The Inside Story Behind Intel's Proprietary Font Design

Move to Digital World Has Brought Fonts Back Into Focus for Many Marketers

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"Fonts have personality," said Jennifer Barbour, brand design and identity director at Intel. "It's how we navigate through the world. … You never notice a good font, but you definitely notice a bad one."

Which is why the company, along with design agency Red Peak and U.K.-based font foundry Dalton Maag, worked more than a year to create a proprietary font, Intel Clear. It was formally introduced in April, though some variations for some non-English languages are still in development.

The move to a digital world has brought fonts back into focus for many marketers. What works in print doesn't always transfer well to desktops, tablets and mobile devices. Different screen sizes with varying resolutions and scalability can be an issue, and certain font designs don't translate well into foreign languages. And for big brands, fonts can be expensive, since digital-licensing fees are often calculated by web views.

For eight years, Intel used a font called Neo Sans Intel, a customized version of Neo Sans created by font fondry Monotype. But it was designed for print. It had "an engineered feel that we wanted to move to something that felt more human," said Red Peak Chief Creative Officer Stewart Devlin. And functionally, it needed to be easier to use and share.

Dalton Maag's lead designer spent a month in New York with Red Peak, hand drawing at first and then testing ideas digitally and in a variety of marketing materials. No one would put a price tag on Intel's effort, but Dalton Maag Creative Director Bruno Maag estimated the cost for an original font can range between $100,000 to $200,000, depending on complexity. Recreating a brand font in Chinese, for instance, requires to create 27,500 characters in the font that must go through a rigorous government assessment and licensing process.

But he noted that a proprietary font can be less expensive than the hundreds of thousands of dollars multinational brands often pay in licensing fees, including digital fees, for different languages and customization of labor.

Intel isn't the only brand that's created its own font: Nokia, Toyota Europe, BMW and GE have also done so.

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