Thursday, July 9, 2015

Who Gives A Font?

I recall a few years back when IKEA changed its standard font from Futura to Verdana. The former was considered to be a well-regarded and handsome specimen with a “warmth and cheer” that resonated with the IKEA brand, while the latter was described as a font that designers had little respect for, lacking in originality, and drawing into question IKEA’s credibility and reputation.

It turned into a very public, and very personal, debate. Personal because many people were of the view that font mattered. It becomes even more obvious when you see how different typefaces are described. Arial has been described as “generic…almost bland,” while Helvetica has an iconic status, an “invisible typeface due to the extent of its visibility and influence”. And then you have Comic Sans, the “casual but legible face” that has long been the bane of the typographic elite. Google knew it when it played a prank on April Fool’s Day in 2011 that involved all Google searches for ‘Helvetica’ appearing in Comic Sans.

Given the passion and personal connection that people have with different typefaces, it should come as no surprise that typefaces have also been found to have an unconscious impact. Many who work with the written word will attest to feeling more comfortable typing in one font over another. We grow accustomed to using certain fonts; some might even consider them to have an influence on our creativity and productivity.

Some typefaces have also been found to be more believable than others, according to an experiment conducted by Errol Morris of the New York Times. The experiment found that readers were more likely to agree with a statement written in Baskerville than other fonts, including Comic Sans, which happened to promote (at least among some) “contempt and summary dismissal.” Baskerville simply had what one professor describes as “gravitas” aligning itself with “tuxedo” fonts with “just a touch more starchiness.”

Morris points out that it seems a little ridiculous that we would be nudged into believing one typeface over another, but I can see it.

Image attribute/source: Tommaso Sorchiotto /

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