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New Year’s tends to bring a few traditions you can always count on. Champagne, Auld Lang Syne—and the inevitable yearly predictions listicles. With 2017 around the corner, we’ve been anticipating these predictions and considering how to categorize and quantify what we’ve seen in the world of typography. Our conclusion for the year: track the technology and you’ll find the trends.

There are an estimated 2 billion smartphone users in the world, and the average American spends anywhere from 5 to 11 hours per day using electronic media. Unsurprisingly, typography trends have been influenced by the challenge to increase readability, aesthetic desirability, and language-accessibility across multiple media platforms. Most people in the U.S., for example, are not only using a laptop or smartphone, but a combination of many gadgets that have access to the ever-growing Internet.

Generally speaking, predictions articles fall into one of two categories: aesthetic trends and industry or functionality trends. We’ve seen technology heavily influence both. Here are five trends that we found particularly exciting to watch this year:

1. Custom Fonts

Custom fonts were a hit this year, as tech giants created custom typefaces for their latest devices. Readability was widely debated among techies, artists, and internet-users alike. Amazon created a typeface called Bookerly to decrease eyestrain for Kindle readers. Google launched Product Sans and Apple created the typeface San Francisco for the Apple Watch. Meanwhile, new tools like Prototypo and FontArk were introduced to help typographers create custom typefaces to meet the marketing, branding, and creative needs of clients who want to keep up technologically and aesthetically with these tech giants.

Amazon bookerly

Bookerly by Amazon

2. Responsive Typography

Another trend driven by increased consumer demand for readability and accessibility, responsive typography went mainstream this year—and with good reason. Not only are we spending more time online, we are doing so across numerous platforms, often simultaneously. Anyone looking to brand, market, or share anything on the Internet is now hard-pressed to ensure that their reader can do so on their desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet, or any other tool they may be using to access information. Responsive typography has made major strides in solving for this issue, and has become more accessible to designers who must get their message across to large and diverse audiences.

 

Branding for San Francisco’s Social Innovation Week

Aurelio Sanchez Escudero designed the branding for San Francisco’s Social Innovation Week using responsive typography, bold colors, and icons.

3. Personable Font Selections: Watercolor, Handwriting, Script, Grunge, and Caps

So readability and accessibility are essential. But typography is still an expressive art form. Typographers have been tasked with utilizing technology to enhance the practicality of their art, while creating work that is inventive, fresh, and beautiful. 2016 saw an increased use of watercolor, script, retro fonts, grunge, hand-lettering, and titles in all caps.

summer-angela-southern

Most of these trends touch on how we are consuming—and, perhaps, feeling—about the greater technological advances. As we’ve spent more time on our phones and computers, and less time with older, more traditional types and texts, a sense of nostalgia seems to have grown. Some artists have been making their mark with handmade lettering, while others have paid tribute to the bright, whimsical signs and symbols of the pre-internet-boom 80s. In a time when many of us threaten to spend increasingly more time with machines than with one another, it seems that we’ve wanted to humanize our online text and media.

dont-stop-believing

4. Innovative Fonts & Accessibility

The public response to the hand-lettering craze has been significant enough to push many designers to digitize their work. These lettering trends coupled with new font technology and availability has brought the “font game” to a new level. From small foundries to larger corporations, a number of new and exciting fonts were released this year.

noelan-calligraphy

Even more thrilling, artists, creatives, and entrepreneurs were busy inventing and innovating in ways that were both cross-cultural and multi-lingual. A large Norwegian study was conducted on readability for the visually impaired; Comicraft artists took on the ambitious project of inventing hand-lettered fonts in Japanese, Taiwanese, and Chinese. And two Guinean brothers hit the ground running and invented a script that would make their native language available on every smartphone. As font accessibility grows, we expect this trend in font innovation to continue.

photo-6_comicraft5. Variable Fonts

Apple, Google, and Microsoft teamed up and launched variable fonts this September. The gathering of these tech giants marks the beginning of a new age in typography. Instead of downloading separate files for every font style and width, variable fonts allow developers to place everything in one, highly optimized file. We are eager to see how and when this trend will grow, and whether it will go mainstream in 2017.

