Fonts Decoded: Serif vs Sans Serif6 min read

By 14 September 2020 Design

Times New Roman, Calibri, Comic Sans, Courier New, Serif, Sans Serif- Font, there are so many, but what does each font really mean? It might look like not a big deal at first. But, if you really look into how fonts are used by brands to put forward a particular message, or design, you shall understand the underlying reason for the usage of a particular font. Fonts, just like words, come with a tone of their own. While Times New Roman gives out a very professional and informational feel, Comic Sans is a more fun-associated, lighter-in-feel font.

Before a designer or a brand picks up a font to use, it is necessary for them to have an in-depth understanding of what category each font fits into. The categories are many, like script and graphic, however, the two most important categories you need to understand to be able to make informed decisions are – Serif and Sans Serif.

While all fonts usually have just one version, what really is Serif and it’s sister font Sans Serif? Is it just by chance that two different fonts happen to have similar names?

The two most important categories of fonts: Sans and Sans Serif

Coming to the question that is probably at the top of your mind right now: What is the difference between serif vs. sans serif fonts? What does each of these categories say about your brand? What kind of designs are the best fit for each of the fonts?

Serif, literally means “a slight projection finishing off a stroke of a letter in certain typefaces,” and the word “Sans” literally means “without.” So as the name suggests, Serif is the font that has decorative tapers at the beginning or the end of the letters that makes the letters look fancy. Sans Serif, on the other hand, is the plain font with the absence of (or sans) any serifs within the letters.

Serif vs. Sans Serif: What do these fonts say about your brand?

Before we get to determine which of these are the correct or the right choice for your brand, let us understand the pros and cons of each of these fonts.

  • Serif Fonts: Because of the little feet-like strokes extending from Serif letters, or the very typeface of the letters, these fonts come across as more traditional, conservative, elegant, formal, and established. Often used in prints, Serif fonts are more readable – but again, only in prints like books, magazines, or newspapers. This particular font makes the letters more distinctive and easier for our brains to process. However, having said that, this font is a big no when it comes to reading on a screen. With technologies like 4k screens and retina display, the font sure is more readable even on screens than before, but it is still unsuitable for your regular tablet or mobile phone.
  • Sans-Serif Fonts: Since there are no strokes extending from the alphabets in Sans Serif that makes it look fancy or decorative, this one is usually more typically associated with being modern, clean, young, and friendly. Sans-serif fonts are also more readable on a regular screen than serif fonts. Serif letters can sure get too cramped up and noisy on low-resolution screens but sans serif’s simple design rules out this issue.

Okay, but how does it help brands?

Now that the difference between each of these has been established, let us look into what these fonts have to offer the brands. A new age company will definitely strive for a more fun font and would not use a font that is used by an age-old company. Both of these companies will have a different message to put across through their branding and hence, a variety of fonts come to the table.

What does working with a Serif font mean for your brand?

If you are looking for a traditional, formal, and sophisticated look and tone in your designs, it is definite that you would pick the Serif route. The usage of this font also makes the brand look more reliable and trustworthy. The image with the font in itself implies a feeling of heritage. For example, GAP, Tiffany & Co, Rolex, etc. GAP in fact, even went all the way to change its logo to a different Sans Serif font after using the initial logo for years. The result? Instant dislike and rejection. The logo was so widely disapproved that GAP went back to its Serif font logo almost immediately. Another reason for Serif fonts to give out the charm and royalty that it does is because this particular typeface dates back to the 18th century.

Serif fonts are often used in business cards, wedding cards, professional campaigns, and even marketing brochures.

What does working wih a Sans Serif font mean for your brand?

Sans Serif font, exactly opposite the Serif, is often looked at as a ‘modern’ font. It throws off all the tradition, class, heritage, sophistication, royalty, and instead comes across as something more minimal, simple, plain, and post-date typeface so to say. Sans Serif is majorly regarded as a font that is ‘fun’ to play with by virtue of its clean lines and the overall youthful quality.

Often used by tech companies, gaming companies, and even startups, Sans Serif is your essential “no-drama” font to put out in clear terms. This font is for the brands that want to appear sharper and to-the-point.

Serif vs. Sans Serif: Are brands picking one of these more than the other?

So now it has been established that there is a clear line between Serif and Sans Serif, despite the fact that they have a common name. So are brands really using one of these more than the other? In one word: YES.

Unlike how it was a few years ago, the new-age brands are now dismissing the use of the classy Serif and instead of picking Sans Seri. This is done by brands appear more accessible, friendly, easy-to-get, and just simple, clean in general. Even the older brands have actually started shifting or revamping their branding to this clean font in order to appear more modern than obsolete and age-old. For example, look at Netflix and Amazon. They have stuck to the Sans Serif font as they clearly are against portraying the image of a hard-to-get, premier brand like that of Mercedes Benz, and well, it clearly has worked for them and how!

Talking about bigger names, even in the beauty and fashion industry, a lot of companies have revamped their logos. Balenciaga and Saint Laurent overhauled their branding into a bold, all-caps, sans serif look. Associations between typography and luxury exist in general and even more so when clothing or beauty is involved. While Burberry still comes across as expensive and luxurious, other brands that have revamped might not. But they, however, still cash out on the fact that they at least ‘seem’ more doable and approachable as opposed to a brand that even at first look appears non-affordable.

Even Google, back in 2015, changed its logo from Serif to Sans Serif. The company kept intact its primary colors and played with just the logo – the facelift is obvious why – to connect with the youth.

Final Thoughts

Well, just like any design or art, there can never be a hard-fast rule for what is the better pick – Serif or Sans Serif. Both of these brands have their perks and qualms. It absolutely depends on what you sell or what you want your brand to appear as when picking one of these two for your brand marketing.Changing your logo from Serif to Sans Serif will not always be beneficial and better like said in the example of GAP. At the same time, it is certain that Google would never be as interesting if they do happen to decide to go back to a Serif font.

Both of these logos are fantastic depending on the type of business. If you happen to have a cupcake shop that sells cupcakes made from grandma’s traditional recipes, Serif is your pick. On the other hand, if you have a company that sells vegan cupcakes (a novelty idea), Sans Serif could be your pick.

So you see, there is only one right way to do this- identify your audience and understand what they are looking for. Do not hold “traditional” vs “modern” for the fonts in your mind but actually look at which of these fonts – or even others- actually, accurately and uniquely represent your cause. Fonts in marketing and branding have a ‘voice’ and it is about time you have yours heard!

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