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Custom Typefaces: are they worth the hype?

Nayoung Kim is a designer at brand agency Superunion with “a big heart for type design”. Here, she explores whether custom typefaces are worth the hype, and the hefty price tag.

Custom is a magic word. Everyone wants to be unique, different, special. In an increasingly homogenous globalised world, we crave exclusivity and individuality. Customisation allows for self-expression – whether it’s the clothing we drape our bodies in or the sofas we furnish our living rooms with – we want to surround ourselves with belongings which are unique and representational at the same time.

The concept of using custom brand typefaces isn’t new: they were first introduced in the tech industry about a decade ago as a way to save on the cost of licensing existing typefaces. Today though, as brands seek ever more ways to stand out among the crowd, a custom typeface has become an identity power-up in the game of “This-Is-Me-I-Am-Special.”

Even so, 2018 has been a standout year for custom brand typefaces. A raft of major brands have released their own; from Chobani’s chunky serif to Netflix’s compact sans. YouTube, Lyft and Airbnb have each launched their own custom typeface to much discussion from the global graphic design community. But with big name type foundries charging upwards of $100,000 for a full-featured typeface with only temporary exclusivity, are they worth the money spent?

There are myriad considerations when creating custom typefaces that billions of people all around the world will interact with on a daily basis. Personality is definitely one of the key ingredients. A custom typeface can communicate who they are as a brand in literally everything they say. It is probably one of the most efficient and important tools for incorporating brand personalities in any medium in any size. NG Grotesque for Nasty Gal designed by Colophon Foundry is an amazing example. The brand’s unapologetic, gutsy, and playful personality comes through the typeface’s geometric, bold shapes and unconventional punctuations. Imagine seeing that special exclamation point with an x on a billboard ad in the street – you’d have to pause and wonder what that brand is.

It’s not just about appearance though. It never is. Type is there for a clear purpose: to deliver a message. So, it’s equally important to see what devices the message lives on. For a company like Google, that billions of people interact with on all different kinds of devices daily, it gets more complicated to design a custom brand typeface because you have to make sure the type works well across everything. It’s like cooking one perfect dish that’ll satisfy your 80-year-old grandma, vegan friends and teenage boys. In that sense, Google’s Roboto designed back in 2011 by an in-house design team does its job well especially under the Android open source environment, where it has to be flexible enough to adapt to hundreds of screens at thousands of resolutions.

Just to add more complexity, maintaining a consistent look and feel when extending a custom brand typeface into several different languages is another challenge especially for brands with offices and customers that span the globe. Nokia Pure for Nokia designed by Dalton Maag is one of the best-in-class examples in the world of multi-script typefaces; nineteen script systems in total. An incredible amount of research was put into the project, allowing languages based on very different script system to appear to have common similarities in style and a cohesive feel.

While they’re a huge financial outlay, costing brands millions every year on licensing, they are a worthwhile investment. Done right, custom typefaces allow a brand to express themselves in everything they do. In the long term though, there are savings. Like owning your home rather than paying rent. It’s worth the upfront commitment.

Falmouth-university-opinion-itsnicethat-list Sponsored / Opinion What's the point of an MA in design anyway?

Dr. Robyn Cook is the course coordinator for the MA Communication Design at Falmouth University. After almost ten years of working in the creative industries as a designer and art director (TBH Disturbance, Ogilvy, Ogilvy Action) she moved into academia, teaching at both postgraduate and undergraduate levels at the University of Johannesburg and now Falmouth University. Here, Robyn discusses why students should (or potentially shouldn’t) study a master’s in design.

Smorgasbord-wihayo-soju-dylan-griffith-alcohol-packaging-graphic-design-itsnicethat-illustration-for-brand-film-list Work / Opinion Looking east: how Smörgåsbord designed a soju brand to work in Europe and Asia alike

Earlier this month, Coca-Cola announced it would produce its first ever alcoholic drink, an alco-pop to be launched solely in Japan. The idea is to tap into the lucrative market for chu-hi, canned fizzy drinks given a kick with a local spirit called shochu. The world’s largest soft drinks company making its move into this sector is significant, and symbolic of many other western brands trying their luck in the Asian alcohol world where huge brands such as Asahi, Kirin and Suntory already have a presence. But how do you design the branding and packaging for a product aimed at a firmly established market on the other side of the world, as well as back home? Here to enlighten us is Dylan Griffith, co-founder of Cardiff and Amsterdam-based design studio Smörgåsbord, which recently collaborated on the creation of the first European-made soju, Wihayo.

