We’ve all received emails with a jumble of font styles, sizes and colors that triggers a visceral reaction worse than fingernails on the chalkboard. What were they thinking? More than likely their message was also lost. Font choices—whether deliberate or unintentional—can definitely impact the message.
One hospital administrator’s chosen email font was Comic Sans, often in ALL CAPS and sometimes with comical splashes of color. When asked by the hospital CEO about the font choice, the administrator replied that it made him feel happy. Shortly afterwards, the brand standards guide was revised with strict dictates for font style, size and no color other than black for all hospital communications.
While Comic Sans may have made the sender happy, a message that looked light-hearted about important matters may not have been well received.
A recent study from Monotype, the world’s biggest type foundry, and applied neuroscience company Neurons suggests that different fonts elicit different emotions. The survey of 400 people, from ages 18 to 50, reveals that fonts can influence the way we feet about certain messages.
We process the meaning of words and emotions in the temporal lobe of the brain. The presentation of words can also trigger emotional responses. While healthcare trends toward more serious messages, we generally want to maintain an optimistic rather than alarmist tone of voice. Words and fonts can simultaneously deliver tone of voice.
According to the study, softer and more recognizable fonts tend to produce more positive emotional responses. Pointy, sharp font types often trigger negative emotions.
Fonts are subjective and can mean different things to different people. A study from Brown University indicates that fonts can be ageist. As we age, our eyesight tends to weaken, making it more difficult to read or as quickly as we once did. But, before we blame it totally on age, it might be due to font choices.
Often clients request that we change the font style and size on documents. At an older age some people are no longer able to easily read light, condensed fonts.
The Brown study tested 16 of the most popular fonts used online, in newsprint and in PDFs among participants ages 18 to 71. None of the fonts proved the frontrunner. However, the survey showed that participants over 35 read more slowly on average than younger participants with every font except EB Garamond and Montserrat.
The reason may be the X factor. Of all the typefaces studied, Montserrat—a sans serif font—has the tallest x-height, which refers to the height of a lowercase x. Larger x-heights can improve readability.
EB Garamond can trigger nostalgic reactions from older readers. It is more of a classic serif design but with updated features including a taller x-height.
Digital platforms typically default to sans serif typography with subtly rounded corners and stems that emote warmer, softer emotions. However, print typeface leans into serif fonts. Even recently published books may use Bodoni, Caslon or other classic typefaces designed in the 18th or 19th century. Pat Conroy’s “My Reading Life” is set in Kennerley, designed by Frederic William Goudy. The famed designer described the font as a “book letter with strong serifs and firm hairlines.”
Times New Roman, introduced by The Times of Londonnewspaper in 1931, remains one of the most widely used fonts of all time. Designed specifically for newsprint, it has a high x-height, short descenders below the baseline that allows tight linespacing and a relatively condensed appearance.
The Times kept the same font for 40 years, only replacing it with variants of the original typeface. Likewise, it was the easily recognized standard font of The New York Times until being replaced in 2007 by Georgia, still a serif design but wider and easier to read.
The American Psychological Association includes 12-pt. Times New Roman as one of only six options for papers written in its APA style.
When logos and brand standards are being redesigned or updated, make sure the designer supports font choices with target audiences in mind. Maximizing the impact of marketing messages depends on maximizing the readability of the message.