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The Psychology Of Typography

The Psychology of Typography

Why Being a Type Junkie Pays Off in the World of Marketing

In the earlier half of the 15th century, a German tradesman by the name of Johannes Gutenberg invented the moveable type. The first typeface was a cramped behemoth called blackletter, which predates Gutenberg by several centuries. It was found so illegible that literate people cheered at the creation of the Roman typeface. It wasn’t until the 1920s, Frederic Goudy became the world’s first career type designer. He is responsible for creating such iconic typefaces as Goudy Old style, Copperplate Gothic, and Kennerly.

Today, we have millions of typeface choices. Which one is the right one? We’ve broken down the psychology of type and given you a mini glossary – so you can be more informed on how to speak about it, and more thoughtful in how you use it to capture your reader’s attention. Learning about this important marketing tool might even turn YOU into a type junkie like us!

The Psychology of Typography

Advertisers and scientists alike have long since come to the realization that the visual representation of text is as important as the content. As with other aesthetic elements such as color, typography is a key component in the viewer’s experience. Before I continue, here are some important key words to know:

MINI GLOSSARY OF TYPE TERMS

Font vs Typeface
Typeface and font family are used interchangeably, but (irritatingly enough) font and typeface are not. Typeface refers to the design we see, or the physical appearance of a font. A font is a set of characters including letters, numbers, and punctuation. For instance, this blog post was written in the typeface Century Gothic, at a 14-size font.

Weight
The weight refers to the thickness of the text. Arial versus Arial Bold is a difference in the weight of the fonts.

Spacing
In the context of typography (as opposed to page formatting), spacing can mean kerning, leading or tracking. Tracking is the uniform manipulation of space between all characters, where kerning and leading refer to individual adjustments. The difference between the latter two is that kerning is increasing or decreasing the space between two or more characters, but leading deals with the space between two words.

Serif
vs Sans Serif vs Slab Serif
Serifs, also called “feet” in some quarters, refers to an extension or flourish at the end of letters. The name Comic Sans is partially derived from “Sans Serif,” as this particular font family has no such “feet.” A Slab Serif has serifs that are especially blocky, or slab-like.

The story of Comic Sans

Now let’s look at Comic Sans as an example. Comic Sans is the font used in both of the above memes. There are entire blogs dedicated to condemning this typeface to the deepest depths of purgatory. A legion of millennials dreams of joining a manifestation to abolish Comic Sans once and for all. And, because of the incredibly intertextual nature of millennial and generation z humor, Comic Sans has been relegated to internet humor.

Designed by Vincent Connare in 1994 for Microsoft, Comic Sans takes its name from COMIC books and SANS serif fonts. Connare reportedly created Comic Sans in a week, using just his mouse to achieve that handwritten look.

What makes Comic Sans so distasteful to so many people?

Sure, it’s a cultural mainstay now, a remnant of the early digital era. The layman has been socialized to scoff at Comic Sans, even if he lacks a technical understanding of its visual failures. On sight, Comic Sans can evoke a horde of hostile and disgusted reactions. Typefaces- not just horrible ones like Comic Sans- are powerful emotional provocateurs. Some typefaces are famous, such as Papyrus and the Avatar franchise, or Fraktur and the Nazi regime. Typefaces can and do carry cultural, historical, and social baggage, so selecting a type and font that is appropriate to the message you want to send is vital.

However, Comic Sans isn’t widely-denounced just because it’s trendy to do so. Visually, it’s a mess. If Comic Sans were a person, he’d show up late to your birthday party with a gift you were allergic to. And even though nobody likes him, he’d still somehow know everyone and be everywhere. Get my drift?

Comic Sans is inconsistent with its kerning, meaning that the spaces between the letters are uneven.
Like so. See?

If you stare long enough, the uneven space distribution may give you cavities. But what can you do? If you try to kern them, the eye is overwhelmed by a lack of negative space to separate out the clump of wiggly letters. In trying to embody the handwritten look, each letter was created without regard the others. Unbalanced. Uneven. Rounded. Does that not translate as childish and undependable somehow? This disparaging comment suddenly seems justified (“We are a Fortune 500 Company – Not a lemonade stand).

Why is typography important for marketers and businesses?

It is important for your company’s communications to be housed in visually appealing and appropriate type. You wouldn’t dream of sticking any old picture on your mobile ad, so why would you be so careless with the typeface? Here are some things to consider:

Different fonts
A forward slant conveys movement, speed, vitality.

A serif is elegant. A Sans Serif is modern, perhaps even futuristic.

A lightweight font conveys delicacy, while a bold, black, or condensed weight grabs the attention, as though the words are vying to for your glance.

When considering typographic decisions, it’s important to know who your audience is, and the nature of the message you want to send to them. What images are you using? What is your color palette? All these different pieces of your design should come together and create a cohesive communique.

Say, for instance, your client was a fashion boutique located in Brooklyn with a clientele of older, highly educated women with deep pockets and minimalistic tastes. It is imperative that you take into account both the identity of the boutique and that of its desired customers. What is the common ground you are trying to emphasize? Perhaps it is an affinity for quiet luxury, clean lines, minimalism. Maybe the boutique’s brand is one of elegance and reserve. Perhaps the women pride themselves on their chic style, and many of them are visiting New York from other parts of the world.

Would you choose a short, heavy font in a lurid color? How about a novelty display font that looks like it was written in bubbles?
Ugly Font
I didn’t think so.

You want to eliminate cognitive dissonance. You want your message to be received with no obstacles, meaning that everything in your ad must work congruously together.

Tall, Thin, Serif

Inspiration

Serif typefaces take their inspiration from inscriptional lettering dating back to antiquity. Because civilization retains collective memory, today’s society has a popularly held idea of ancient Greek and Roman life. Visions of chariots and swooping marble pillars, rustling gowns, lyre music drifting from olive groves…

Yes. We carry some of that in our perceptions of ancient Greece. When we look at a classic serif typeface, we are led to associate what we perceive visually with what we have been socialized to imagine about the ancient civilizations along the Mediterranean.

Another consideration clients often don’t take into account is a younger audiences tastes. Millennials and younger have been viewing innovative type styles for years and are not as demanding of traditional with “easy to read” type styles. In fact – not playing with your type in innovative ways might turn those readers off even. Don’t be afraid of type! Give your audience credit. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had clients say, “It’s hard to read.” Then I say, “Can YOU read it?” and 9 times out of 10 they say “Yes, but…”  – No ‘buts’ – if you can read it – so can your audience. Don’t be trapped in a boring type box!

Looking for some innovative new typefaces or ad designs? We would love to give you a FREE SAMPLE and redesign one of your ads for you! Contact us now at am-strategies.com and let us show you how to make type sing!

Written by
Michele Marlo, Executive Creative Director, Advanced Marketing Strategies
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