Branding and the brain

A designer and a neurologist share their insights

Bruno Maag has been thinking about type from perspectives that are far broader than most of us tend to use. He thinks about a typeface as a brand. He thinks globally, making megafonts with Latin and Asian scripts combined. But he also thinks about type in the context of the physiological evidence of how we read.

In this last part (and I am hoping he’ll show the diagrams of the pathways that reading takes in the brain that I saw at BITS in Bangkok), he is informed, and egged on by his scientific alter ego, Dr. Alessia Nicotra. Alessia is a neurologist who is researching “type and emotion.” Her initial investigation into dyslexia and the way we read has lead to one interesting conclusion: “Different type design is not the solution to dyslexia,” she says. ”The problem that dyslexics have is not in distinguishing the letters, but phonological interpretation, by and large.”

Bruno takes a more geopolitical view. “With Latin type, it all goes back to Roman lettering, Roman stone inscriptions,” he says. “This was an early form of global branding. You can’t keep an empire that size with military force alone. You have to have branding!”

While Latin letterforms were spread by the colonial powers to the New World and Asia, and Simplified Chinese is appearing in places like Inner Mongolia and Tibet, a single letterform is not going to work over the entire planet, at least during our time. There are too many languages, and too many cultures.

Nokia packaging Nokia packaging

Nokia packaging showing the custom font, Nokia Pure.

“For big brands, the answer is: assemble or create compatible designs in a number of different scripts,” he says. His firm, Dalton Maag, based in London, produced a set of custom brand fonts for Nokia that could cover markets around the world. The result is Nokia Pure. “Besides Latin, Nokia Pure covers 18 more writing systems, including Chinese, supporting 85 percent of languages spoken.”

Another big brand project he’s known for is Bookerly, a new text font for the Amazon Kindle. As Fast Company described it in a recent headline, “The Kindle Finally Gets Typography That Doesn’t Suck.” 

Faena guide book Faena font on the screen

The font for Faena, a luxury hotel chain, in use in print and on screen.

My own favorite Dalton Maag custom project is Faena, designed for the luxury hotel chain that remade the old warehouse district in Buenos Aires, Puerto Madero, with the help of Philippe Starck. The typeface combines classical elegance with both meanings of the term Modern. (Alan Faena is now working with Norman Foster and Rem Koolhaas on a big project in Miami Beach.)

“The ROI for custom fonts is bigger, the bigger the company. The fun part is trying to think across the cultures, and you need a widely dispersed design team working together.” Bruno says.

But it all comes back to the mechanics of reading. “We read the same way, deciphering the same skeletal code,” he says. “When you put the neurology together with the culture, you can start saying how to make type brands that work globally.”

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