What You’ll Learn

Flathead Electric Cooperative Multimedia Design Specialist Sharilyn Fairweather recaps her session “What the Font?” — a look at how consistent (and inconsistent) typography represents your brand.


Guest Speaker

Sharilyn Fairweather

Show Notes

Transcripts have been lightly edited for clarity and readability.


Andy Johns: What the font? That’s what we’ll be talking about on this episode of StoryConnect: The Podcast. My name is Andy Johns, your host, and I’m joined on this episode by Sharilyn Fairweather, who is the Multimedia Design Specialist with Flathead Electric Cooperative. Sharilyn, thank you for joining me.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Thank you so much for having me.

Andy Johns: So we’re having a little bit of fun. I appreciate the session title here. We’re recording this one once again at the NIC Conference with NWPPA out here in Portland, Oregon. And the title that you did, Sharilyn for your session was “What the Font: Choosing and Using a Typographic System to Represent your Brand.” So number one point, I don’t know if you came up with the title or not, but points for an eye-catching title there. But let’s talk about it. And if you know me, folks who are listening to this are going to say “Andy’s talking about design and fonts?” but here we go. I’m going to be leaning on Sharilyn, obviously, to carry most of the conversation. But it was a pretty lively discussion. This was the right crowd to have a pretty lively discussion about fonts yesterday.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yeah, it was a lot of fun.

Andy Johns: So with some of the tips, and we’ll get into plenty of them, but what are you — I guess let’s just talk through kind of your your daily job. What do you do on a regular basis for the co-op?

Sharilyn Fairweather: Well, on a regular basis, I do graphic design, photography and videography for Flathead Electric Cooperative. So this means that I will do layout for our newsletter. I will do ad design and anything that we need internally that is member-facing.

Andy Johns: Got it. When we’re talking about a brand, a lot of people think, you know, you got the brand. We got our logo. That’s our brand. But obviously with this session, you’re talking about just how deep that goes for brand recognition. Tell me a little bit more about that.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yeah, it is. It’s more than just your logo because you can slap your logo on anything, and it can be “branded” but it’s really not. It’s more about using consistency with the colors that you use, using consistency with the fonts that you use and just making it all look cohesive. So what you’re giving out to people, they can tell like, “Oh, this is from Flathead Electric Cooperative.”

Andy Johns: Do you think most co-ops or most utilities out there pay attention to that level of detail? Or what was the reaction from the folks in the room yesterday?

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yes, a lot of them were like, “Oh yes, yay, yay,” because we’re the communicators. So, yeah, we have more of a marketing background. So we know things about branding and typefaces. And I think other people were maybe more like, “Oh, I never had thought of that before.”

Andy Johns: It would have been a very different audience if this had been at an engineering conference or finance and accounting.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Oh man, that would have just fallen on deaf ears. It would have been like I’m talking a different language, I feel like.

Andy Johns: Right, right. Well, let’s talk a little bit about what you guys do. So what are some of the things that you do to hold your brand together when it comes to the typeface and font?

Sharilyn Fairweather: Right. Well, I don’t do it perfectly, but anything that is member-facing … So anything that’s like professionally designed is going to be done by me, and it’s going to be done in our brand fonts. So I have like a system all lined out of this is what we use for our serif font. This is what we use for our sans serif.

Andy Johns: Do you mind sharing some of those?

Sharilyn Fairweather: Of what they are?

Andy Johns: Which fonts they are.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yes, we use a font called Brandon Text, and that is our sans serif font. And I chose it because it’s very friendly and approachable. But also it’s actually it’s the font that was used in our logo, which wasn’t designed by me, but it does tie in well that way. And then we use a slab serif called Forro, and these are both designed by the same font foundry, so they work well together. And then we also use a, and I’m probably going to mispronounce this, but our serif font is called Marbach, and it was also developed by that same font foundry. So that’s a good key if you’re looking for typefaces that work well together is to go to whoever designed it, they’re going to be. It’s going to be like, there’s actually people who sit around in design fonts.

Andy Johns: Got it.

Sharilyn Fairweather: So, yeah.

Andy Johns: I bet that’s a wild and loud office setting there. A bunch of rowdy folks designing fonts all day. So where are these fonts showing up? You mentioned the newsletter basically anything that you guys are sending out as an official publication notice, that kind of thing, yes?

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yeah, so like our business cards, our brochures, our newsletters, and then our website uses those fonts. So that was one thing I talked about is when you’re choosing the fonts that you’re going to use to represent your entire brand, make sure it’s something that you can have as a web font and that will be supported.

Andy Johns: We have seen, you know, working with as many utilities as we work with, all number of logo — I don’t want to say butcherings, but even getting people to make sure that the logo is consistent in terms of not being squished or anything that is difficult. How do you get buy-in? And maybe it helps that most of that goes through you before it goes out of the door. But what are some ways that across the organization? I mean, do other folks know this is the font that we use? Or since it all comes through you, are you kind of the gatekeeper there?

Sharilyn Fairweather: So when I talk about the fact that I don’t do it perfectly, it’s basically because anything that’s not designed by me, they’re not going to have those fonts. So that’s why anything member-facing is designed by me. But then that’s kind of a misnomer because there are member-facing things like documents. And in that way, it’s we have our logo, and we have any graphics that I have put in there into our letterhead is going to be something that I have control over. But then you know what the engineering department uses for their font. And in the future, perhaps I’ll go as deep as to define what fonts they can use because we don’t have a license for everybody to use these fancy fonts. So it would have to be a fallback font. So we’d have to say that everybody has to use Arial, or everybody has to use Georgia. So those are fonts that everybody has. But thus far, it hasn’t really been that big of a deal.

