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What Does the Font Say?

Sam Sullivan
Art Director

Taking the nation by storm the Norwegian comedy duo, Ylvis, attempted to define what noise a fox makes in their hit single “What Does the Fox Say?” Luckily for us, this resulted in a hilarious song. To Ylvis’s point, sound is essential to defining an animal…

Dog goes “woof”
Cat goes “meow”
Bird goes “tweet”

Institutions don’t have a sound in the same sense as an animal, but they should have a voice. A distinct brand voice is essential to portraying a brand’s personality. A well-selected font plays a key role in representing aspects of the brand voice.

Just like color, imagery, and graphic styles, typography plays a significant role in shaping the visual identity of a brand. Typography, essential in conveying the brand persona, delivers a subconscious feeling and emotion about the brand.

Take for instance this ad for Tiffany & Co. Tiffany is a brand that stands for elegance, status, and perfection. That is translated through their brand voice, and it is expressed in the typography. Tiffany’s serif font says stylish, sophisticated, and timeless.
Branded typography font ad sample

Remove the branded typography and there is a desperate sense that something is wrong. The brand takes on a different persona. While viewers may not notice the fonts at first glance, the fonts will render a feeling and emotion that the viewer associates with your brand. Examine the two ads closely. The left is the original ad and the right is a duplicate containing a different serif font.

Compare font in ad sample Tiffany

On the left, note the contrast between the thin vertical lines and thicker diagonal lines of the “N” and how they are more delicate and intricate than those on the right. As a result of the font change, this small detail has eliminated the exquisite, original, and refined feeling from Tiffanys’ brand. On the right, notice how each letter is slightly taller and more narrow than the left. Consequently, this bolder definition has removed the established timelessness and legendary persona from the ad. In the changing of these details, a massive opportunity is lost to reinforce what the brand stands for. Not to mention, the damaging misinterpretation of the brands’ personality.

In her TED-Talk, Sarah Hyndman, founder of the Type Tasting Studio, demonstrates the persuasive power of typography.

“A font can completely transform the meaning of a word. It can give it a backstory, it can give it a personality, and it can turn it into something that can influence…Typography is storytelling. Fonts turn words into stories and in the corporate world these are powerful brand stories.”

When deciding on a college or university to attend, prospects look at dozens of websites and printed materials. Are you utilizing one of the most influential tools within your control, a branded typeface that tells the story of your institution? Does it give clarity and definition to the experience offered? Do the fonts used on your website continue the story?

Due to the ever deteriorating attention span of Millennials and GenZ, there is a small window of opportunity to make a memorable impression. The investment in branded typography is a detail that cannot be overlooked.

Font Tips and Tools

  • Typography should reflect the institutions’ brand persona. For example, an institution known for it’s motivating, resourceful, and authentic personality should look different than one that is entrepreneurial, innovative, and professional.

    For the Go-getters font
    In this ad, the University of Arkansas uses a unique and distinctive script font to effectively communicate that their online education doesn’t fit the mold of typical online degrees but it’s unique and tailored to those who live an ambitious and fast paced lifestyle.
  • Define a web font. It’s probable that your print font isn’t available for the web.  Use tools like to find a suitable match. There is an ever growing inventory of web fonts available, in addition to the free Google Fonts.

    web font example
    Framingham State University strategically chose a font similar in look and feel to their standard print font, providing a seamless brand experience for prospects.
  • Go beyond the default. Custom typefaces, font families, and high-impact display typefaces can be purchased. Our favorite font shops include Creative Market, TypeKit, and MyFonts.

Do you have specific font questions? Leave a comment for me below. And for those of you who were wondering – a fox barks and howls, which sounds more like a scream.

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