Because that, after all, is the question of the hour: What will happen in 2017? What do we anticipate? What will take us by surprise? What trends are you seeing? What have we missed? Where will the technology and our typography take us next? Let us know! And—

Happy New Year from all of us at Extensis.

 

Want to learn more about type trends? Check out Getting Free Fonts From Google Fonts.


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Daunting.

That’s one word for it. Changing a brand that people have lived with so long. You can’t please everyone.  You hope to get 2 out of 3.

It’s so easy to overlook that the group most invested in the current brand are those in your own backyard. Employees will prove the most skeptical, which is a good benchmark for “does this pass the sniff test?” After all, if your brand messengers can’t get on board, then you’re not accomplishing much, are you?

Skepticism is natural since we’ve all lived with this current brand for so long. It’s like an old friend (or at least your favorite, albeit ripped to shreds, T-shirt) Familiarity breeds comfort. ‘New’ does not.

My thinking was that the best way to get people on board was to bring them along for the ride. In my previous post I talked about the research process and how involved our employees and partners were at the early stages. Since not everyone was involved in each phase, I started there.

Keeping in mind that those who ‘know’ a brand don’t necessarily understand consciously all the ways in which it touches them, we wanted to weave that in as well: What is a brand? Why does it matter? Research results? How does this alter how we talk about ourselves? What visual directives come out of this?

I modified this presentation so you could get the gist of where I was going.

Aside: You can see that I used Prezi as the medium- it is an awesome tool for presenters who are global thinkers (as opposed to linear). Complex concepts are rarely linear in nature. That’s what makes Prezi so spectacular for communicating (it is also so visually engaging that you can lull your audience into a trance, which can come in handy). If you haven’t used it, you should definitely check them out: http://prezi.com

I presented the research information first. Some weeks later we then did a recap of this and presented the visual elements that key off of it.  The visuals were in a state of ‘partial’ completion, but enough to give a real taste.  For fun, at that time we passed out a backpack to everyone with the new logo and made some fresh, new-branded desktop art available for people to use on their internal machines. While not ready for prime time, it was just a simple way for the team here to test-drive the new brand. You know, try it on for size.

Following the ‘reveal’, I received a little bit of feedback immediately following. It was all positive, but vague. Then people here started living with it and talking about it and about a week or 2 later, I started to receive regular comments from people about how it made them feel, how others responded to it, etc.

Not that this is the definitive word. It’s a small thing. But my point remains the same: you have to win over the neighbors before you can run for Town Mayor (ok, admittedly, that metaphor is weak, but I think you get the point.)

Is everyone elated? Surely not. But at least we were able to bring them along for the ride so they could see the method behind the madness. At least then, like it or not, they know why we chose the path we did.

So far so good. But next up is our most critical audience yet: YOU.


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In the last installment I talked about how you know it’s time for a brand refresh.

So by now you know we decided to go for it. For me, there were 2 driving reasons to tackle a brand refresh now:

1- Evolution: This company is vastly different than it was 10 years ago. We are not 17 years old; we are 17 years strong (yes I’m a marketer, that’s how we talk…). We are ever-evolving and our brand should reflect the caliber of technologies we are building today.

2- The Human Element: There are truly wonderful aspects of our company that are not readily visible externally. This group is so customer-focused that we will obsess over a single frustrating customer experience. But, unless you have had direct interaction with our sales or support teams, you would not know the depth of our commitment to making users happy. Yet this is one of the core brand qualities that keeps people coming back.

“The friendly skies” of United

Getting Started: the Brand Audit

Oy. Like your  first step into the cold pool, getting started is the hardest part.

We started with a brand audit to tell us who we are. (OK, yes, we are Extensis. I got that part. But who are we from the outside-in?) Too many companies try to build their brand on top of who they WISH they were. Consider: any healthcare company—or US-based airline—that you can think of and you’ll see what I mean.

Ever hear the expression “you can’t fight genetics”?  Well, perhaps that also applies to branding.  You just have to be who you really are and focus on showcasing that, otherwise there is a high probability of looking like a phony.

“Love to fly?” Really? Because the rest of us hate it!

Yes, lost luggage IS special.

