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Letters- JConnelly blog-What Does Your Font Say About You

Put away your bowl and spoon. With the introduction of Airbnb Cereal, Airbnb is not adding a whole new dimension to the sharing economy.

As much as I’d love to pour myself a bowl of Airbnb’s “breakfast of champions,” I’ll have to table that thought…at least for now. Airbnb Cereal is actually the name for the tech giant’s new custom font, a sans-serif typeface that pays tribute to its 2008 fundraising effort, wherein the company raised $30,000 by creating and selling collectible boxes of Obama O’s and Cap’n McCain’s.

With the rollout of Cereal, Airbnb is the latest brand to adopt a custom font. Netflix (Netflix Sans), Coca-Cola (TCCC Unity), YouTube (YouTube Sans), IBM (IBM Plex) and the BBC (BBC Reith) have also released their signature fonts, although none with quite as catchy a name as Airbnb Cereal.

A quick note: typeface is a broad category based on the specific style of lettering. Each typeface, contains multiple fonts, e.g. Book Antiqua Bold, or Book Antiqua Italic. But, with the advent of digital media and traditional typesetting drying up, the two terms are now used fairly interchangeably.

Though it’s probably the last item on your brand checklist, fonts and typeface say a lot about who you are as a company—formal, modern, playful, whimsical. And it makes sense that brands are choosing not to go with the same old ho-hum Arial or Times New Roman, a staple of term papers and take-out menus.

When considering a font—whether standard or proprietary—you should consider several factors, including:

Fitting in, not standing out.

A brand isn’t a logo or any one thing, it’s a feeling—the sum total of your identity. Choose a typeface that is distinctive and complements your brand’s personality. While you want your overall brand to stand out, your font should be just one piece of a larger puzzle. Instead of expecting your customers to say: “what a great font,” your goal should be “what a great brand.”

Transitions matter.

For established businesses, rebranding can be tricky. You want your brand to feel fresh and modern but you don’t want to risk losing equity built over years or perhaps decades. In these cases, it’s a good idea to consider more subtle changes rooted in the overall look and feel. Three years ago, Google unveiled a new logo and typeface, moving from a serif to a san serif font. The less-formal typeface made the brand seem more friendly and approachable while still being quintessentially “Google.” During its 20 years, Google has made many tweaks to its famous logo. In 2014, the search giant made the subtlest of tweaks, slightly moving the “G” and “l.” In fact, it worked so well, hardly anyone noticed!

Make it Readable.

Everyone loves to see a bit of creative flair. But if your creativity is getting in the way of reading the actual words, you know you’ve gone too far. Online retailer Belle Chic suffered a full-on font failure last year when it released a tote bag meant to read: “My Favorite Color is glitter,” but because of the lowercase “G,” looked more like “My Favorite Color is Hitler.” The fashion brand quickly pulled the bag, reissuing with a legible font, this time with an unambiguous capital “G.”

In many ways, choosing a font is a perfect metaphor for your business. It’s one of many small decisions you’ll make. And while no one single decision will make or break your brand, lots of little mistakes have a way of adding up, and that can hurt your business in the long run.

 

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