Type is the clothing that dresses words, giving them character, emphasis, and a subtle, but distinct personality that the reader often senses subconsciously.

Typography is the art of selecting and using an appropriate style of type, or font, in a way that reinforces the message of the words, without distracting from them. Text requires a typeface that is clear and legible—fancy letter shapes or ornaments distract the reader—but a big ad or store sign needs an eye-catching lettering style in order to stand out from the visual clutter and make a statement. Graphic designers are always coming up with new styles to meet both purposes.

Few people, even professional designers, can identify a font by name. Most people can, however, sense whether it looks exciting, reserved, modern, old-fashioned, edgy, tasteful, clear, or illegible; even design-illiterate customers get a sense of the values type reflects, if only subliminally.

Advertising agency creative teams tend to push to use the latest, hippest typefaces, often ignoring the standards outlined in clients’ brand manuals. This can lead to the typographic design of the latest ad campaign looking quite different from, for example, the company’s website.

While some degree of separation is unavoidable, the design of web pages and other materials (known in advertising parlance as “below the line”) should be planned and executed so that customers perceive a connection with the advertising. Typographic consistency reinforces a brand identity; chaos hurts it.

Typographic consistency is necessary for long-lasting items, such as products and signage, that a customer may look at for years. Such items need to be timeless, without being generic, and consistent with established brand standards.

However, the type styles on short-term brand materials, such as ad campaigns and packaging, should show some sensitivity to current typographic fashions. The challenge for designers is to tread the difficult path between consistency and change so that, on the one hand, the brand image reflected in the typography stays recognizable, and on the other, it doesn’t look out-of-date.

Some corporations spend thousands on the development of an original typeface for the exclusive use of that company’s brand communications. In so doing, they are guaranteed that no one else’s materials will have quite the same character as theirs, but they also lock themselves into using one font for a long time—perhaps too long.