Typography is everywhere from signage, posters, packaging to brand logos, websites and social media, taking up a large percentage of your brand’s visual identity. But how is your brand perceived, do people they feel good when they encounter it? And by understanding the psychology of typography will it help you improve how people experience your brand?
That’s where understanding the psychology of typography in branding comes in. Knowing the different typefaces and their fonts, you’ll be better equipped to choose the one that matches your brand personality and help you stand out from the crowd. Do you know what your “type” says about your brand?
Remember a brand is a set of intangible assets of a company, service or product. It is a definition of an emotional relationship between customers and the business.
A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a company.
And the written word makes up a huge part of communicating your business activities to the world, it’s important to remember the fonts you use have their own personality and do they align with your brand. You don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.
Communication is essential to everything we do, but it’s more than the spoken or written word, the “Mehrabian” rule suggests that 93% of our contact with other people is non-verbal. And that’s what we’re trying to do with typography – convey a message using the simplest form e.g. logo.
But what is typography?
In the context of visual communication, the arrangement of text is known as typography. It’s an important part of many different styles of art and communication.
the art or procedure of arranging type or processing data and printing from it.
Given that typography is the arrangement of text, it has a long history closely linked to the printed word. So let’s dive in and take an in-depth look at the world of typography.
History of Typography
To understand the psychology of typography in branding it helps to take a step back in order to take a step forward. Going way back in this case, as writing is one of the most fundamental forms of communication, tracing its roots back thousands of years to hieroglyphs or pictograms.
Ancient civilizations of the world first began to represent their ideas, as images but they soon evolved into alphabets and phonographic writing, which led to the development of various typographic systems.
Ancient cave paintings dating back to 20,000 B.C. are the first recorded written communication. However, it’s said formal writing was developed by the Sumerians at around 3,500 B.C. As civilizations advanced, more complex written communication was needed – enter hieroglyphics.
In 3100 B.C., the Egyptians incorporated symbols or ideograms into their art, architecture and writings. Then by 1600 B.C. Phoenicians developed phonograms, or symbols used to represent spoken words. Some of these symbols are to this day included in the modern English alphabet e.g. % to represent “percentage” , # to represent “number” and the ampersand for “and”.
The Phoenicians are credited with creating the very first alphabet and around 1000 B.C (the same alphabet used by the Greeks). And word “Alphabet” is a combination of the first two Greek letters, Alpha and Beta.
Fast forward to the Middle Ages, it was all about handwritten and well-illustrated manuscripts which led to the evolution of a wide range of writing styles. One of the most famous written manuscript is the Book of Kells, on display in Trinity College, Dublin Ireland.
A major development and a turning point for typography was in the 15th century with the introduction of moveable type and the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. Since the invention of movable type, it created a new opportunity to design typefaces with style and personality and print on a larger scale.
The next major development was the computer, enter the personal computer (Apple, Microsoft, IBM). The written word went digital with the introduction of personal computers and software for desktop publishing. Then the internet/worldwide web sparked the rapid growth of digital typefaces. Today, with the help of software, you can design and create your own font e.g. FontForge or FontLab.
There has been an explosion of new typefaces onto the market while this is great and it’s made typography more accessible and affordable; quantity doesn’t always equal quality (not all typefaces were created equal).
Psychology of typography in branding
Just like colours affect your brand, typography will have its own unique effect on your brand. Each font has its own distinct characteristics or personality, from there you can choose the one(s) that share the features that best represent your business.
By understanding the psychology of typography and applying it to your brand, it will help define and bolster your brand. It won’t act as a barrier to your content, it will complement, showcase and inject personality into your brand in the process.
Based on research into the picture superiority effect, humans are more likely to recall visual stimuli.
When we read text alone, we’re only likely to remember 10 per cent of the information 3 days later. But if that information is presented as text combined with a relevant image, we’re likely to remember a massive 65 per cent of the information 3 days later”, John Medina, Brain Rules.
