's best-selling beverage and the most recognisable brand in the world today. The success of Coca-Cola as a brand relies upon its logo. Coca-Cola created one of the most iconic and recognisable logos in the world. The use of red colour amongst calligraphic text makes the brand instantly recognisable. "There's nothing particularly special that separates Coca-Cola from other similar drinks: it's just a maroon, fizzy, sweetish drink that is momentarily refreshing. There are plenty of other drinks that do the same job. So why is Coke one of the world's best known and loved products? Because of consistent, ubiquitous distribution and promotion. Wherever you go there's Coke - and they're not kidding." (Olins, 2008, p. 40) Olins states that Coca-Cola is not necessarily a special product, however, the implementation of branding with a considered approach and copious promotion has helped establish the brand as a worldwide phenomenon.

Coca-Cola uses typography as its core element, entered around the Coca Cola logo. The logo has become part of modern culture over the last decade. One of the main reasons that the brands logo has become so iconic exists due to the use of colour within the brand and its products. Contrast is a key feature on all Coca Cola’s advertising and branding mediums. The contrast between the colour of the logo and the background create a striking image that grabs consumers attention. Headlines and body copy also follow the same trend on all of Coca Colas branded media. Highlighted bold text placed on a contrasting background of block colour makes the text stand out, giving maximum attention to the message.

Aside from the original Coca-Cola, the brand has three other products under its umbrella, Coke Zero, Diet Coke and Coke Life. As well as catering for a wider audience, each alternative allows the consumer to showcase their own identity and values through the beverage that they purchase, whilst still promoting the Coca-Cola brand. Type plays a key part within the identity of the alternate products. Coca-Cola Life, Zero and Diet Coke all have different brand marks in order to separate the products, whilst the use of the Coca Cola logo creates cohesion between them.

The share a coke campaign showcased a more personal approach to branding and offered a unique experience between the brand and the consumer. Removing the classic Coca-cola logo from the packaging of the product and replacing it with a people's names engaged consumers. This created a personal connection between the consumer and product, allowing the consumer to associate themselves with the brand. This reinforced the emotional connection that the consumer has with the brand through the use of typographical and visual effects.


Apple Inc. is one of, if not, the most successful brand that has ever been created. Apple has created a humanistic, almost life like the brand that is universally known, not just because of the products it produces or its branding, but the emotional connection between the brand and the consumer. There is an atmospheric and emotional signification between the brand and the ideals that the company is based on. Apple is a brand of innovation, breaking new ground in terms of both design and performance. Apple continually creates exciting new products but insists on reducing the complexity of its products. The simplistic nature of its products and interfaces can be traced into the brand identity of Apple. The design of Apple’s advertisements, packaging and marketing materials are simple, clean and straightforward. This embodies the ideals of the brand and creates cohesion between the different mediums. The carefully considered use of type across multiple platforms creates a coherent brand identity.

Apple has created a typographic system throughout the use of size and weights in order to structure content and present it to the consumer in an effective arbitrary manner.Everything from the literature used within instruction, packaging and product design rationale reflect the core values of the brand. The cohesion of these mediums support and sustain the brand. "Although everything, from the instruction literature to the website, to the advertising, to the stores and the behaviour of the people who work in them, all help support and sustain the Apple brand." (Olins, 2008, p. 39) Analysis of the evidence has highlighted that Apple has focused on creating a brand that is consistent throughout all of the touchpoints between itself and the consumer.

This expands from Apple's branding philosophy into the products that it produces. "Apple products are designed to look beautiful and to function well: in doing that they project the Apple brand idea. So every Apple product helps to both define and reinforce the brand." (Olins, 2008, p. 34). This shows that Apple products are designed to look beautiful in addition to their function. By doing this, Apple projects the brand ideology into its products. The products that Apple design adhere to a set of values and aesthetics, making any Apple product instantly recognisable. The product itself helps reinforce the brand, when you use an iPod or use an iMac you are using the essence of the brand.


This essay has established that typography directly affects the way in which a brand is perceived. Analysis of the evidence has highlighted in this essay leads one to conclude that there is a direct correlation between the visual identity of a brand and the cohesion of a carefully considered, systematic use of typography within the adverting and marketing mediums of a brand.

Thus, it can be seen that branding refers to the management of the implication of a carefully strategised, distinct and identifiable style within all the brands assets and touch points, in order to build awareness of a brand and extend the loyalty of the customer, proceeds to lead one to conclude that the strength of the identity of a brand relies on the cohesive use of the assets within the advertising and marketing mediums said brand. This proves that all tangible assets such as the use of colour, imagery and typography must form the desired image of a brand and its values in the imagination of the consumer.

The supporting evidence can determine that typography is an inherent part of society, that serves as a vehicle of communication and understanding which is used to convey atmosphere and emotion through its intrinsic characteristics and personality, establishing a palpable link to the image of a brand and the overall perception of a brand though the delivery of the content to the consumer, utilising both the aesthetics of typography and the language that the message contains.

The information provided proves that typography is a key part of a customer's interaction with a brand. Creating a strong typographic presence within their branding, a company can become easily identifiable, allowing the consumer to instantly recognise the brand.Understanding that the disciplines of branding and typography are a meansof persuasion, that aim to convince the customer to buy a brand's product through their visual style and continuity prove that indeed the use of cohesive and persistent typographic style reflects the strength of a brand's identity.


Airey, D. (2014) Logo design love: A guide to creating Iconic brand identities. United States: Peachpit Press Publications.

Ambrose, G. and Harris, P. (2010) The visual dictionary of typography. Lausanne, Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

Baines, P. and Haslam, A. (2005) Type and typography (portfolio). 2nd edn. London: Laurence King Publishing. Cass, J. (2010) Branding, identity & logo design explained | JUSTTM creative.

Crisp, D. G. and Temple, W. F. (2012) Typography. Edited by Meredith Davis. United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson.

Cullen, K. (2012) Design elements, typography fundamentals: A graphic style manual for understanding how typography affects design (PagePerfect NOOK book). United States: Rockport Publishers.

Davis, M. and Baldwin, J. (2006) More than a name: An introduction to Branding. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA.

Feature | the meanings of type (2000) Available at: http://www.eyemagazine.com/feature/article/the-meanings-of-type.

Hochuli, J. (2008) Detail in typography. London: Hyphen Press.

Hustwit, G. (2007) Helvetica.

Kane, J. (2011) A type Primer. John Kane. 2nd edn. London: Laurence King Publishing.

Lupton, E. (2010) Thinking with type: A critical guide for designers, writers, editors, and students. 2nd edn. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Montgomery, A. (2015) Modernism and the birth of corporate identity. Available at: http://www.designweek.co.uk/modernism-and-the-birth-of-corporate-identity

Olins, W. (2005) Wally Olins: On brand. 1st edn. New York: Thames & Hudson.

Olins, W. (2008) Wally Olins: The brand handbook. 1st edn. London: Thames & Hudson.

The psychological importance of typography Available at: http:// www.biggroup.co.uk/en/blog/2015/feb/psychology-of-typography

Type tasting (no date) Available at: http://typetasting.com

Wheeler, A. (2012) Designing brand identity: An essential guide for the whole Branding team. United States: John Wiley & Sons Canada.