Goodbye Helvetica and the Rise of the Bespoke Font
The bespoke font trend is spreading.
With the way things are going, we won’t see much of Helvetica, once the world’s favorite font, anymore.
There was a time, only a few years ago, where you’d be hard pressed to go an hour without bumping into it. Used as Apple’s system font on iOS and Mac OS (formerly OS X) until 2015, and the default font for much of the web and world of design in general, it was, for a long time, simply unavoidable.
But such use of a font that, if we’re honest, lacked any overly noticeable characteristics, meant that companies using it were missing an opportunity to make an actual impression.
Add to that the fact that those companies, in some cases, were paying millions of dollars a year to license it, and that it didn’t render particularly well on mobile devices, and it seems the fate of Helvetica was sealed.
But rather than just selecting something from the pile of other standard fonts, lately, brands have been purpose building their own.
And so has begun the rise of the bespoke font.
One of the first notable bespoke font of recent times was Google’s Roboto.
Launched in 2011, Roboto is a neo-grotesque sans-serif font described by the company as “modern, yet approachable” and, “emotional”.
It rolled the font out on its stock Android ecosystem. Then, in 2014, to go along with the launch of its new design language, Material Design, it updated the fontto be more friendly, and perform well in a large range of contexts.
It uncurled the capital ‘R’, and rounded the dots on the lowercase ‘i’ and ‘j’, as well as periods (.) and other symbols. Now it’s a widely featured system font, appearing across almost all of Google’s products.
It’s been free to download, since 2012, and many companies, including Envato, make use of it.
To go with the launch of the Apple Watch, Apple developed a new bespoke font, built for small screens, called San Francisco.
After years of using Helvetica as the system font for the iPhone, iPad and Mac operating systems, it had finally hit the limit of what the popular font could do. They found that Helvetica was hard to read on smaller devices, with letters blending together if the spacing was too tight, and the font size and resolution was too low.
The company needed something more versatile, and purpose built for their products. So, they developed San Francisco, which I’m sure to many looks very similar to Helvetica.
They use two main versions: SF for iOS and MacOS, and SF Compact for the Apple Watch.
They’ve now rolled out the font across most of their products.
At the end of 2017, IBM announced its new bespoke font, IBM Plex.
After using Helvetica, basically since it started making computers, the company decided it needed a font that felt more a part of their brand.
Drawing inspiration from the Paul Rand designed IBM logo, IBM Plex is clear, modern and playful – a characteristic that wasn’t always associated with big blue.
On top of all of that, it will save the company over a million dollars a year in licensing fees for Helvetica Neue it was paying to Monotype. Previously, due to the licensing, not all of the company’s 380 thousand employees had a licensed version of Helvetica Neue on their devices. Now that the company owns their new font, it can remain certain every business card to PowerPoint presentation its employees put together can use the same font.
In 2016, CNN unveiled a new brand font, CNN Sans.
While the company admits it’s pretty shamelessly modeled on Helvetica, the new font offers a lot of versatility, with various weights and condensed options to fit everything from headlines on their app, to the lower third graphics at the bottom of your screen.
It’s been rolled out on the air and online. But one must admit that the font itself doesn’t exactly scream CNN.
Inspired by its play button logo, which was refined along with the creation of this font, YouTube Sans was announced in 2017.
It’s a quirky font, designed to radiate YouTube’s bright and unique style. The lowercase ‘i’s and ‘l’s feature curves. The angled choppy ends of letters like the uppercase ‘H’ are cut in line with the angle of the logo’s play button. And the logo itself is a part of the font as a glyph.
The bespoke font is mostly used in YouTube’s marketing material, assets like PowerPoint presentations for its staff, and in certain parts of its interface.
In 2018, the Coca Cola Company announced a new bespoke font called TCCC Unity (the TCCC stands for “The Coca Cola Company”).
Designed by well regarded typographic agency, Brody Associates, it is described by the Coca Cola Company’s vice president of global design, James Sommerville as, encapsulating “Coca-Cola’s past and it’s American modernist heritage.”
It’s a familiar and very friendly design, whose circularity makes it stand out.
Why brands saying goodbye to fonts like Helvetica
It’s beyond a trend at this point and becoming a standard part of branding to have a bespoke font.
Although until recently standard fonts like Helvetica held up as “good enough” options, the limits of using fonts that haven’t been meaningfully updated in half a century have become apparent.
