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Since the beginning of civilization, typography has been used in one form or another to document our culture and to tell stories. Up until recent history, typography was mostly an art form created by hand, from the cherished illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages to the custom lettering seen in mid-century advertising. It wasn’t until the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press in the 1400s—widely regarded as one of the most important events in modern history—that mass production of information and literature became possible and typography as we know it today was born.
Although food has been packaged throughout history, it wasn’t until the 1800s that products started to be labeled and marketed to the masses. By this time, typography had started to play a central role in communicating product attributes and benefits to buyers. Today, typography is part of almost every visual interaction we have with brands, whether we are reading an article online or selecting a package to buy on the shelf.
One very important principle in typography and letterform design is that a font is not a logo. A logo is a symbol for the brand, and therefore must encompass a much bigger and broader story, even if the logo does not have an accompanying pictorial mark. Because fonts are so readily available, a typeface typically needs to be customized or arranged in a unique type treatment in order to be ownable for the brand. Additionally, many larger companies even commission custom corporate fonts to be developed for them in order to make their design communications more unique.