Pregnant_in_the_creative_industry_opinion_international_womens_day_itsnicethat2 Work / International Women's Day What I learned, and worried about, as a pregnant woman in the creative industry

I was never the type of woman to daydream about pushing around a pram. I guess I assumed I would one day, but that vision was in the back of my mind, far overshadowed by ambitions for my career. Since I graduated nearly ten years ago, my priority had been work – I was lucky to have very supportive parents and friends who believed, probably more than me sometimes, that I could be successful. I feel good about where I am now, as news editor at It’s Nice That. I had to fight some pretty awful bosses along the way, one who described me as having “sharp elbows” (if I were a guy that would translate as “ambitious” but that’s a whole other subject); another with an approach to gender equality like that of Sterling Cooper. But it made me tough and I gained respect. Until I got to my late 20s and the comments started coming. Subtle, seemingly harmless jokey comments from family, friends and colleagues that most women around 30 in long-term relationships would recognise. It’s baby time. If you don’t have your usual G&T at the pub, eyes flicker with gleeful suspicion. People outrightly ask you if you want to have kids, like it’s not a hugely personal and weighted life decision that will change everything.

List Features / International Women's Day “We need everyone to wake up.” Google’s Tea Uglow on intersectionality in the creative industries

Tea Uglow is the creative director at Google’s Creative Lab in Sydney. She works with both cultural and creative organisations across the globe exploring the space between technology and the arts and what can happen when they intersect. Her impressive output spans everything from responsive and reactive reading interfaces to immersive, 360-degree performances. She is also a transgender woman. To celebrate International Women’s Day, It’s Nice That got in touch with Tea to find out her opinions on representation and intersectionality within the creative industries.

List03-list-img-template-2-up-portrait Work / Photography Photographer Fred Lahache captures Morocco through the eyes of his childhood friend

When you’re a kid, stories of your mates’ exotic holidays to anywhere further than Bognor warrant considerable fuel for the imagination. For Paris-based photographer Fred Lahache, his best mate Hamza’s visits to Morocco would inspire hours of conversation between the two 12-year-olds, with Fred captivated by the very different experience of his closest pal. “I remember the stories he would tell me after each summer in Morocco with his family – the time of year we could not be together for a while,” says Fred. His latest project Looking for Hamza is an ode to the power of these stories and Morocco as an imagined destination – a visual diary of a holiday together that the pair never had.

Atelier_baudelaire-generalpublic-graphicdesign-itsnicethat-list Work / Graphic Design Salon de Montrouge's identity sees deep reds and pale pinks sweep through the gallery

The annual Montrouge Contemporary Art Fair (Salon de Montrouge) fills galleries with the upcoming artists to keep an eye on. An art fair full of excitement, possibilities and new talent needs an identity that embodies this sentiment, with graphic design of a high calibre to match the work it represents. Since 2016 this has been a task entrusted with Atelier Baudelaire, a Paris-based design studio well versed in applying creative direction to the cultural field.

Listdonuthat Work / Art Artist Genesis Belanger explores the strange things that advertising conditions us to want

From hot dogs peeping out of handbags and squeezing into strappy sandals to fruit bowls filled with bananas, strawberries and a casual boob, Brooklyn-based artist Genesis Belanger’s ceramic sculptures mix consumer goods with more than a touch of the surreal. Inspired by claymation, cartoons like The Simpsons as well as artists Dorothea Tanning, Louise Bourgeois and Fernando Botero, her work also draws heavily on the advertising industry, where she worked until breaking away to focus on sculpture. “The advertising industry understands the strength of visual persuasion and I find it fascinating that our desires can be manipulated through aesthetics,” Genesis tells It’s Nice That. “I use elements of that persuasive language in my work.”

