Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Branding With Type

A fairly regular client recently came to me with a new project that involves some logo design and branding work. I started playing with possible type choices and got to thinking about how a font can influence a brand.

A fairly regular client recently came to me with a new project. He is a developer who does some pretty serious application stuff (far beyond my mortal intellect), and he often brings me into projects for the “dressing.” That is, my job is to make his stuff look good with logos, icons, splash screens and whatever else the app requires.

This new project mainly involves some fresh brand development and a website. Obviously, the brand stuff comes first, which means a logo, some type direction and some color choices. Now I don’t pretend to be Mega Brand Consultant Guru—what I know is what I know, and I learn what I can along the way. I’ve built brands from scratch and reinvented old ones, but there are many people out there considerably better than me. (And considerably more expensive.)

When I first start thinking about any company’s potential identity, I consider two key ingredients—type and color. Even without a logo, a solid brand could be built on those two things. (For example, Starbucks—never before has Clarendon and forest green been so abused on a national level.)

Tonight I began experimenting with type. The project is for a group of doctors, who we will call Hillshire Dermatologists for lack of a more clever pseudonym. I opened up Photoshop, turned on a shitload of fonts in Type Manager, and began scrolling for what I thought were appropriate typefaces for a medical collective. From my uselessly large collection of 1,200 fonts, I found maybe 40 I thought were appropriate. From that initial effort, I narrowed it down to this elite group of nine. Some are common, some not so much.

A Selection of fonts for a new project

When I began reviewing the above list, I started thinking about how such a small thing like a font could drastically alter the perception of a company. Example: compare Apple’s identity a few years ago when they were using condensed Garamond with their current sans-serif look. Completely different.

Essentially, we are standing at a crossroads with nine diverging paths in front of us. Do we harness the classic look of an old school serif like Berthold Baskerville or Caslon? Do we shape a cleaner, streamlined look with a sans like the understated Bell Gothic, the elegantly trim Neutra Text or the bold and unapologetic Trade Gothic? Or do we venture into contemporary conservatism with the chunky Calvert or a thicker, more pronounced serif like Cushing?

Each of these faces could define the brand. Because of the massive influence type plays in an identity, it’s always the first place I start, even before flipping through Pantone books. And no, I haven’t made a decision yet, but I definitely have my favorites. I pretty much stopped right in the middle of the project to record this spontaneous stream of thought, so feedback is more than welcome on this one.

commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I agree, type is the primary building block of identity, and you have to flip through many treatments to see if one jumps out at you. Since a doctor’s brand is all about the experience of the office visit, I would try to complement their exisiting architecture/decor (assuming that it’s any good).

Michael Joyce

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Have you read “Branding with Type” and “Stop Selling Sheep” by Adobe Press? One of these points out how so many cosmetic companies use a variation of Optima. Also the Apple-ITC Garamond Condensed example you mentioned. Type can differentiate or associate.

I always strive to have type be an organic part of the hole. Significant influence without being noticable.

I love Nuetra. I like House Industries, but I’ll never be able to use most of their font collection. Neutra is utilitarian. It has the geometric taste of Futura and the humanistic refinement of Gill Sans. It is unobtrusive and unique. It is great for titling & display; I haven’t used it enough for text setting to know how I like it.

I recently specified Neutra for some institutional signage in California. In this context, Neutra is combined with an Arts & Crafts interior. Mission style married with Modern.

Nathan Logan (not the same as the one above)

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I’ll throw in my two cents here, but as the previous nathan said, it’s tough to decide without having any idea about the decor or attitude of the company. Therefore, these comments are probably largely out of context and highly subjective.


– I like it. One of the best serif fonts you have there. Serif, but not antiquated.


– Love the “r”, the “m”, and the “a”. Bored by the rest. This would have easily been the winner if the rest of the letters behaved similarly. What’s up with the inconsistency among thickness and line ending treatment? Is that just me?


– Old school. This feels like it already has some good branding connotations, but is certainly not unique. Not bad.


– Too common looking. This could be part of a brand, but it would very difficult to differentiate it by this font alone. Not a big fan.


– Again, too common looking.


– Progressive and stylish for a serif font.


– Stylish, slim, classy. I would say 100% yes on this one, except for the freakin “H”. The left bar of that letter is inexplicably thin. It doesn’t match any of the rest of the letters. Lame. Maybe even consider a manual fix there and keep it.


– Calvert seems to pop much better than this one.


– My personal favorite. Especially if you are going for a sans-serif, more modern look. This pops. It’s unique, stylish, sassy. ;) Go with this one.

Then again, I’m just a punk college grad with one year of experience and no design skills or education whatsoever. I mainly code. Thanks for the opportunity to comment, though.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I love Neutra—where’d you get it? Can’t find it anywhere.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Graham: Neutra is available through House Industries:

It is a fantastic, versatile font with a multitude of weights. The packaging is also great—it comes with a sample book and a music CD. House also just released the condensed version, which I personally feel loses some of the magic of the original.

Nathan: This is not the actual name of the doctor’s group; the first letter is actually a “W” and it looks fantastic in Neutra.

Michael: I will look for those books. I really enjoy House’s stuff. You should check out their font Chalet—it’s definitely on my wishlist./ Not as versatile, but a beautiful cut nonetheless.

Jim Amos

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I like neutra text best of all these – the kerning is very nice.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Well I sent the client several comps to review. I used most of the fonts (except Bell Gothic) in a variety of weights and with several illustration options. We’ll see what happens, although I have to say in my design sessions Neutra routinely fit into whatever idea was brewing. Not saying it’s a final thing, but it seemed to be working better than any other.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

You are so right, Typeface says a lot about a business. I’ve been considering starting a webhosting business, but I figure before I do I need a good logo and typefacing, but I just can’t find anything I like. I have about 400 fonts and I have looked at every one of them numerous times.

I stumbled across your blog from A List Apart and it looks like a really good read. I’ll be checking back for sure and as soon as I can get on top of things with my website I will throw you a link. :)


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Gotta add my vote for Neutra. Primarily because out of the nine displayed it has the lightest feel. I realize Hillshire Dermatologists is a pseudonym. But, I have to “marry” the face with the name. Dermatology = skin = touch. Tactile. Neutra conveys cleanliness and gentleness.

Rebecca York

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

I think Trade Gothic Extended is perfect for this company. A Dermatologist is someone you want to trust to make you feel better about the way you look. You want these people help you. This particular font makes me feel that Hillshire Dermatologists are confident, secure, strong and grounded. Trade has more of a presence than any of the others. Also, a serif font in the medical field instantly reminds me of an Optomologist….
Just my 2…