Maybe you shouldn’t buy fonts now

There is a small bakery in the town of Imbé, on the Southern Brazilian coast, which sells unbelievably wonderful bread. It always was. Since I was little, buying bread on the beach is a ritual involving a lot of patience in the queue around the block. But that was never a problem. People look at each other with empathetic smiles, happy, smelling warm bread with each batch change. This bakery doesn’t need to invest in fonts.

There is an ice cream shop in a corner of Florianópolis, with the best ice cream in the world, attested by a newspaper article, proudly framed on the wall. And you can confirm with anyone in the queue, which is always there. This ice cream shop doesn’t need to invest in fonts. Finally (and now with a plot twist), there is a high-end car dealership, whose name is Bagunça (“Messy” in Portuguese). Envision a luxury car dealer whose name goes against common sense (what will naming experts say?) but has been solid on the market for 45 years now. This dealership doesn’t need to invest in naming, or fonts.

We have the illusion that our work is the most important thing in the universe. But let’s be honest — the hierarchy of marketing needs in a company and the sophistication of its tools grow with the need to move the market. That bakery in Imbé would not even need a sign identifying its location for residents to go there, faithfully, every summer morning.

I’m honest with startups when I tell them they don’t need a custom font, or maybe not even a paid font at all. The basic needs for testing a business model usually do not rely on a typographic choice. In addition, a custom font can quicky become an obsolete investment, considering that the first year of a startup is marked by major transformations. Google Fonts made it easy to access quality fonts at zero cost, with easy and immediate implementation.

It works. Until it doesn’t, of course. When is that? The most used Google font has been displayed more than 295 billion times in the last 30 days alone* — it’s as if every inhabitant of planet Earth saw that same font 37 times in this short period of time.

The moment a brand needs to stand out, a free font no longer works. In the best-case scenario, your communication will be generic, like thousands of others, without adding any value; at worst, your main competitor will adopt the same font as you, undermining your communication and confusing your audience.

The question is: what is the price of that for you, now?

Fabio Haag

*Calculation based on on June 27th, 2022.