What (and who) we asked

First we had to get some probing questions answered:

  • Do we deliver what we promise?
  • What is our greatest opportunity?
  • Why do people choose to work for/work with us?
  • What have we never been good at?

Well, you get the idea. You simply can’t be afraid to get the answers you need to hear. It’s important stuff.

Yes, market research is invaluable. But at a certain point you hit serious diminishing returns (think: looking down the ramp of a ski jump.) There is a point at which you have enough evidence to move forward.  Tom Fishburne recently created a timely Brand Cartoon on this very topic.

In light of this, we chose to spend our time talking to our brand messengers: customers, employees, industry partners and sales partners.  We had a 3rd party team send out a survey to our employees and then conduct a series of in-depth interviews with customers and partners from across the globe (from customers like Publicis, to partners like Adobe and Microsoft). These guys know us, our product offering and how we fit into the bigger context of the industry. And, as we learned, they are happy to be brutally honest!

What We Learned

A few ‘pull quotes’ from the research:

  • “If they want something that’s solid and works they’re going to purchase our product.” (Employee)
  • “We really strive for quality: the fonts on WebINK are just one example.” (Employee)
  • “Solid products. Extensis really cares about the functionality.” (Sales partner)
  • “The most valuable piece is the internal talent.” (Industry partner)
  • “The best thing about the product is the depth of engineers that can work on the product.” (Customer)

Clearly, the employees here are the nerve center of this place.  But we have done a poor job of allowing this character to show through. For me, this was the biggest take-away: “They like us but they don’t really know us.”

We are not some monolith technology company that is slick but impersonal.  We engage our customers and value their opinions, we share that feedback across the organization, we act on it whenever possible, we work very hard to satisfy. We really do lose sleep over doing the right thing.  We really do groove-out on making customers’ jobs easier. In short: There is a face, a heart and person who cares behind every box. That’s exactly the Extensis we need people to see. OK. we can do that!

So it turns out those icy cold waters were rather refreshing, after all.

Visual Directives

Out of this mass of data we were able to distill some basic visual guidelines to pursue. We need to communicate we are a company that:

  1. Loves type
  2. Is open and approachable
  3. Respects design tradition while progressing forward
  4. Takes our work and our customers, but not ourselves, seriously

So taking these and articulating them into a visual architecture is easy, right? (gulp)  This is where my ‘be brave’ advice comes in to play. And this is the point at which I’m preaching it to myself.

Next up:  The Visual Brand: It’s Decision Time


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Finally, 2012 is the year of CHANGE!

Of course, we know we are guilty of some of these (I’ll let you be the judge) so, we’ve decided that it’s time to embark on a makeover. Truth is, we’ve been working on the research piece of this in the background for a while. So why not learn from our trial and error? Swallowing our pride, we are going to share throughout the process to help those of you who may also be considering taking the plunge.

And now, a reality check.

A Pep Talk

There is never a good time for a brand refresh. It’s a universal truth you just have to suck up. Sorry.

For us, we are always on the cusp of some new product launch or initiative that will hamper the process. That’s how it works. I suppose if you don’t have competing priorities that complicate it, then you’re likely missing something.

But, don’t let timing deter you from the big decision. There are obvious and compelling catalysts for a company rebrand: acquisition, technology shift, etc. And then there are less obvious, organic catalysts. (See list above)

The bottom line is this: Companies Evolve. You find yourself introducing products or services in response to market opportunities and one day you wake up and realize that the overarching brand in your head is not the one the outside world is experiencing.  At least that’s our situation. Lets face it, if you are moving your business forward, you create the opportunity to ‘outgrow’ your current brand—and a refresh is in order.

What’s the desired outcome?

Smarty-pants marketers (and academics) will cite things like “increase shareholder value”, “capitalize on market trends”, “create buzz”, yada. I can’t subscribe to this. You increase shareholder value by fostering happy customers. If your effort doesn’t, in some direct way, touch your customers, then what value is it?

In my mind, brand is about connecting with your audience. It’s about how you, as an organization (of people), interact with the audience (people) and how they (people) feel about it. That’s it. Granted, there may be a hundred ways to impact this, but it really is that simple. And when you bring in new audiences, or narrow in on one market, you may need to noodle on how your company communicates.  If you keep it simple, probability of success skyrockets.

