Posts Tagged ‘mobile fonts’

by Julie Strawson

Having globe-trotted from Hamburg, I arrived in New York City to a hail of thunderstorms to hold the third meeting of the Brand Perfect Tour. My goal was to join brand managers, creative directors, Web designers and developers to debate the future of branding in the digital space.

Hosted by Lee Aldridge, chief brand officer at Young & Rubicam Group, who introduced me, I began by recapping previous Brand Perfect forums in London and Hamburg. Themes had emerged from these events, such as “kill the logo,” and the “brand book is dead.” There were also questions about whether the traditional notion of brand consistency matters. What would New York bring?

Lee Aldridge set the context for discussion. His session focused on the shift in brand values toward social media, culture and responsibility. He made the point that digital goes way beyond the Web, and as screens surround consumers both at home and at work, there are more and more opportunities for brand presence and interaction. This is a mass market phenomenon, not restricted to a privileged demographic, and the secret to success is knowing why the consumer should want to engage, what to deliver that is contextually relevant and how to maintain the dialogue. Brand authenticity depends on the action taken to a communication in real time – the here and now. Organizations must support this throughout their structure. Getting attention is harder than ever, and brands must think more creatively about how to engage. Giant holographic images of products such as sneakers and juicy pizza were cited as one way to do this.

Charles Bigelow, the Melbert B. Carey professor at New York’s Rochester Institute of Technology, followed with a fascinating study on the emotional values that typefaces were shown to purport, based on an analysis conducted by R.I.T.  on 18 to 25-year-olds. The study showed that some typefaces have brand personalities, and choosing a typeface that reflects the tone of your message and indeed your own brand personality can help to carry the voice of your communication more effectively. The study found that Web-safe fonts afford fewer connotations in communications than non-Web-safe display fonts.

Charles Bigelow

The Brand Perfect New York panel discussion featured Paul Owen, executive creative director, Landor Associates New York, Johannes Schardt, co-founder of precious, a Hamburg–based design and development agency, and Dennis Michael Dimos, newly hired creative director of Monotype Imaging.

Paul Owen made the point that technology has only just started to catch up to enable where brands want to be. “We are in constant beta mode,” he said, and keeping up with technology is a bigger task than ever for brands and their agencies. Technology trends can lead brands down tracks that aren’t appropriate. Highlighting the iPhone® device, Johannes Schardt mentioned that he constantly asks, “Why do brands want an i-Phone app? Usually it’s not the best solution.” There was a lot of discussion about brand guidelines and the need to evolve these to suit the environment. “Read the book and then throw it away,” was the advice from Dennis Michael Dimos.

Paul Owen, Johannes Schardt, Dennis Michael Dimos and Lee Aldridge

Steve Matteson, creative type director at Monotype Imaging and the designer of the Droid™ typefaces, then talked about the way that a typeface becomes the voice of your brand. People associate with it in the same way they become familiar with other visual attributes. Similarly, type can be a very versatile way to change the tone of voice for a large corporate brand that wants to appeal to a different demographic in a different tone. He gave the example of Microsoft and its XBox® video game console.

The final presentation of the morning was delivered by John Oswald, business design lead at Fjord London. John posed the question, “Do we over-communicate, and are we driving consumers away with the continual push-marketing tactics employed in traditional channels that just don’t work in the digital space?” Focusing on designing very much for context with the individual at the heart of the thought process, John emphasized the need for visual recognition anywhere, authentic interaction and expected performance.

The Brand Perfect New York master classes were conducted by Rietje Gieskes of Landor Associates who looked at the value of creating bespoke typefaces to suit a brand. Daniel Rhatigan delivered a detailed class showing how to deliver richer communications with Web typography using Web fonts, including how to select fonts and manage layout across different platforms and browsers. The afternoon concluded with a highly interactive class on multi-screen design by Christophe Stoll and Johannes Schardt from precious, Hamburg, which was very well received.

Mark your calendars. The next stops in the 2011 Brand Perfect Tour are London on Oct. 4 and Berlin on Oct. 27.

The call for speakers is open! Would you like to contribute either a keynote presentation or a master class at the next Brand Perfect events? E-mail your suggestions to for consideration. Call closes 31st August.

Delegate places are now available – just e-mail stating the location you wish to attend to reserve your seat.

by Allan Haley

There has been a lot of buzz lately about fonts being delivered to your PC desktop that can dramatically improve how text is handled on the Web. Before Web fonts, designers faced a frustrating trade-off: either designing with only a handful of system fonts that reside on most computers, or creating images of copy set with fonts that are not considered “Web safe.” Now this is changing, and many typefaces are being made available for Web use. This is made possible through a bit of HTML code known as “@font-face,” a W3C compliant method for referencing fonts from servers for use in browsers. This code and a properly licensed font are pretty much all that is needed to put great new fonts in Web pages. With all major desktop browsers now offering @font-face support, the Web is sure to be a typographically more beautiful place.