So if you want your brand to be remembered, you’ll need to enhance its visual appeal, and that’s where the psychology of typography in branding comes in.
If you don’t know much about typography, don’t panic you don’t need to know everything. Typefaces are broken up into different classifications or categories with four main categories of typeface families:
- Sans Serif
- Display(or decorative).
So when choosing a typeface it helps to know what mood or impression you’re trying to create. Once you know what you’re looking for – what you want to people feel – then its simply a case of matching that to the most suitable typeface for the job.
Typefaces that seamlessly match the brand it represents, include famous well-established brands like Coca Cola, Facebook, Ford, Toyota, BMW and Harley Davison.
1. Serif font psychology
Serif typefaces have little feet or wings at each end called “serifs”. Seen as traditional, sophisticated, reliable, practical, serious, mature, formal, scholarly, corporate, and business-like.
Popular Serif fonts ideal for headings(left) & web body copy(right):
- Mrs Eaves
- Playfair Display
- Times New Roman
2. Sans Serif font psychology
Sans Serif typefaces don’t have these little feet or wings, which makes them look clean, elegant and understated. Seen as contemporary, modern, clean, humanist and geometric.
Popular Sans Serif fonts for headings(left) & web body copy(right):
- Gill Sans
- Open Sans
- Source Sans Pro
3. Display or Decorative fonts
Display typefaces are big, bold and in your face and that’s how they like it! They are at their best big, hence the best choice for large sizes for heading, logos etc.. But they don’t work well as body copy -it cramps their style – as they’re too hard to read. They often suggest a specific genre, era, or time period. Perceived as stylized, distinctive, and dramatic.
Popular Script fonts (headings only):
- Lobster Two
4. Script font psychology
Typefaces that look like handwriting or calligraphy range from casual to formal. They have soft organic and humanistic qualities that give them a warm personality. They can be perceived as “feminine,” “funny,” and “casual.
Popular Script fonts (headings only):
- Lucida Script
- Dancing Script
All-time classic typefaces
Below are five all-time classic typefaces for serif, sans serif and display categories to choose from. Remember when in doubt look to the classics – they have stood the test of time.
Elements of Typography
What’s the difference between a Typeface and a Font?
- Typeface – “A typeface is a set (or family) of one or more fonts each composed of glyphs that share common design features.” Think of it this way Helvetica is the typeface but it’s made up of different fonts e.g. bold, medium, italic etc. All these different fonts make up a complete typeface set.
- Fonts – “Each font of a typeface has a specific weight, style, condensation, width, slant, italicization, ornamentation”
- Leading – this is the space or vertical height between lines on a page
- Kerning – this is space between letters in a word, and most typefaces have a default kerning value
- Tracking – or letter spacing, this is the space between words in a sentence
Digital typeface psychology
There are two main typefaces your brand will need for your logo and body text. The Logo (or display font) is where you need a heavy injection of brand personality (think brand values) depending on the nature of your business e.g. fun and quirky or trustworthy and professional.
Creative Bloq, identified font trends in blogs and which fonts were widely used:
- 20% of blogs use Georgia (Serif) for header text
- 10% of blogs use Oswald (Sans serif)for header text
- 20% of blogs use Arial (Sans serif) for blog body copy
- 10% of blogs use Helvetica (Sans serif) for blog body copy
The body text – above all- needs to be easy to read (remembering mobile devices shrink text even more than desktop computers) – so no fancy small fonts. The simpler the better – that way, you ensure articles are readable on different screen sizes.
“Small font sizes & low-contrast are the #1 complaint for web users…reading online”, – according to Nielson.
It may seem daunting to try and pair fonts, but don’t overthink it. Just make sure there’s a font that takes the spotlight and one that takes a back seat. If you are still unsure there many handy tools out there that you can turn to such as TypeKit from Just my Type or Canva.
When visitors land on your website they scan it and take stock of the overall appearance and layout and vibe or personality of the page, this all happens in seconds. Check out Google Fonts to make sure you have a legible font on your website.