Thelondonembroiderystudio-nicoslivesey-animation-itsnicethat-list Work / Animation "Football's Bayeux Tapestry": behind the scenes of the embroidered BBC World Cup trailer animation

Viewers who gathered in pubs and living rooms across the globe to watch the FA Cup final on Saturday were treated to an embroidered history of football at half-time. The short, made in the lead-up to the World Cup starting this June, is the product of months of work undertaken by The London Embroidery Studio and animator (and It’s Nice That Ones to Watch 2017) Nicos Livesey.

Bonjour-garcon-graphic-design-itsnicethat-list-alt Work / Graphic Design Bonjour Garçon combines photography and graphic design to make "strong and delicate" work

The brainchild of designers Romain Fritiau and Pierre Tostain, Bonjour Garçon is a studio with a distinct visual language, despite having only started working together in 2017. With a portfolio that consists of photography and graphic design, Romain and Pierre produce work that merges the two in a series of considered and clean projects.

Anton-gottlob-photography-itsnicethat-list-alt Work / Photography The spontaneous, saturated and energetic portfolio of photographer Anton Gottlob

“My work is quite spontaneous,” London-based photographer Anton Gottlob tells It’s Nice That. “The initial excitement of an idea or project is always the most exciting time for me. I don’t like spending days creating mood boards.” This quick-witted approach to the medium is evident when looking at Anton’s portfolio. Full of saturated colours, unusual compositions and plenty of high flash, his images are full of energy, feeling more like stills from a video rather than photographs.

Alexandermourant-odyssey-photography-itsnicethat-4list Work / Photography Alexander Mourant's photographs trace a road-trip he took down the length of Africa

Odyssey is photographer Alexander Mourant’s awe-inspiring series tracing a road-trip he took down the length of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town. “Odyssey was born through an editorial assignment titled Cairo to Cape Town: Africa’s Plastic Footprint with RAW Foundation. We set off to track and document Africa’s plastic footprint,” Alexander tells It’s Nice That. Camera in hand, Alexander’s aim was to shine a light on the enormous scale and wide-ranging reach of the plastic pollution problem while photographing the interesting individuals he met on the way. Once he returned home, the London-based photographer evaluated his shots, selecting and compiling his personal favourites into the final series.

Nicer-tuesdays-april-natalia-stuyk-list Regulars / Nicer Tuesdays Video artist Natalia Stuyk on crossing from the digital to the physical world

Natalia Stuyk is a video and digital artist who creates surreal, warping imagery in vivid saturated colours. Her commercial work often sees her collaborate with brands such as Kenzo, Nike and Stella McCartney, making fashion films, music videos and everything in between. Much more at home in the digital space, Natalia spoke at Nicer Tuesdays about her recent move into the physical space, collaborating on installations for Galeria Melissa in New York over the coming summer.

Francaballero-illustration-itsnicethat-9list Work / Illustration Illustrator Fran Caballero on “living that not-awful-at-all freelance/bartender lifestyle”

Fran Caballero is a Glasgow-based illustrator whose playful drawings have pleased us for some time. This year alone, Fran has been featured in the latest Ladybeard issue, Popeye magazine and has created his first piece of homeware, the February Throw. It’s safe to say that Fran is, as he puts it, “living that not-awful-at-all freelance/bartender lifestyle”. That Fran followed a creative pathway comes as no surprise when the illustrator thinks back to his childhood. “I pretty much drew all the time as a kid but grew more interested and aware of illustration around secondary school, through Ed Banger Records LPs with artwork by So-Me. I bought my first graphics tablet around then,” the artist tells It’s Nice That.

Nxs-publication-itsnicethat-list Work / Publication NXS magazine builds a network of contributors who reflect on "the self" in the digital era

“We came up with the idea of NXS while studying on our master’s programme at Sandberg Instituut,” recalls Monika Grūzīte, Juliette Lizotte and Florian Mecklenburg, the founders of the tall, skinny publication exploring “the self” in the digital age of technology. NXS, which stands for nexus, is true to its name with every issue building a network of contributors where each is asked to reflect and comment on a previous contribution.