Why agencies LOVE brand redesigns and marketing teams LOATHE them:

As an agency, a rebrand is a huge challenge that gets the juices flowing (it is also a large task which is good for your bottom line). It is quite exciting. No matter how invested you are however, you are never going to forever ’live’ within the brand you help define.* It doesn’t work that way. Some may regret this disconnect, others may relish it.

This is why marketing teams hate rebrands (no, you are not alone). They are thrilling, in a ‘stick-your-neck-out-and-subject-yourself-to-endless-lashings’ sort of way.  Have a vision—on any given day you will need to defend your decisions. You have to commit (because you DO need to live within this brand). And above all, you have to be fiercely brave. Easy, right?

Well, I’ll let you know. We won’t be rolling out new materials for a while yet. They are coming soon, so until then, you can go through the process with us.

Next up: Why Extensis dove into the icy cold waters of a brand refresh

* If you do bring in a partner to assist in the process, choose wisely. Make sure they are as invested as is humanly possible. Fortunately, we’ve done just that. Shout-out to Blue Collar Agency and Owen Jones Partners.


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Last week the newly minted Oprah Winfrey Network showed off their brand new logo to an eager public, and reactions were of course mixed. It became a topic of conversation around our office, and we quickly realized that we have many unique perspectives in our office (from marketing and art direction to type design) that were actually relevant to the conversation.

Since the first reaction to something new can vary from subsequent analysis, we’ve asked our reviewers to include an initial, visceral response, rational analysis and finally a pragmatic take on the new design.

For a point of reference, here’s the new OWN logo.

And now to the logo analysis.

Amanda Paull, Extensis VP of Marketing

Visceral response: Disliked it. feels juvenile (coloration) and unoriginal (typeface). It immediately reminded me or Fruit Stripe Gum! Just generally made me feel uncomfortable (almost anxious).

Rational analysis: The all-caps “OWN” sends a really contrary brand message. The intended message (I’m sure) is that this you your OWN network. You tell us what you want to see and we deliver it. However, another way to look at it is “I am Oprah Winfrey and I own everything.” You have to assume that if there is a potential negative interpretation, at least 50% of the viewers will pick up on that.
I was relieved to see that the logo has alternate colorations- all one color- instead of the multi-color fruit stripe variety. But then I see that one of those colors is GOLD. Say what? The ‘OWN’ in pure gold. OK, that is clearly not the brand message you want to send. More Donald Trump than Oprah Winfrey.

Pragmatic take: I’ve been on the creative end of these things- there was a creative brief that isolated the most important requirements. One of those must have been ‘has to stand out in the lower corner of the viewer’s screen and not be drowned out by whatever programming is running’. If this was the most important requirement, I’d say they hit the mark! Nothing could compete with Fruit Stripe Gum.

Thomas Phinney, Typographer and Extensis Sr. Product Manager for Fonts and Typography

Visceral response: Huh? That’s weird, and not terribly functional.

Rational analysis: Wow, that’s very distinctive, and at first I thought it did a great job of communicating Oprah’s brand image (I didn’t have the same negative associations that Amanda came up with). But the graphical effects make it just too busy to work under a broad range of conditions. Elaborate shadows and 3D effects tend don’t hold up so well at small sizes, nor if they need to render it in black-and-white (without shading)…. There’s a reason almost all the megacorporations have simple logos, because they have learned from experience and usage what the logo needs to stand up to. This logo is not going to do well under adverse conditions, including being faded in the corner of a non-HD television screen, when the shading and extrusion will just get “muddy.”

Pragmatic take: Well, at least it’s bright, and really different. I think they’ll have to come up with a simplified version of it, which will either replace or supplement this ornate and elaborate… thing.

Elisha Wettstein, Extensis Art Director

Initial Response: Interesting. I kind of like it. I’m curious what the intended usage is and is it practical for a logo. It reminded me of NBC’s rainbow logo with much more flare.

