Girl Scouts: Custom Typefaces

Dec 21, 2016 | Custom Typefaces, Girl Scouts

Some time ago, the Girl Scouts of the USA approached me to discuss producing some “custom fonts” for them. Having been a scout in an earlier life and now having a young daughter about to enter into scouting, I jumped at the chance to see if I could help. I was curious where this might lead since I was familiar with Original Champions of Design’s fantastic revision to the Girl Scouts identity and their use of Joshua Darden’s ubiquitous Omnes as their everyday typeface—and I couldn’t complain with either execution, and wondered how I would fit in.

What unfolded over the next couple of months as we discussed the project was not the need for just a “custom font” but the desire to use type more prevalently in their communications to allow for them to create age-specific flexibility. It also became apparent that they didn’t want a single, custom typeface or family, but were looking to accomplish something I have not seen executed elsewhere… they wanted a suite of typefaces that could all interact connectively with each other. They needed it specifically branded to the Girl Scouts, so aggregating existing typefaces was out (I suggested that). The logic was sound, the Girl Scouts are tasked daily with producing an array of materials fit for ages ranging from young girls to young women (and that’s excluding their foundational endeavors). The premise was ambitious and a bit crazy… but I kinda like crazy. I respect what the principles of scouting teach, and loved and appreciated that they were seeking ways, typographically, to reach my young daughter. I was all in.

The trefoil, so very much associated with the Girl Scouts, would serve as the biggest inspiration for the development of the sans and slab typefaces used, which I quickly (obviously) dubbed Trefoil Sans and Slab. As with any typeface I begin designing, it started with a sketch. Oh, and then some more sketches. The iterative way in which I work allows me to explore variations quickly, which in turn, allows me to share these quickly with the client. Each sketch led to a further pushing of the elements… for me, I wanted something strong and distinct in presence, that would allow for a range of weights to be developed around them, with a less than generous footprint. Inspired by the bangs OCD used in the brave retooling of Saul Bass’s original logo, I began utilizing that element to bring life and a sense of vitality to the strokes. Anyone willing to write off this bespoke set of typefaces as just another corporate type project would be wrong, flat out wrong—these typefaces needed to appeal on a colloquial level with children and young adults as much as they needed to be used for a day-to-day communications workload. That spark and twinkle of youth needed to shine through in places and recede when needed to take on a more serious, utilitarian tone. Finding that balance was tantamount.

One way that balance was ultimately accomplished was by emphasizing the more expressive, display-oriented characteristics on weights that would not typically be used in text settings. For weights meant for long passages of type or other utilitarian text settings, all of the DNA remained, the soul and personality of the type was there, but reduced so as to not distract.

Trefoil Sans and Slab were ultimately delivered in nine weights each, with matching italics. But these two families only represented one cookie in a sweet, yummy box of fonts that needed to be completed. A standalone display script, a trendy craft/lettering script, a condensed version of Trefoil Sans, as well as a layered typeface remained. However, for me, a good bit of the thought-process had been completed—with proportions established with the sans and slab, I was able to design and build each subsequent type family to match, or at least, harmonize with those proportions. I wanted flexibility and a methodology ingrained in the fonts that made it easier on the designers using them in New York all the way down to the chapters in small-town, USA.

Future articles will discuss further development of this suite of typefaces and provide further insight into the design process, as well as dive into the necessity of focus groups and even A-B testing of these typefaces to strike a chord with as much of their wide demographic map as possible.

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