Been there, seen that, bought the typeface
Jonathan Barnbrook’s Doctrine typeface was launched in 2013 (the first new release by Virus Fonts in four years) and found its debut outing on David Bowie’s latest album, The Next Day. Nothing out of the ordinary so far, but when you hear it is already the most purchased typeface on virusfonts.com you’ve got to wonder how much of its success can be put down to the Bowie effect?
Clearly David Bowie has a loyal following and most brands, agencies and businesses would be happy to work with him to share his success and glean some pop culture cache. Could this popularity by association really apply to a typeface? Now don’t get me wrong, I think Doctrine is a great face and certainly one of Virus’ most usable, but such rapid success is unusual and if it is down to non-design professionals purchasing it to have a piece of ‘the Bowie brand’ what precedents does this set for the type design industry?
The licensing of pop star and celebrity ‘brands’ is big business, try as I might I am unable to avoid One Direction’s image plastered on everything from t-shirts to babies bottles. If the 1D boys were to commission their own typeface and license it so fans could customise their blogs, instant messages, phones etc would that be as popular?
For many people today their social circle is larger online than offline. With blogging site Tumblr offering 3.3 billion design and theme combinations the way in which today’s fan expresses themselves is increasingly through their digital rather than physical presence. I can tell more people ‘who I am’ by having all of my messages in Mötörhead’s custom blackletter than by wearing that tatty old tour t-shirt.
Take this hypothesis one step further, what if I can license the assets of my favourite brand? Can I license the NIKE swoosh for my email footer or Burberry’s check as my twitter background? If brands can relinquish a bit of control the resulting free advertising and sense of ownership for the consumer could be huge. Like the Selfridge’s yellow carrier bag, more likely to be carrying today’s homemade sandwiches than a ‘designer’ purchase, it promotes and strengthens the consumer’s stake in the brand again and again, regardless of what’s inside.