Andy Johns: Why do you feel that … And I know we’re probably speaking to the choir a little bit on this because, like your session, this podcast will go out — most of the folks listening are the communicators at utilities, telcos, electric co-ops, municipal providers. But why do you think it’s important to be consistent like that? You know, whether it’s a font, whether it’s other design elements, why is consistency so important?

Sharilyn Fairweather: It sends a subconscious message that people pick up on, and they probably don’t realize that they pick up on it. But if you have something that doesn’t have consistency in the design, you kind of get this feeling that maybe the company doesn’t know what they’re doing.

Andy Johns: I can see that. Professionalism.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yeah, that’s what I think anyways.

Andy Johns: So you’ve got the challenges of being consistent once you arrive on some guidelines for your fonts. But how did you ever get to those guidelines? How did you decide on the specific fonts and make those decisions as this is what we’re going to do?

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yes, that’s really great. Ok, so basically what I did was I went through, and I took the three pillars of our brand, which are community, innovation and reliability. And I just typeset those words in lots of different fonts and just kind of looked and saw like which ones seemed to lend themselves well and really communicate that. And then I did lots of test layouts, so I would get some copy and write a headline and a subhead and some body copy and just use different fonts and just look at it with that filter in my mind, now this looks like it says “community” to me.  And so I did that. I got a couple different options. I did some sets, a few different sets of systems and then pitched that to my team, got feedback off of them, which I was really used to having to defend my choices. So I did it. You know, this was when I was first hired, and I came from an agency setting to being the only graphic designer.

Andy Johns: So you came in there geared up to argue.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yeah, geared up to defend my choices. Defend my font choices. And they were basically like, “Oh, this looks fantastic.”

Andy Johns: So that’s good feedback.

Sharilyn Fairweather: It’s great feedback. So it was not very hard to get buy-in from my team.

Andy Johns: So I’m learning things. As I said, I’m not a designer, but #NotADesigner. But so the number one thing is stick to the three fonts. What else are you looking for?

Sharilyn Fairweather: Well, if you’re going to stick to those three fonts, what you need to do for consistency sake, you want to make sure that the fonts that you choose work together. You want to also look to see that your typefaces have a large family of typefaces so you don’t just have one version of it. You also have your bold, and you have italic, and you have light, and you have black, which is like extra extra bold, and you have extra bold italic. So having a large font family gives you a lot of diversity so that even though you’re choosing three fonts, you’re really not constrained all that much.

Andy Johns: Ok, that makes sense.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yeah, and the other thing I look for is end use. So that’s kind of a big deal. Like once I purchase this font, I have to know that it’s going to work on the web, that I’m going to be able to find like support for it on the web or email or across all of the places that you’re going to want to use your brand fonts. And the last thing is to use your fonts consistently. So whatever you choose, you want to choose ones that you can use in your ads, on your website, in your newsletter and just use it consistently.

Andy Johns: That makes a lot of sense. Last question for you. If you’ve got somebody who maybe they have either a member services role or a communicator job, or maybe specifically as a graphic designer, if they’re just feeling like our stuff’s all over the place, it’s not consistent. This sounds great. I need to start walking down that road. What’s some advice you have for them on some of those first steps? And how do they even start? How do they even start getting getting to this point?

Sharilyn Fairweather: You know, what I would actually suggest is if you have the ability to — because a lot of times you’re not going to, you don’t have necessarily a graphic designer on staff. But I would say make the investment to hire a graphic designer to put together a full brand guide for you. And what this is a document that gives you parameters about how you can use the logo.

Andy Johns: It’s important.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yeah, it’s important. You can’t have it too small. Things like that. And then it also can like — these are the colors that you use, and you have very specific. It’s not just red, green, blue; there’s very specific variations of colors, and there’s codes that you get to use those colors consistently.

Andy Johns: Hex codes.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yes, hex codes.

Andy Johns: It’s one of the few design words I know.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Yeah, and there’s hex codes for web, and then CNYK values for print. And then Pantone values… 

Andy Johns: Okay, you lost me there. I was getting ahead with hex codes.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Hex codes. Yeah, let’s just stick with that one. And then also that they would define a typographic system for you. And then after that, then you need to purchase those fonts. If you’re not doing sourcing on Google Fonts, which the Google Fonts are good if you’re on a budget, you need to find something that’s going to be well supported and also well designed. But yeah, I would say definitely hire a professional, and then you have that guide and you can refer back to it, and it’s just a document. And then that way, if you somebody designed something for you and you look at it, and you’re like, “Oh, these are not our fonts. This is not representing us the way that we’ve decided we’re going to represent ourselves.” Then you can say, “Hey, you used the wrong font.”

Andy Johns: Right. Excellent. Take that time. Make the investment. Understand what you’re doing. Understand what you’re what your system is. That makes a lot of sense. Well, Sharilyn, thank you for joining me.

Sharilyn Fairweather: Thank you.

Andy Johns: She is Sharilyn Fairweather, the Multimedia Design Specialist with Flathead Electric Cooperative. I’m Andy Johns. We’re recording a few more episodes here at the NIC out in Portland, Oregon. Until we talk again, keep telling your story.