In the advertising business there is a common belief that strategists and designers are different animals who should never be left in the same room together. I’m glad to say at Jack in the box we are not so precious. While we respect each others talents, we also encourage ‘crossovers’ because it broadens and sharpens all our skills. More importantly, it gives our clients the benefit of sound thinking which creates greater performance.

Such a mind synergy allows me to feel completely comfortable in discussing my favourite strategic design subject – ‘typography’. I want to look at it from a purely strategic viewpoint and discuss why it matters so much in the communication business.

One tell tale sign that a client has created their own press advert is the style, composition and formatting of the text and type. And believe me it’s not just semantics.

For ease of discussion let’s deal with some basic issues of type and design, issues which every good graphic knows and understands but a subject that appears to be a complete mystery to the average business person.

First let’s take a look at typography as a personality. Every typeface has a personality and thus it has a metaphorical behaviour. It influences, manipulates, persuades and it creates ‘perception’. While every product is obliged to possess logic and value, it is design which creates emotion, and emotion is the sales trigger. As much of the ingredients in a design are words, it follows that the personality of the type is highly influential.

Of equal importance is ‘readability’ and I don’t mean legibility. Trusting one’s eyes to offer preference is part of the human condition and if type is tight or cluttered then people see it as ugly or difficult to negotiate and the reader tunes out. The words have to feel comfortable and must sit in an environment of space, allowing the reader to ‘feel’ the message and understand the ‘flavour’. Certainly a copywriter’s skills can enhance the experience but in the end the presentation of sentences, the mosaic of words are all in the hands of the designer.

In addition, there is the old chestnut of emphasis. As a writer I know I can punctuate and symbolise the impact of my writing, but what I cannot do is create the story within the type. Boldness, italicisation, spacing increased size all will emphasise tone and deliver a stronger more meaningful message. Good designers know how to make a word shout at you or whisper the message in tones of sincerity.
Finally, I have learned that a typeface can so position a product or service that it fundamentally impacts the consumer’s thinking and creates a bond. I realise that this is possibly the most difficult proposition to accept for marketing lay people but it is not only true it is working away as I write.

In an effort to prove this empirically, some years ago I was commissioned to speak to students who had chosen marketing as their career pathway. I created an exercise in which we took a simple word which would not, in itself form perceptions – the word was ‘ditto’. We then created four brands, each using different typefaces, colour and kerning. One was a fashion label; another a stationery store; a toy shop and finally an accountancy. My Art Director used only the personality of the type, colour and other nuances to deliver the message without identifying what the brand was for, or projecting icons which might give away the product or service.

We placed the brands on simple show cards without identification and asked the students to tell us what products or services the brands were designed for. 87% of students identified three or more of the products successfully, with the stationery store proving the most difficult. That’s the power of type.

Now here’s the bad news. Unless you’re a born natural, which is unlikely, or you’ve studied the subject, practised till you’re blue in the face, you need to know it’s not easy and if you get it wrong it can make a nasty mess of your business. Let’s face it, is it your type? Excuse the pun!