What would a search page created by Apple look like? Comparing Google, Microsoft and Apple brands via their fonts

Over the weekend I began thinking – having read the excellent analysis over at SFGate about how Apple used Sony’s initial strategy to focus only on the very best products – about Apple and Google and Microsoft, and particularly their logos.

Logos? Logos.

A quick word first though about that SFGate analysis, which bounces off Alan Deutshcmann, who wrote the (also splendid) Second Coming of Steve Jobs.

Deutschman sees Jobs as having some uncanny similarities to Sony’s founder — not Akio Morita, who was Sony’s CEO and public face, but his elder partner Masaru Ibuka, the proprietor of the original radio repair shop that evolved into the electronics giant and, during its rise to market dominance, the company’s chairman and the architect of its philosophical foundation.

“Ibuka was really the heart and soul of the company,” says Deutschman, who wrote about Sony’s elder statesman in his most recent book, “Walk the Walk.” “He was the one responsible for Sony’s sense of purpose. This was a company that was launched in a Tokyo that had been leveled by firebombing in World War II, that had experienced the kind of destruction associated with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and whose residents were facing homelessness, hunger and desperation. And yet Ibuka laid out a mission statement for Sony that was aimed at changing the world.”

That statement was simple and to the point: “Sony will be the company that is most known for transforming the global image of Japanese goods as being of poor quality.” It defined Sony by what it would not do — make bad products — making it something of an omission statement, if you will.

Note how you could apply precisely that same logic to Apple. Indeed, one of the big things that Jobs did on returning to Apple was to chop the list of products from 15 to four (and only three of those actually released).

By way of example, Deutschman tells the story of how Sony entered the color TV marketplace, noting that in the Sixties, when color TV was going from 3% to 25% of the market, Sony was one of the few electronics companies that didn’t sell a color model. “People were telling Ibuka, ‘You have to come in to this market, everyone will take your market share,'” says Deutschman. “And Ibuka refused, saying, ‘No, we will only do great products. We will only do high quality goods. We will only do breakthrough technology.'”

As a result, the company found itself in a precarious financial situation, losing out to its primary rivals — until it came upon the aperture-grille technology that Sony unveiled in 1966 as the core of the Trinitron TV. A full 25% brighter than its rivals, Trinitron became the best-selling color TV for the next quarter century.

That’s very interesting.

Now, the next thing I wondered about was: what would a search page created by Apple look like? It would have lots of things left out. It wouldn’t hassle you with adverts. It would try to be simple, and only have what it needed. In fact, it would look rather like… the Google search page.

Which then got me thinking about the fonts that those two companies used. Below is a picture of the Google logo as it is, and the Google logo created with an approximation of Apple’s Garamond font (which it used for the “Think Different” campaigns in the 1990s and on).

However, you have to work out which is which. And which is which? (No cheating by looking at a Google page, of course.)

(In case you’re interested, Google actually uses the Catull font.)

On to other things. Microsoft uses Helvetica in a bold italic. I haven’t got exactly the right version on my system, but it’s close.


Would you think differently of the other two companies if they used the same style for their logos? Does Google seem more Google-y because it uses a particular font?

Finally, Apple has begun using the Myriad font, which is a sans-serif font – think of the adverts for iPads all over the place. Again, I don’t have the exact typeface, but I’ve got something that’s an approximation. How would you think of these companies if they used these fonts?

Recall that one of the course Steve Jobs did when he had half-dropped out of Reed University (ie still attending courses) was calligraphy and typography.

So – does a typeface make a difference to how you think of a company? Would Microsoft feel more like Google to you if it used the same typeface – formally, a serif font? Has Apple changed slightly by going from Garamond to Myriad? These are subtle branding questions, but subtle branding is an important part of a big business.

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About charlesarthur

Freelance journalist - technology, science, and so on. Author of "Digital Wars: Apple, Google, Microsoft and the battle for the internet".
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2 Responses to What would a search page created by Apple look like? Comparing Google, Microsoft and Apple brands via their fonts

  1. Interesting post, Charles. Speaking personally I wouldn’t go overboard on the impact that a typeface has on brand perceptions.

    To be frank, Google is not ‘Googley’ (to borrow your rather pleasing word!) because it uses a serif typeface. In terms of the overall identity the font is infinitely less important than the colour combination, for example, and I am fairly confident that our views on the company would be substantially the same in 2011 if Sergey had chosen a sans serif font like Helvetica way back in 1998. Equally, if Microsoft had chosen to use a combination of red, yellow, blue and green letters in ITS logo, my guess is that its market positioning would be somewhat more toward the playful end of the scale than is currently the case.

    Of course, if a typeface is very distinctive, it can become so strongly associated with the brand it represents that other words rendered in that same face begin to take on similar attributes. The examples you give don’t really do this because Helvetica is (quite deliberately) the blandest typeface in the world and is used by thousands of companies (including many in the tech sector, like Orange, Panasonic, 3M, Verizon…..) for their logos. But think about newspapers, for example. Would your emotional response on seeing a copy of the Daily Telegraph side by side with an edition of The Guardian if their mastheads swapped typefaces? I’m guessing probably not!

    (By the way, the font you have used to illustrate Myriad above is, I think, Helvetica)

  2. Jesper Garde says:

    I think you need to widen the scope from just the logo to general branding if you want to investigate this.

    Microsoft used the same colours as used in the Google logo in their Windows branding, which I presume is the biggest touch-point with Microsoft for the majority of people.

    Apple is probably more associated with the apple logomark than the font they use.

    I think branding has a big impact on how people perceive a company, but branding in the wider sense of the word.

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