Beyond the technical limitations that prompted Google and Apple to strike out with their own bespoke fonts, IBM have shown us that typography is a great opportunity to extend your brand identity.
Think about how many brands are trying to engage with us online. Think of how many brands make video content, or run blogs designed to bring us into their ecosystem. Think of how marketing and advertising has changed.
No longer should brands need to show you their logos to have you know it’s them. It should be in their colors, in their copy and in their typography.
Bespoke fonts offer brands more control over their identity, and in some cases can even save them money in the long run.
With brands extending themselves in ways that weren’t imaginable a decade ago, it’s never been more important to have your brand’s identity ooze out of every asset you use – from your color palette, to the way you dot your ‘i’s and cross your t’s.
Stand out with a distinctive font of your own
Not every brand is going to be able to afford to have a custom font created for them from scratch. But that doesn’t mean you automatically have to default to standard fonts like Helvetica.
Distinctive typography that aligns with your brand’s identity can be found more easily than ever.
Here are a few great options to pick from.
A modern angular typeface, Abside by hederaedesign focuses on clarity and minimalism. It’s clear to read, even from a distance, thanks to its spacing and the simplicity in each letter’s shape. But its also easy on the eye thanks to the subtle rounded edges of each letter.
Including seven weights, plus italics in each weight, Metrisch by formikalabs is based on traditional geometric construction, with its letter size wider and x-heights taller than average. It features clean vertical cuts on the terminals, and sharp corners that strike a balance that is smooth and refined.
The weights range from extra light to extra bold. It can make for a great logo or headline, as much as it can work well as a body font.
Alma Mono by dafeld is striking. It comes in five different weights, looking stunning in both extra light and extra heavy renders. Its rounded corners give it a soft, friendly feel. While the stark simplicity of each letter’s shape makes the font look minimalistic and modern.
Reef is a simple sans-serif font. Its rounded corners and terminals make it appear smooth and clear. And each letter is contained in a small amount of space, making it great for fitting lots of content on a small screen.
It’s a distinctive font that would work well in logos and headings.
Inspired by classic fonts like DIN, Eurostile and Futura, Frank is perfect for the 21st century. With characters that suit a wide array of languages, and its unapologetically clear and, if you will, frank design, it’s distinctive and functional.
Inspired by industrial signs, Martian B by crftsco is tidy and straightforward. Available in nine weights from thin to extra black, it’s perfect for signs, logos and headings. It’s strikingly modern, featuring purposeful curves within this mostly rectangular font.
Beautiful and minimal, Cebo Font by khurasan includes a number of different weights and an option with a drop shadow. It’s a great logo typeface for brands wanting to look extremely modern and futuristic.
Script fonts are rising in popularity for some brands. And while it won’t suit all types of content, it’s great for headlines, slogans, logos and simple marketing messages. It will give things a personal touch.
Another handwritten style of font, Ready by sunnytudu feels really modern and clean, two words not always associated with script typography. Each stroke making up the letters feels purposeful, but the narrow flicks like on the capital ‘F’, or between the two stems of the capital ‘H’, and the area on the lowercase ‘a’ where it looks like the marker has brushed past, give it an authenticity that’s impressive.
A great display sans font, Glorynight Tall by yipianesia follows the octagonal form principle. It’s built to stand out and make a forceful impression. It’s great if you’re looking for something punchy and modern.
Turn that cap backwards and try and appeal to the youth demographic with this graffiti inspired font. Skylight Graffiti by RVQ is a clean, modern looking script font that feels fresh. Create a distinctive logo, or share brand slogans with a font that will be sure to catch the eye.
Porter is a beautiful sans-serif font that comes in three weights and matching italics. While it’s extremely sleek and modern, the roundness of some characters and even proportions of each letter make it feel simple and friendly.
Make your logo or marketing material look not only like you’ve written it with a market, but also, that you have beautiful handwriting with Amber Queen – Signature Font by maulanacreative. Its weight is elegantly narrow, its capital letters are slim and tall, and the cursive letters are clear and tidy.
And finally, if your brand is all class, Astronout Signature by maulanacreative could be perfect for you. Aiming to give off the handcrafted feel of a signature, the typeface is well suited to stationary, logos and more.
I can picture using this on the poster for a cabaret at the Carlyle Hotel in New York. I’ll be sure to let you know where to get tickets.