Arial again? Limitations That Affect the Brand

News|Janet Odgis 2016-01-13 11:08:41

Consistency is the most important thing to a brand. But for large companies (with hundreds or even thousands of employees) brand consistency is a difficult task, especially when those employees are expressing the brand via PowerPoint presentations on PCs. It is important that everyone working with some aspect of the brand, and presenting the finished product to others, stay on the same page (so to speak) in their use of typography.

The Key Question

Most business folks who use computers have limited access to anything other than the default fonts available on typical Windows and Mac OS machines. These fonts are simple, basic, and usually not beautiful; while easy to read on screens, they lack nuance and character. In that way, they are like washable polyester: very practical, but not something you want to wear to every type of occasion.

Font by Default

Nonetheless, employees will likely end up wearing those "polyester" fonts for a good amount of time.

That is because people use PowerPoint ubiquitously. They might love it, they might hate it, but they rely on it to build everything from boardroom presentations to quarterly business reviews. PowerPoint is so tightly woven into the daily workflow--and so easy to use, for those trained on it--it would prove extremely difficult to abandon entirely. Everybody viewing the presentation, even if they are in a satellite office on the other side of the globe, will need the same typefaces installed in order to view the work in its full glory.

From a creative perspective, PowerPoint has some serious drawbacks as a brand and design tool. Even if you use a fresh typeface for a set of master slides, everybody contributing to the deck might not have that typeface installed; unless the typeface in question is one of those defaults, the likely result will be mismatched, sloppy text.

In a small company you have more control because it is a "closed system". Everybody is connected (and thus have access to the same font assets), and you can still have finely nuanced presentations that look great. When you scale to a large company it can be a challenge.

The Plot Thickens

Microsoft Word documents confront a similar font issue. Shouldn't the fonts in those documents match the corresponding PowerPoints? Whoever is writing the Word document must default to a common font in order to match PowerPoint decks.

Rather than settle for the lowest-common denominator of default fonts, some companies opt for two tiers of fonts and creative assets: One for PowerPoint and Microsoft Word use, the other for high-end creative work. If a company wants all of its employees on the same page, design-wise, it must ensure that everybody has access to the same special fonts; and the bigger the organization, the harder it becomes to ensure compatibility across all teams and offices.

Some brand guidelines specify two fonts: the default or commonly accessible font for everyone, and the special brand font for print or anything controlled by the designers. The latter must be a compatible font to the default font, albeit better designed. In situations with multiple designers or creative professionals, you must purchase an enterprise-wide license to most special fonts. This can prove costly, depending on the number of users. Loading special fonts onto every employee's computer is a task, and depends too much on employees' willingness to comply with the instructions.

When it comes to building websites, it is more economical and easy for a designer to purchase a special brand font for the web, because the designer controls the project.

The Trap

Given the current trend in creating less printed materials, most brands have begun using a default font for just about everything. That is a trap for a new brand, which may start out with lofty intentions only to find itself tainted from the outset by compromise over its typography.

What Is the Solution?

Bringing up the issue internally may stimulate some collective willingness to open up to upgraded font options on computers (Mac platforms tend to include a more robust font library, but they also have limits). I hope that the world of PowerPoint and Word users becomes more aware of this issue, which could help bring about the change (and choice) we deserve. With thousands of wonderful fonts out there, we should not have to settle.

Janet Odgis is the President and Creative Director of Odgis + Co, an award-winning certified woman-owned design firm based in New York City. For 30 years she has worked with some of the world's most prestigious corporations reinventing ways to define and express their brand. We Make Business Beautiful.

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