Rational analysis: Again, I needed to explore usage and purpose so I went to oprah.com and found several color versions and sizes being used. And what do all the different colors mean? Do they represent separate divisions of the network? On the site’s landing page, I don’t see a clearly defined pattern — that bothers me. There is a striping theme that’s used outside of the logo as well as part of the logo. That’s a nice element to see carried out as a branding component but as part of the logo, in smaller sizes the integrity of the logo is compromised, cheapening the quality. As a designer, that’s always something to be taken into consideration for logo design. I would have recommended that the smaller sizes loose that effect completely so that the logo appears crisp and strong.

Pragmatic take: I haven’t done my research to judge from the perspective of meaning, target audience, and overall representation so my judgment will be for design only. The large colorful version is very pretty. I admire all the design details…color, striping, depth, shading, lighting. The small versions would be successful with the removal of all the ‘fluff’ just mentioned – they are not practical and compromise quality. They went crazy with all the separate color versions that are hard to see a pattern for usage.


Font Aid IV: Coming Together

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sota-fontaid-ivThe font designed to benefit Haiti relief efforts is now complete and available from a variety of font vendors. The font consists entirely of ampersands to represent people coming together. Check it out.

All proceeds of the sale go directly to Doctors Without Borders.

fontaid-ampersands-1


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sota-fontaid-ivThe Society of Typographic Aficionados (SOTA) has launched Font Aid IV, a project that will raise funds for the relief efforts in Haiti.

Font Aid IV raises funds for the organization Doctors Without Borders through the creation and sale of a custom collaborative font created entirely of ampersands. You can participate by submitting your own ampersand, as well as by purchasing the finished typeface through a variety of typeface distributors.

Submit your black and white “ampersand” icon for the benefit font. It should be a vector image file, not a bitmap. Keep it simple, not too crazy. Send it in EPS format to fontaid@typesociety.org by January 29th, 2010.

When the font is available I’ll also post a link to the foundries that have it for sale.


Max Kerning Sighting!

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I met Max!

I’ve never thought of myself as a groupie, but then this happened. I MET MAX KERNING! He was gracefully sipping an espresso- straight. Just how you might imagine.  Frankly, I think I made a fool of myself, going on and on, but he was gracious none the less. And even let me take a quick shot with my iPhone.

The icing on this marvelous cake? He POSTED ABOUT IT on FaceBook. Is this a dream? (..so he said I was gawking. So what?! Wouldn’t you?)


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Yup, spring has finally sprung. In the northern hemisphere, we’re starting to see our days getting longer and the winter weather subsiding.

For me, it’s also a time to pull myself out of the winter blahs, and get going on new projects. It’s time to take those dusty ideas that I placed on a shelf months ago and begin to make them a reality. Writing for a living, I have a ton of ideas – websites, books, projects and papers – all of which could be really fun to spend some time creating.

The most important thing is to decide what you want out of your project, and that’ll help you decide which project to pursue.

Are you looking to bring in more clients for you small business? Perhaps looking to gain some street cred? Perhaps a project for a contest might suit your needs best. At the end, if you win an award, what better way to tout your skills to potential clients. And, better yet, if your project is for a non-profit, you’ll gain exposure to many potential new customers through that client’s contacts.

Since we’re in a tough job market, if you’ve got the extra time, why not use it to learn a new bit of technology? Designing websites may have been a hobby in your past. Why not use this time to bone up on your CSS chops? If you want to do it quick and dirty, start up a site using WordPress or Drupal, then spend your time learning the ins and outs of site customization.

Or do you simply need a creative outlet that’s different than your core job function? I have a friend who recently started hosting a daily English-language radio show in Korea. It’s entirely outside of his normal job as an English professor at one of the local universities. I’ve seen how this job has brought an entirely new spark to his life.

Personally, I plan to spend a little time in the evenings fleshing out one of my projects. I haven’t quite decided which one just yet. I’m going to start by making a list of all of the ideas, then pick the one that best meets my requirements of it being fun, as well as require new skills .

The most important part, is getting started.

So what are you waiting for? Get your rear in gear and create something!


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As a marketer, I appreciate the coordination, timing and attention to detail that went into this ‘product launch’. Because, honestly, that’s what it is. The Obama administration is re-branding our government. Or at least that appears to be their plan.

Just hours ago- almost simultaneous with the swearing in, the static, old-school white house site was ‘Obama-ized’ with a full relaunch, including a White House blog.This is not your (founding) father’s White House.


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