Welcome to What the Font?, the game that gets our designers scratching their heads over the logos of some of the world’s biggest brands. Do you think you know fonts? Our team thought they did, but as it turns out, it’s a hard task matching famous fonts to famous logos. In fact, many of the brands in this video are using common fonts in unusual ways.
Playing today we have Nick Rasmussen, Partnerships Manager for Envato Elements, our subscription-based library of over a million digital assets, and Sophie Dunn, Senior Brand Designer for Milkshake, the mobile app that allows you to build a micro-website for Instagram.
Let’s dive straight in…
Quiz: What the Font?
Technology brand Panasonic’s logo was an easy start. As Nick says, the ‘a’ gives it away “with that Swan neck”. He guessed ‘Helvetica Neue’ or a variant of ‘Helvetica’. It’s ‘Helvetica Black’!
Created in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger, Helvetica is one of the world’s most popular fonts. Following its conception, it was rapidly released in different variants including Helvetica Black. As well as Panasonic, it’s the font behind logos such as Microsoft (‘Helvetica Black Oblique’), Harley Davidson and NARS, proving its adaptability.
Find a font that’s similar to ‘Helvetica’:
Nick kicked off strong, but Sophie recognised this font straight away. James Cameron’s 2009 fantasy movie Avatar did of course use ‘Papyrus’, a widely available typeface created by Chris Costello in 1982.
Fun fact: this font was “hand-drawn over a period of six months by means of calligraphy pen and textured paper”, according to Wikipedia. But as Ryan Gosling says in the SNL skit that Sophie and Nick allude to in our video, “Avatar, the giant international blockbuster used the Papyrus font as its logo… He [James Cameron] just highlighted Avatar, clicked the dropdown menu and then he just randomly selected Papyrus, like a thoughtless child wandering by a garden just yanking leaves along the way.”
Watch Ryan Gosling in the video below and you’ll see what we mean (you’re welcome):
“My, that’s a tall font,” you’re probably thinking. Well, you’re right. Netflix uses ‘Bebas Neue’, which Nick steered Sophie towards guessing correctly (another point for Sophie).
Netflix takes a psychological approach to font selection, as writer Sara McGuire outlined in an infographic on Venngage last year. She explains, “We picked 50 of Netflix’s most popular TV shows and categorized the fonts based on their font types. Then, we looked at the characteristics commonly associated with each font type to analyze how the font may affect our perception of the shows.” The results might make you take your font decision much more seriously next time.
Find a font that’s similar to ‘Bebas Neue’:
Typefaces such as ‘Bodoni’ and ‘Didot’, with their high contrast between thick and thin strokes, have come to be associated with high fashion. The Vogue logo (as Nick guessed) is ‘Didot’, and was named for brothers Pierre and Firmin Didot (printers, publishers and typeface designers working in the 18th and 19th centuries). It settled on the cover of the magazine in 1955 and has come to represent the elegance and glamour of the Vogue brand, which is frequently emulated.
Find a font that’s similar to ‘Didot’:
That swirly ‘S’ for ‘Spotify’ was the reason that Sophie guessed ‘Gotham’. The sans-serif typeface was designed by Tobias Frere-Jones and released in 2000. As well as working for Spotify, it’s also been used by former President Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign, drinks brand Martini (Gotham Black), and restaurant chain TGI Fridays (also Gotham Black).
Find a font that’s similar to ‘Gotham’:
- On Envato Elements: NORMAL – Minimal Sans Serif Typeface + WebFonts by designova
Well, we’re kinda mortified that neither contestant recognized which font is used in the Adobe logo. (It’s ‘Myriad’). Don’t tell Adobe! ‘Myriad’ is used by brands including Deloitte (‘Myriad Semi Bold’), Visa (‘Myriad Black Italic’) and LinkedIn (‘Myriad Bold’).
For our second high-fashion brand on the list, the contestants stuck to their fashion font guns. Nick went for ‘Didot’, and Sophie guessed ‘Bodoni’. This time, Sophie was right.
Like most fashion brands, Calvin Klein often gives its logo a reboot, the most recent of which was in 2017 when designer Raf Simons headed up the house. This logo was a collaboration with art director Peter Saville. ‘Bodoni’ is also used by the V&A museum in London. Oh, and the band Nirvana!
Again, a Helvetica logo isn’t difficult to spot, and both Nick and Sophie guessed that messaging giant WhatsApp’s logo is Helvetica. Sophie is charging ahead with 5 points to 3.
There aren’t many logos as iconic (in Britain anyway) as the BBC’s, but the British Broadcasting Corporation only adopted the Gill Sans typeface in 1997. The reason for selecting the font was, as logo designer Martin Lambie-Nairn explains, in choosing “a typeface that has stood the test of time, we avoid the trap of going down a modish route that might look outdated in several years’ time”. Other brands that use Gill Sans include Tommy Hilfiger and rock band Bloc Party.
Find a font that’s similar to ‘Gill Sans’:
- On Envato Elements: Bergen Text by MindburgerStudio
The final logo was a toughie. Comparing the Red Bull font to the ‘Bauhaus’ font, Nick selected ‘Avant Garde’. However, Sophie was determined to win by a landslide and opted for ‘Futura’ (it was ‘Futura BQ’).
‘Futura’ was designed by Paul Renner and released in 1927. It was in fact inspired by the Bauhaus design style of the period. You may be surprised to learn that ‘Futura’ is also used by Cisco (‘Futura Bold’), D&G (‘Futura Demi Bold’) and PayPal (‘Futura Bold Oblique’).
Find a font that’s similar to ‘Futura’:
- On Envato Elements: RNS Miles by yorlmar
Get to grips with font design by following the advice of some of our favourite typography designers on Envato Elements.