The Psychological Importance of Typography
Time to explore how the choice of typography can affect how people view content, including the subconscious connections we make between text and the font it is written in.
For some people, fonts may not be something they pick up on quickly. They may not focus on the physical shapes of the letters they are reading – but subconsciously there are emotional reactions and connections that are prompted by these marks on paper or on your screen.
Others may be more interested in how and why different typefaces are chosen. So much so, that while some believe the actual content is the important thing, typography fans would suggest that the format it takes can radically change its meaning – so making a conscious decision about which font you choose is extremely important.
This cropped up recently surrounding the “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts which were released as part of peaceful protest following Eric Garner’s death last year. While there was a lot of discussion about the shirts and their wider meaning, some people started to criticise them for their design. The first lot of shirts were printed in capitalised Comic Sans, a font which is the subject of sites like Comic Sans Criminal and Ban Comic Sans, as well as being used in the title of graphic design book Thou Shall Not Use Comic Sans: 365 Graphic Design Sins and Virtues. It’s widely condemned for being misued and giving an inappropriately childish tone to serious design, due to its rounded shape and jaunty alignment.
However, it’s also a good example of how choosing a font can be extremely tricky. Although in the minority, there were a handful of people who said the hatred against Comic Sans in this case was misplaced – and that the use of the font humanised the statement and filled it with a sense of innocence.
This example hammers home the importance of looking closely at your typographical choices when creating any kind of design – and opens up a discussion into the psychology of typography. Just as Comic Sans can be used to convey a childish sentiment due to its rounded edges, typefaces can be used to add meaning to design just in the way they are physically structured.
Readers or viewers create emotional associations to text based on the typeface it is written in – script typefaces can be creative or feminine, sans serif looks clean and modern. Connections are then formed between the choice of font and the brand or subject you are representing. Furthermore, your choice of font can encourage or discourage people from reading your text. Ideally, you want to draw people in, and then create a subconscious emotional connection between them and your subject. This infographic sums up some ways in which different fonts can express different sentiments.
The fact that we draw so much just from lines and marks on a screen is interesting. But things get even more remarkable when designers make typography an integral part of the overall design of their work. Text laid flat on a magazine cover or infographic can still encourage an emotional connection with a reader based on the font choice, but it can also be weaved right in to the overall visual design of a piece. This can be done through clever placement, or even through the fact that it has been constructed not through pixels but through something a little more unique.
The above examples are all brilliant uses of typography. The New York Magazine’s pretzel cover provides a visual shortcut to the subject matter, as well as adding a pleasing 3D, textural effect that would stand straight out on a shelf. This is similar to the Bread & Butter cover – simple but tactile and effective.
The next three examples make the text fundamental to the design. The Out There poster conveys a sense of adventure by hiding some of the phrase, the Jaws fin created from the sharp top of the ‘A’ and the GENT stack give the letters multi-layered implication: the standard mark-making linguistic meaning amplified by visual significance.
Whether text is just part of your overall project, or you can make it an intrinsic part of your overall design, it has a lot of importance. It can completely offset the tone if used wrongly, or can add a brilliant element of interest if made more of a focus than just being laid on top of a photograph or graphic. Choice of font (whether it’s a digital typeface or a physical one) and then placement can make your text and titles fade into the background or become the star of the show.
Nathan Jones is a Digital Marketing professional working for the full service digital marketing agency The Big Group. If you enjoyed this blog, there are many others you can read on our website.