Rakuten reveals custom typeface by Dalton Maag to unify its global brand
The Japanese ecommerce giant worked with the London type studio to develop a family of four font styles which can adapt to its many different outlets around the world.
- Jenny Brewer
- 5 August 2020
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Tokyo-based ecommerce giant Rakuten has worked with London type design studio Dalton Maag to create a comprehensive font family bespoke to its brand. Aside from operating the largest online retailer in Japan, and the country's largest internet bank, it works in countless other sectors with over a billion members globally. Despite this, until now, it didn't have a typeface that linked them all. Though the company had its own typeface developed in 2012, it was designed before the group had grown to its current scale, leading its creative team to tack various new external fonts onto the branding.
The former typeface had “a distinct personality and served them well, but it focused predominantly on logo and title usage,” the Dalton Maag design team tells It’s Nice That. Plus Rakuten unveiled a new logo in 2018. With this and the addition of other fonts disconnecting the overall identity, Dalton Maag was enlisted to develop a large type system to include four different styles, to cater to its broadly varying needs. These are Rakuten Sans, Serif, Rounded and Condensed. On the Rakuten site, Sans is described as the “welcoming and accessible default,” for the brand’s identity, while Serif is used for “expressing elegance,” Rounded is more “fun and playful,” and Condensed is applied when the message needs to be “bold and impactful”. The styles all have distinctions but feel familial, responding to the concept of Ichi (meaning one) which is part of the brand’s ethos, and share common parameters such as the x-height and other vertical metrics, plus the font texture.
Dalton Maag summarises the font as clear and functional, “with the right tone of voice to support the distinct personality of the brand,” as well as adapt to the company's future development and changes. “In the Sans, the terminals of the round strokes of letters like ‘c’ have a slight flaring and are cut to a particular angle, which results in a crisp, sharp texture,” the Dalton Maag team describes. “This style is complemented by a “true italic”, rather than a simple oblique, making a lively organic voice available to the brand.”
Dalton Maag – which has previously developed typefaces for other huge global companies such as Airbnb, Facebook and Netflix – worked closely with Kashiwa Sato, Rakuten’s chief creative officer, and the Rakuten Design Lab to develop the typeface over many months, including an in-person workshop in Tokyo to kickstart the project. “Part of the purpose of the workshop was to understand how and where the typeface would be used,” explains the Dalton Maag team, “and together we defined a clear brief that could be taken forward into design – a geometric sans serif style that could act as a cornerstone for the brand, while retaining a subtle nod to Rakuten’s typographic heritage.”
The workshop also revealed that each of Rakuten’s brands had a need to speak to its own unique audience, with its own personality and tone of voice, while keeping in line with the default Sans design. This led to the four styles, which each have five weights. “Rakuten’s previous font had only limited styles,” the Rakuten Design Lab tells It’s Nice That, “and we faced a few challenges when using it to express the brand identities of our 70+ services in ways that suited their individual business goals. Our new font family gives us a variety of choices to best represent each service.”
While the Rakuten core logo hasn’t changed, each sub-brand’s design teams use the new type system to typeset their own logos. “This posed a challenge,” Dalton Maag says, “because the primary logo has a large x-height and relatively low cap height. While these work well in large sizes, they have the potential to negatively affect legibility if used for long form reading, and so couldn’t be carried through to the design of the new typeface.” The studio’s solution was to create a set of smaller capitals that would only be used in logo settings, matching the ratio between x-height and cap height and creating a cohesive feel across the logo lock-up. The Sans style features two different glyphs for the lowercase characters ‘a’ and ‘g’ for when font size effects readability. “Single-storey letter constructions help harmonise with the Rakuten logo, while double storey versions enhance legibility in UI settings,” concludes the studio.
The new Rakuten font is currently being rolled out globally.
Earlier this year, we spoke to Dalton Maag’s Bianca Berning about variable fonts – where the innovation came from, who its key players are, and where the medium might go next.