Advice needed: international charity

lclayton's picture


I know absolutely nothing about typography, so please excuse this question if it sounds very naive.

I work for a large international charity, with offices and projects in about 80 countries.

Although our name and brand is well known, and we have an agreed colour and font for our logo, we have never given much thought to having a coherent style for publications beyond the logo. Consequently, the publications we produce in different countries look very different in terms of colours, lay-out and font.

In order to save money and create coherence, we want to start looking into whether it's possible to create a global style guide that could be used everywhere we work. But there have been many questions already about whether it is possible to find fonts that are appropriate for use around the world. Some feel that fonts are so culturally specific that it would be impossible for us to find something that appeals everywhere.

There must already be reams of research into this, since it must be a problem faced by every organisation working across borders. If anyone could direct me to useful information on this question, I would be most grateful.


Si_Daniels's picture

>Consequently, the publications we produce in different countries look very different in terms of colours, lay-out and font.

In "in-country" context how do they look? Good, bad, ugly?

>In order to save money

Assuming each country licenses a couple of culturaly appropriate fonts, 80 x $100 = $8,000. How much would a global style guide and organization-wide font license cost? Would you save enough money to make this worth while?

lclayton's picture

Some good, some ugly. That's the problem.

Is $100 a fairly average cost? I didn't know. Guess we figure that if we have shared fonts we can also save money on design and layout costs. E.g. if the UK and South African office both want broadly the same publication, but with slightly different text on one page, we could create a template which both could use, rather than create both from scratch.

Guess I am also really interested in finding out if fonts really are culturally specific?


Si_Daniels's picture

I was guessing 3 or 4 fonts at $25 to $35 each for a five user license. Of course they may need more fonts, or less, supplementing system fonts and free stuff. It's hard to know for sure, but perhaps understanding the costs and setting a per country font budget might be a good start.

But it sounds as if this is less about money and more about coherence. On that front the answer is probably "it depends" mostly on the trade-off between in-country perception, and the need/desire to have a global brand.

Nick Shinn's picture

I would say you have two choices, other than the present ad hoc anarcho-collectivism, which is not really tenable, if for no other reason than the fact that people travel, and it weakens your brand to be all over the place, all over the place.

Firstly, pick a "free" corporate typeface that has a lot of international language support, such as Gentium, and standardize on that.

Secondly, implement a corporate standard that specifies type genre, rather than dictating specific typefaces. That can still be quite specific about typographic style, eg. font weight, size, x-height and leading, and whether the typeface is humanist sans, geometric sans, oldstyle serif or modern serif.

Bendy's picture

I work internationally with many charities and my job is communications, so I've been interested to look through the branding guidelines of a couple of the major INGOs, and several international companies too. Without exception they specify that for consistency certain fonts must be licensed, what Pantone colours are required and what page layouts are acceptable.

In my experience it's generally the head office that licences the fonts and makes an effort to keep everything consistent. People on the ground have different concerns than sticking to brand guidelines and I've seen some true crap even from the well-known organisations. So by all means go ahead with consistency but you'll end up having to produce most of everything at head office to be sure.

I would say fonts are not totally culture-specific...a humanist sans is always friendlier than a realist monoline. However, there are fonts that are very much fashionable in one place rather than another. If you can separate a font's inherent appeal from the cultural associations you may have, I think it's possible to find one that speaks to everyone (presuming it supports the languages you need!)

Bendy's picture

The other thing is to do with how you'd like to produce consistent comms. If the country offices are using MS Word you'll have an uphill battle even just trying to keep to one font because when people cut and paste, the formatting always goes awry, especially when tables, page breaks, headers or bullets are involved.

If on the other hand your comms are designed by in-country comms teams or design agencies, they'll be using something like InDesign and you can specify everything down to hyphenation and justification.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I wrote you offline, but I might as well write here too. This sounds like just the place a custom typeface could be fitting, exactly because the cost won’t look so high compared to the retail licensing fee for 80 (or more) offices. If you need to support other scripts than Latin, finding something affordable will be a hard task!

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