Brand consistency is one of the trickiest design problems facing global corporations today: How does a company maintain its look and feel across borders and languages--in both the United States and Saudi Arabia, English and Arabic?
Nokia tapped British typographers Dalton Maag recently to design what might be the ultimate multinational font. Nokia Pure has a clean, simple, and yes, pure aesthetic that is conceived to work on mobile devices in virtually any script, whether Latin, Devanagari, or Tamil.
The font is part of the Finnish phone giant’s larger rebranding initiative. Nokia sells devices in more than 150 countries and raked in some $48 billion in revenue last year. But it has watched its market share drop, amid growing competition from smartphone providers such as Apple and Google. To reestablish itself as mobile’s top dog, Nokia is issuing a new generation of tech-enabled phones and updating its visual identity to convey both the classic Finnish design on which the company was founded and larger global ambitions. Nokia Pure is a cornerstone of the new look and figures into the company’s user interfaces (particularly the new generation of smartphones) and corporate communications.
So what makes for a truly global font? “There isn’t really a stylistic recipe for fonts to make them particularly suitable to be translated into different scripts,” creative and managing director Bruno Maag tells Co.Design. “Each script has its own calligraphic and cultural history. It is more a question of matching different calligraphic styles to one another, without the features of one script dominating another.”
Nevertheless, the designers’ starting point was Latin, and for obvious reasons: “This is the most widely used script natively, by about 2 billion people globally. It sets the tone for the visual expression and functionality,” Maag says.
Then, they had to make the font legible on mobile phones, where a dearth of real estate calls for scant, if any, design flourishes. “Knowing that the design has to work in UI environments meant that we needed to ensure that character shapes and proportions were kept open,” he says. “In the design of this font we followed the mantra that a font is here to help a reader processing content, not to draw attention to itself.”
From there, they converted Nokia Pure into more complex scripts by first conducting in-depth research into the history of the scripts and even practicing calligraphy, which helped them understand nuances like letterform construction and cadence.
They also studied the design of Nokia Pure itself to tease out defining characteristics, such as how curves are formed and strokes terminate. Then they applied those features to the non-Latin scripts.
“When we design for non-Latin we always aim to create a rhythm and texture that is sympathetic so when you have the two scripts running side by side they create, ideally, the same tonal value on the page,” Maag says. “With Nokia Pure the simplicity and mono-linearity of the script greatly helps to translate the design into different scripts.”
[Images courtesy of Dalton Maag]