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Visual Branding: Using Typography to Help Tell a Brand Story

Michael Dula

Elsevier is the publisher that took its name from the House of Elzevir, established in Holland in 1580. As a company that produced books, it goes without saying that typography (along with ink and paper) was a hugely important ingredient in its production apparatus. It was the form for articulating the written word, symbolic notations, and through them, the world of scientific content. It was the master type designer, Christoffel Van Dijck, one of the greatest typographers ever to have lived, whose type design literally helped shape the books of Elzevir. His narrow and compact letterforms helped economize overall page length—more words, fewer pages, more ideas with less bulk—a masterstroke that made information more portable, while conserving materials. Over the last two years, we at BrandingBusiness have had the honor of evolving the brand standards for Elsevier, one of the most esteemed information brands in the world.

VanDyck

 

This work is a great case in using typography to help define a brand. As Canadian typographer Robert Bringhurst puts it: “Typography exists to honor content.” The communication of most ideas (content) is rendered either alphabetically or in mathematical and scientific symbols, typography is its primary form or medium. It was in this spirit, that BrandingBusiness put special emphasis on the development of a hand crafted, proprietary font system for this 130-year old digital publisher and information solutions business.

We tapped world-renowned Dutch type designer Martin Majoor to create a new, hand-crafted variation of his font FF Nexus Sans Regular. FF Nexus is an OpenType format—a format for scalable computer fonts. Nexus is the Latin word for connection. Majoor has designed three versions of Nexus, each of them connected to one another by clear, discernible common features. Elsevier’s new font is named Elsevier Wordmark Regular. This unique variation on the Nexus font system proudly extends Elsevier’s rich tradition of excellence and innovation in typographic design. The new face references the historical qualities of serif type, while presenting a modern, innovative approach to type design, enabling contemporary communications grounded in Elsevier’s heritage.

Majoor

 

Proprietary, distinctive and compact in character, Elsevier’s new font is a successful example of good brand typography, as it was designed to work across all printed and digital media. The new font has a compact yet highly legible and readable quality, and its individual characters are meticulously shaped to create ownable wordmark shapes.

Stepping back a bit, the most fundamental thing about brand identity is that it is built out of a cohesive and consistent array of key brand elements that utilize specific colors, typographic families, graphic devices, photographic styles, and compositional formats. The combination and integration of these tailored elements, in addition to supporting cohesiveness and consistency, gives a brand immediate visual recognition. Typography, a core building block within the branded identity system, is a vital element. It is through the medium of type that the brand communicates virtually all of its messages, and in its subtle visual dimensions, establishes a distinctive tone of voice while supporting critical information hierarchies.

When selecting a new typeface like Elsevier’s to communicate a brand, our design team applies certain key considerations and best practices. There are three fundamental metrics or prerequisites of outstanding typographic practice:

Legibility
The most important—logical—quality of a font is legibility. Without this, all other metrics go by the wayside. Typography must be at the service of ideas and their clear expression. Design that allows the visual exuberance of a font or typographic system take over, at the expense of content, simply fails.

Functionality
The selected font family must work well across all required materials, media, applications, and environments, including digital, print, physical signage, environments, and artifacts. It must support brand architecture, information hierarchies, and the right ordering of ideas.

Ownability
The shapes of letterforms exude personality. They are the dimension of type that suggests tone of voice, and then lend both distinctiveness and a proprietary cast to the brand.

A proprietary typestyle takes the living substance of your brand—thoughts and words—and presents them in a distinctive and ownable way. Since thoughts and words are how end-users primarily experience its brand, a proprietary face gives Elsevier a tool to make that experience one that only it can deliver.

It is worth repeating Bringhurst’s wise words: “Typography exists to honor content.” Hear, hear.

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