Every graphic designer knows that choosing the right font can make a world of difference. What every designer doesn’t know is why certain fonts work better than others.
Beyond the difference between print fonts and script fonts, how do fonts communicate their individual personalities? It turns out the answer could be found in the small details that most people would overlook.
If you’re designing a custom font or just looking for more insight into the psychology of fonts, we’re going to be deconstructing the specific typographical features that can affect our perception of different fonts.
Starting with one of the more obvious details, a big determiner of a font’s personality comes from whether it has serifs or not. Serifs are those little extra lines that sometimes appear at the end of letter strokes.
A study looking into the perception of different fonts found that people see serif fonts as more stable, practical, and mature. On the flip side, sans serif fonts (fonts without serifs) are perceived as more contemporary, clean, and to-the-point.
There’s a lot of debate over whether serif or sans serif fonts are easier to read. Some say that the serifs help guide the ‘horizontal flow’ of the reading movement. Others say that sans serif fonts are easier on the eye. Really, as long as your text is large enough for each glyph to be distinguishable, you’re going to be fine either way.
A font’s weight refers to the thickness of each stroke and can make a dramatic difference to a font’s appearance. Of course, you can embolden a font but that is used to emphasise specific phrases by adding to a font’s inherent weight.
Light, or thin, fonts give off a sense of delicacy and femininity – they’re often used for beauty and make-up brands. Thicker, bolder fonts are more appropriate for stronger, more assertive statements.
The weight of a font isn’t always uniform throughout the letterform. When there’s variation in weight, there’s contrast and it harks back to the days when contrast was created by the nib of a feather quill.
Thanks to the association with calligraphy, high contrast fonts can be seen as more elegant and refined. Be warned about going too small with high contrast fonts, though – the thinner elements can disappear into nothing, making it unreadable.
Low contrast fonts have a more solid, durable presence and are much more useful for body text than high contrast fonts. When blown up, they can also make for great display fonts as they have a more modern, stylish feel to them.
Our experiences can have a big impact on how we perceive things in life. For example, if you have a bad experience of a clown when you’re younger, you may go on to have a phobia of clowns.
As children, we quickly learnthat sharp objects can be dangerous whereas rounded objects are much safer. Hence, we associate rounded designs with gentle, harmless objects.
Research shows that this can be directly applied to fonts and the connotations they evoke. People found rounder fonts more appropriate for “sweet” foods and angular fonts more appropriate for “bitter”, “salty”, and “sour” foods.
Finally, typography involves how letters fit together as well as the physical appearance of each letterform. So, how much space should you be leaving?
One study found that thin fonts can be great for promoting products that are economical in size. For example, smart cars, slim mobile phones, and storage products are all marketed on how little space they take up.
On the other hand, expanded fonts that take up a lot of room can signify indulgence – they have no need to worry about saving space. These fonts should be used when you want to highlight how luxurious an item is.
This should give you a clear place to start when designing your next font, or choosing a font for your brand. Remember that typography covers a wide range of issues related to fonts and typefaces. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Typography for a jargon-busting look into all the different aspects of typography.