But what about mobile devices? With more and more of us accessing Web sites from our mobile phones, will we also be able to enjoy the advantages of a full typographic palette for branding, searchability and improved readability on these devices?

I wanted to find out, so (in a completely informal and totally unscientific study) I did. Because of the FlipFont™ app (a little piece of software we developed to enable the standard fonts on some phones to be “flipped” to a suite of alternative designs) we have built an internal competency in testing font software on mobile phones. I asked our QA team to take a look at 14 publicly available Android™ phones from several different manufacturers and put them to the web font test. Ten of the phones passed, delivering the fonts and rendered them to the screen. Pretty cool!

The not-so-cool part is that not all the fonts looked like they do on my desktop. When we began to develop the offering of fonts for FlipFont, we discovered that font data needed a little help in performing optimally and that, in some case, even individual characters had to be modified to display well on small digital screens. We know that some fonts display much better than others in Web pages delivered to desktops. It seems that this is also true for fonts in Web pages delivered to mobile devices.

As much as things have changed in the world of fonts – some things remain constant. Not just any font will get the job done. It takes choosing the right typeface for the project and the best font for the task.

Allan Haley
Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs.

by Simon Rockman

Simon Rockman met with Bryan Rieger from to find out how he works to make mobiles beautiful.

Brian has a problem. He’s a developer and a designer. Now to most people that seems eminently sensible. You design a mobile application and then you build it, but the mobile world seems to think you should be a developer or designer. So he and his wife Stephanie broke from constraints and set up Yiibu which will craft mobile applications for companies. Free to design, develop or both.

Where he sticks with conventions is in not talking about his clients with whom he has signed non disclosure agreements so while you may have used his stuff he can’t lay claim to it.


Working for a number of clients over a number of devices means he often wants a commonality of experience. That can be difficult. “Specify something as eight pixels high on a two in screen with a 120 by 120 resolution and it looks fine, ask for eight pixels on an iPhone and you won’t be able to see it”. Brian laments how far behind mobile is. “In the web world you can specify ems or percentages”, but mobile is yet to catch up. There is some spotty adolescent progress. “Android has Device Independent Pixels which is equivalent to about 160 DPI”. But that’s just size, trying to change the font is even harder, Brian would like to be able to embed fonts. “We do it now to some extent with pixel fonts, you can use flash and SVG but they are not yet well enough supported.”

He continues on the thread of inconsistency, talking about how fonts look on a PC. “When you mock something up using Photoshop or illustrator you have Adobe’s fantastic font rendering. Even Nokia Series 60 Sans looks awesome. It has perfect kerning and hinting. Even with Adobe’s Device Central you have the amazing font rendering technology. Unfortunately phones don’t. Use any phone manufacturer’s font rendering engine on a three inch screen and it looks nothing like it did on the PC.”


Designers don’t bother looking anymore it’s been terrible for so long.

Brian has become pragmatic about doing creative things with fonts on phones. “Budgets are not usually there to do clever hacks with fonts”. Brand will be conveyed using logos while the body copy will be in a system font. This might be more comfortable for users, but few phones have anything where emotion has been a consideration. Even the Blackberry which has 14 fonts only has two you’d actually want to use. “Designers don’t bother looking anymore it’s been terrible for so long”. This is a man who clearly struggles to craft beautiful designs on mobile. He worries about fonts and enjoys making them do his bidding on non-mobile platforms.

He’s also worried about the lack of consistency at lots of other levels. “Where the font lives depends on the platform, with Java it has to be within the JVM or the phone OS, with Symbian it might be possible with QT, I need not just a font but its outline version, bold and italic. It needs to provide me with something more romantic”. As he switches from a developer talking about QT framework to a designer calling for a romantic font I start to get unnerved and understand how being the two can be seen as being quite so different. It’s the clash of art and science.

by Allan Haley

From advertising campaigns and user interfaces that build brand to content that tickles the imagination, type is fundamental to the communication process. Typefaces establish hierarchy and evoke emotion; they make products more memorable, entice audiences, command attention and engage the reader.

Everything that type can do on a personal computer, on the Web, or in hard copy, it can also do on mobile devices — and it can do it today. Hierarchy can be brought to user interfaces; typefaces can bring drama and emotion to games and theme-based applications. Type can complement multimedia effects and take the mobile experience to a new level.

Finding the Right Fonts

The best fonts for use in a mobile device, regardless of the application, should have the following attributes:

  • Ample lowercase x-height
  • Open counters
  • Distinctive character shapes
  • Moderate contrast in character stroke thickness
  • Recognizable typeface design traits
  • Marked contrast between medium and bold weights within the type family

The x-height is an important factor in typographic legibility and readability — especially where screen real estate and available pixels are limited.