A word about FREE Fonts
Don’t get me wrong free fonts are great, but you get what you pay for and they can be rougher than ones you pay for. A professional font gives you the benefit of a professional designer’s skills without having to hire one.
In Dan Ariely’s’ book Predictably Irrational he talks about humans loving FREE. But the downside to free is that we end up with a lot of “stuff” we only got because it was free.
So if you see a free font you want to use for your brand logo and it DOES reflect your brand, go right ahead! Please don’t download it if the ONLY reason you want is that it’s FREE, without asking yourself …
“Is this FREE font a true representation of my business identity?”
Visual hierarchy & how we organise and perceive information
Typography can help create that visual hierarchy. How, do you ask? By making important elements stand out through size, colour, or style e.g. bullet points
To master the art of visual hierarchy, you need to understand how we organise and perceive information, and Gestalt’s Principles of Perception help explain. Gestalts theory states that humans organise visual elements into groups or we view different parts of something as a unified whole when possible. We try to find meaning in things based on these six contexts:
- Figure & Ground,
Typography is more than just a pretty face
July 2012, Errol Morris ran an experiment in The New York Times titled “Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?” Readers were presented with a passage from David Deutsch’s book The Beginning of Infinity. He didn’t actually care whether people were optimists or pessimists.
What he really wanted to know is if a typeface could influence how people perceived the information. Could a typeface alone affect the credibility of written text? Six typefaces were utilised in his experiment: Baskerville, Helvetica, Comic Sans, Computer Modern, Georgia, and Trebuchet.
What he found was striking, when the content in the article was presented using Comic Sans it was considered not as believable compared to when Baskerville was used, then the exact same content seemed highly believable. So without being consciously aware of it, typefaces affect our perception of the content.
“Fonts have different personalities. It seems to me that one thing you can say about Baskerville is that it feels more formal or looks more formal” – David Dunning, Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan.
Why the right font makes you feel good
In a fantastic article “Fonts have feelings too” Auther Mikael Cho refers to a study by Psychologist, Kevin Larson which I just had to include. Larson spent his career researching typefaces and recently conducted a landmark study at MIT about how font and layout affect our emotions.
In the study 20 volunteers(half men and half women) were divided into two groups. Each group saw a different version of The New Yorker, one designed well and the other not so much…
The researchers found that readers felt bad while reading (or trying to read) this poorly designed layout. Sometimes, physically expressing this feeling with a frown.
The group exposed to the well-designed layout had higher cognitive focus, more efficient mental processes, with a stronger sense of clarity.
The researchers concluded that while a well-designed reading environment doesn’t necessarily help you understand what you’re reading better, it does make you feel good, causing you to feel inspired and more likely to take action.
Typography is Important. Even Steve Jobs thought so!
I can’t end this article without talking about Steve Jobs, he is the reason we have the option to choose fonts on our computers today. Here is a section from his famous speech at Stanford in 2005:
In Summary & Finding your font
That’s it, we’ve gone through the meaning, history, classifications, design and layout with examples of famous brands. I hope you enjoyed reading about the psychology of typography in branding.
There’s an ocean of information out there to fully master typography. With many professional designers having mountains of books on the subject. But we’ve equipped you with enough information to help guide you when selecting the best typography to complement and enhance your brand and copy.
When the right font one is selected, it can trigger the right emotion, mood, to get a visitor to trust and connect with your brand and to take action (convert). If this has sparked a wider interest in learning more about typography please see the resources below.
- Style Manual—a reference document by Andy Taylor
- Fonts in Use – Type at work in the real world
- Typewolf—a great source of inspiration and resources by Jeremiah Shoaf
- Just My Type—a collection of font pairings from Typekit and H&FJ by Daniel Eden.
- Fonts have feelings too—a great fun read by Mikael Cho
- The Type Snob – Another great article bursting with personality on how to turn into type snob
Font libraries for paid font licenses:
Font libraries for free, open-source fonts(beware as per my note above):