The Science of Typefaces

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The typeface you choose for your marketing messages have a major impact on how the viewer receives the message. Different typefaces evoke different feelings for individuals; some feelings are universal, while other typefaces can mean something different to different people.

Before we dive into the world of typefaces, here is a bit of background information on typography. First the differentiation between a font and a typeface. The two words are often used interchangeably, but a true typographic expert will smite you for not knowing the difference between the two terms.

In the shortest terms possible: a font is what you use, a typeface is what you see. To elaborate, Times New Roman would be the typeface, what you see, but you choose the font Times New Roman in point size 12 with a bold weight. You choose a font from within the typeface by applying specific sizes and weights to the typeface. Another distinction to note is the difference between serif and san serif typefaces. Times New Roman is a serif font because it has feet on the end of each letter. San serif fonts do not have the feet on the end of each letter.

Ok, now that your eyes have glazed over, let’s get scientific with your font choices.

There is no argument that different typefaces have different personalities. It doesn’t matter if you are a typeface elitist trying to bring down Comic Sans, or an everyday Microsoft Word user who randomly chooses fonts at the top of your word processor. There is survey data suggesting that typefaces convey their own meaning, complete with emotions, independent of what the typeface is spelling out. In terms of design, it is important that your typeface of choice coincides with your brand’s personality and the message you are trying to convey.

The concept of applying character to typefaces has been present for centuries. Even the ancient Greeks and Romans used serif letters as “symbols of the empire.” During the Renaissance, types became nationalized and representative of certain countries; Germany used Fraktur, France used Garamond, and Italy used Bodoni. Moving forward to the 1920’s, when the earliest research was performed on typefaces. The research showed that simple types portrayed economy and strength; therefore, the types were most commonly used for everyday products like coffee and cars. In contrast, ornate types portrayed luxury, so the typeface was used for luxury goods like jewelry and perfume.

Research performed in the last decade found that people feel as though serif types are more focused, organized, and calm. Whereas rounded san serif typefaces (i.e.Century Gothic) evoke feelings of happiness. Sharper types elicit anger; odd spacing can be perceived as aggressive, yet intriguing; consistent spacing is considered professional, yet boring. Overall, typefaces can generally be categorized in three categories: elegant, friendly, and direct.


A study conducted in 2004 surveyed students to determine personality traits for 15 common types. Times New Roman was voted most professional and formal, but also common. Helvetica was seen as the most boring, lacking drama and artistry. Courier New was seen as the least friendly typeface on the survey. Script type was seen as the most elegant, dramatic, and artistic. Lucida Console was perceived as the most futuristic type because it had the most erratic spacing. And, love it or hate it, Comic Sans was rated as the least formal type, appearing “too childish.”

Whatever your favorite typeface may be, take into consideration who your audience is and how they will perceive the typeface. There is a world of typefaces available, but choose wisely when selecting a typeface for branding purposes.

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