Open counters — the white space within letters such as ‘o,’ ‘e,’ ‘c,’ etc. — also help define a character and have a strong influence on ease of recognition. Typefaces with large, open counters are generally considered the easiest to read in hard copy, and this holds true on small digital screens as well.

Individual letter shapes can also affect typeface legibility. For example, the two-storied ‘a’ is much more legible than the single-storied design, and the lowercase ‘g’ based on roman letter shapes is more legible than the more simple, gothic ‘g.’

Typefaces with strong contrast in character stroke weights do not work well on current mobile devices. There are not enough pixels in this limited digital real estate to reproduce the contrast at small sizes.

Typefaces that can easily be distinguished from one another are also key for use on mobile devices. They help create communication hierarchy, establish brand identity and enhance a specific visual theme. Typeface families with a marked differentiation between their various weights and proportions also assist in creating hierarchy and logical graphical communication.

Fonts used specifically for operating systems and user interfaces should have exceptionally legible numbers and be available in a range of weights and proportions. They “stand out and fit in,” in that they should be distinctive and capable of establishing a brand identity while not being so idiosyncratic that they have a limited use.

Not all decorative or theme-based typeface designs will be effective on mobile devices. While there will be some trade-offs in small-size communication power for the sake of establishing a distinctive look and feel, the basic requirements of mobile device functionality still apply.

Legibility Requirements

Legibility Requirements

Legibility Requirements

Legibility Requirements

Legibility Requirements

Legibility Requirements

Legibility Requirements

Legibility Requirements

Versatility Attributes

Versatility Attributes

Versatility Attributes

Versatility Attributes

Distinctive Designs

Distinctive Designs

Allan Haley
Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs.

by Simon Rockman

When two industries collide interesting things happen. People who have been into design and typography appreciate the value of fonts but tend to know about them from print on paper and not about the implications of phone technology.

Those in the mobile phone world know lots about display technologies but little about the value of fonts. Traditionally they have been about making the phone display as legible as possible and little thought has been given to the design.

Technology however has now caught up with design. Mobile phones have a screen resolution that allows the font to do more than just represent the letters.

They can now tell an emotional message.

When you read something the font has done a lot of its job before you start reading. Just as you form an opinion on the taste of a meal by looking at it, chefs are taught “the first taste is with your eyes” you form an opinion on what you are about to read by how it is laid out and the font before you read it.

We spoke to Matthew Menz, head of user experience for Motorola in Europe about how he, and Motorola use fonts in and on their phones. He sees the important role that the font plays in building the brand: “A single custom font has been created across the portfolio of products to provide brand continuity. Several aspects affect the screen design from x-height variations, to available weights & impacts to text translations.”, but you need to remember that Motorola is an international company and so the font has to be reflected in places where non-Latin fonts are used “Consistent typographical treatment is crucial”, says Matt, and it’s not just on the screen that this matters “Screen and physical presentation differ to ensure optimal legibility in each context. The distinction provides the necessary flexibility as it is applied to multiple languages.”

Building a phone is a series of trade-offs and cost is an important issue all the way through. Fonts take up memory and memory costs money. When every cent matters a smaller font is better, but how does Motorola strike a balance between memory footprint, legibility and conveying brand? “Very carefully.” says Matt, they do it differently for phones at different prices, “The balance between these factors are always in review as the tradeoffs are unique across the portfolio.”. One of those cost issues is processor power, there are special challenges are posed by low end devices which don’t support Scalable Vector Graphics (which make a font look nice at different sizes or alpha blending which lets fonts overlay other graphics with different levels of transparency. To deal with this on cheaper phones Matt says that “Multiple font optimisations are necessary to accommodate the variations in device support. Memory management is key for resource constrained devices.”

As well as the internal pressures of legibility, brand, emotion and memory footprint, some carriers want to specify fonts. Matt is a little enigmatic on this “Support for multiple fonts and font customisation within a single device continues to be a topic of discussion across the industry.” It’s a new field and something that is just starting to play out. Even newer is the ability for users wanting to use different fonts. Matt agrees it’s an important direction. “Providing typographical diversity is important, both in core OS rendering & application specific areas like the browser. The ability to support this is directly related to device enablers. The more powerful devices will continue to be as the leaders in this area and these benefits will cascade to the more resource constrained products over time.”

It’s good to see that mobile phone designers are thinking about fonts. A mobile phone is an emotional device – in Sweden the nickname for a phone is the same as the word for teddy bear. Better use of fonts can only make you feel warmer to your phone. Even if it is a text message from your boss.

Great type makes sites stand out