The way humans communicate is unique and beautiful. Affective communication courses through every aspect of our lives. The obvious ways, like how we relate to our significant others or solve dynamic problems at work are just some examples of how we use verbal communication. Certain words and tones of voice cause either positive or negative reactions. We learn at an early age how to use these tools to work with others to succeed in the world.
What about all of the nonverbal forms of communication? For example, how can these tools be found in body language, visual advertising, and the fonts and imagery that accompany them.
Two research studies, (Mehrabian & Wiener, 1967 and Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967) combined results to give the commonly accepted statistics regarding nonverbal communication: 55% is body language, 38% is the tone of one’s voice and 7% is the spoken word. These exact numbers have been picked apart and debated, but the important and accurate takeaway is that nonverbal communication matters. What about something as routine as the typeface that we chose? There is a psychological component to each typeface, and while we might not be professional advertisers, we unconsciously cater the choice of font to different mediums.
Typography, according to Merriam-Webster, is the style, arrangement, or appearance of typeset matter. This includes typefaces, fonts, dimensions, rounding on the letters, spacing, etc. When we refer to a font, we normally mean the font family or typeface, as the font is a subcategory of that. So let’s look at the few main typefaces and what message they send.
Serif Typefaces: The word “serif,” according to Merriam Webster, has Dutch origins meaning dash or line, This refers to the letters having little lines or strokes at the bottom of the letters. As the original typeface, Serif fonts are classier, traditional, and formal. The old Times New Roman and Georgia are serif fonts. These are old school and conservative. It might sound silly to assume that traditional fonts are for traditional people, but there is comfort in tradition. These are the honorable fonts. These are the, “you have to write your research paper in Times New Roman” fonts.
It’s best to opt for a serif font when you’re conveying a lot of information, like a presentation or printed form. Easy to understand and formal, that is the essence of a serif font.
Sans Serif Typeface: So… not serif. These typefaces are more modern and simple. They appear clean and without the small accents on the bottoms of the letters. They are straightforward and engaging. They gained popularity when technology boomed, because sans serif looks better in lower resolution mediums, rather than printed. Common sans serif fonts are Arial and Helvetica. A lot of companies like Nike and Microsoft use these fonts to convey contemporary ideas and brand integrity. In fact, American Airlines, Sears, Target, and BMW all use Helvetica in their logos.
These fonts are not inappropriate in professional settings, but they are a bit less formal and have a more relatable feel. Comic Sans, for example, is a sans serif created in 1994. It was inspired by comic type and emotes a fun, creative message. Many organizations and individuals have been mocked for typing in this font at the wrong time-like filing a complaint or making a serious announcement. The “tone” of that type does not match the seriousness of the message. It can look off, even to an untrained typographer.
Script Fonts: Script fonts are another typeface. These are not as common in everyday type. They are often viewed as a more creative font, even though the written script is formal and old-fashioned. Some companies do use this to display class and elegance, like Cadillac’s logo.
So, should you put more thought into your typeface choices? Definitely! But if you decide not to, then hopefully this helps keep your professional emails in Times New Roman, and your birthday invites in Comic Sans. Ultimately, your chosen font should depend on the tone of your message and personality!
But what does all of this say about the art itself and the thousands of font choices that we have?
Hrant Papazian, the founder of MicroFoundry and a well-known designer who specializes in Armenian fonts, said, “Nothing made by a human can avoid personal expression, and nothing made for a human should avoid personal expression” (DigitalSynopsis.com).
This quote is comforting. It reminds us that every choice we make as humans have an artistic and individual touch. It shows a glimpse of the time and creativity that designers put into making these typefaces that many of us don’t even think twice about. Every form of communication brings us together. If you think about it, the universal understanding that each typeface carries its own brand is pretty amazing.
DigitalSynopsis.com. “36 Inspiring Quotes On Typography That Every Designer Should Live By.” Digital Synopsis, 5 Oct. 2015, digitalsynopsis.com/design/typethos-inspiring-typography-quotes-tips.
Gaille, Brandon. “How to Make a Font Convey Emotions.” BrandonGaille.Com, 4 Oct. 2013, brandongaille.com/how-to-make-a-font-convey-emotions.
Hunt, Ted. “A Pro Designer Shares the Psychology of Font Choices [Infographic].” The Daily Egg, 21 Oct. 2019, www.crazyegg.com/blog/psychology-of-fonts-infographic.
firstname.lastname@example.org. “What Does Your Font Say About You?” THE IFOD, 13 Nov. 2019, www.theifod.com/what-does-your-font-say-about-you.
Peate, Stephen. “Finding Your ‘Type’: Font Psychology and Typography Inspiration in Logo Design.” Fabrik Brands, 1 Mar. 2018, fabrikbrands.com/font-psychology-and-typography-inspiration-in-logo-design.
“Serif.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/serif. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.