Morgan-powell_finger-machines_animation_itsnicethat-list Work / Animation Morgan Powell's animated industrial finger machines will unnerve and hypnotise you

Merging the two disparate worlds of human and machine in a slightly gross but strangely hypnotic way is Finger Machines, a new animated film by Morgan Powell at Seed. Softness and tactility are “the direct opposite of what you’d expect from machines,” he explains of the animation’s conflicted visuals, which show dismembered digits on a mass scale, engaged in various mechanical processes. And it is the film’s materiality that makes it so unnerving – an apt application of Morgan’s plasticine-like, super-smooth and hyperreal animation style. You can see more of this on his hilariously naughty ident for MTV involving lewd balloons.

Junocalypso-whattosowithamillionyears-photography-itsnicethat-4list Work / Photography Juno Calypso's eerie new series sees her posing inside Nevada’s plushest bunker

Imagine your average Doomsday prepper’s underground bunker; a low-ceilinged, dark, dingy room with a make-shift sofa bed and cupboards jam-packed with tinned food. Luxury and fallout shelter don’t seem like an obvious match. Juno Calypso’s latest surreal self-portraits, however, prove this assumption wrong. Her series What to do with a Million Years, which is currently on display at London’s TJ Boulting gallery, sees the artist posing inside Nevada’s — perhaps even the world’s — plushest bunker.

Elenaheatherwick-liberianmidwives-photography-itsnicethat-list Features / Photography Elena Heatherwick captures the spirit of hope and happiness embodied by Liberian midwives

The act of holding a camera has a distinctive charm to it. It starts conversations, but it’s an opener before a word has even been spoken. It intrigues people to come on over, to ask why you have it, what you’re doing, who you are. These pleasantries and the inevitable conversation that follows is an experience every photographer has undoubtedly had, but the accounts photographer Elena Heatherwick has from a trip to Liberia are some of the most joyful, heartbreaking and life affirming ones we’ve heard.

Subin-yang-illustration-itsnicethat-list-alt Work / Illustration Subin Yang's joyful illustrations capture the fleeting and unobtainable moments in life

“Drawing started with my obsession for recreating something I saw that I couldn’t have in person. But by recreating it, I could somehow own it,” explains New York City-based illustrator Subin Yang. With a love for books, zines and any printed material, Subin’s joyful illustrations act as a means to capture the fleeting and unobtainable moments in life, all awash in a Lego-inspired palette of primary colours and pinks.

Nicer-tuesdays-april-max-siedentopf-list Regulars / Nicer Tuesdays Max Siedentopf explains why creative perfection is a dead end

Max Siedentopf is a creative working in advertising, who on the side creates a myriad of brilliantly oddball and original personal projects. But it is this eclectic output that can sometimes confuse people, he admitted at Nicer Tuesdays. “I’m pretty sure that no one here has any idea who I actually am,” he joked, and attempted to clear things up by telling us about his work at KesselsKramer – where he recently became partner – as well as his latest passion projects including a sticker book, gif series Instructions for World Peace, and Ordinary magazine.

Canyang-whitetigerbluedragon-graphicdesign-itsnicethat-1list Work / Graphic Design Designer Can Yang's book visually presents ancient Chinese elixir recipes

Chinese designer Can Yang is currently studying graphic design at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Born in Shenzhen in southern China, Can moved to the US four years ago where she has been working toward her degree alongside her freelance work. “Most of my projects are situated between design and cultural communication and draw on brand identities, editorial and conceptual art,” says Can. “They are visually characterised by abstract forms and Chinese characters that signal a reflective and critical stance to global affairs,” Can tells It’s Nice That.

Adobe99u-conference-itsnicethat-list Work / Events From being bad to burping glitter: things we learned at The Adobe 99U Conference

Last week I was in New York at Adobe 99U, a conference which brings together a selection of the best creative leaders from the industry to share new ideas. The talks explored how to be a creative leader today, from the design process to directing a team and everything in between. It also, refreshingly, featured one of the widest ranges of creative voices we’ve seen at this type of event, which made for an inspiring, interesting and original few days. Below, we share a few learnings from the week on how to become a better creative leader and practitioner.
h3. It’s ok to be yourself at work

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