In February 2006, a font personality test was conducted by A. Dawn Shaikh, Barbara S. Chaparro, and Doug Fox. Their findings completely redefine how designers should choose a font for a brand.
In their paper entitled Perception of Fonts: Perceived Personality Traits they outline how their font personality test discovered that people subconsciously assign a personality trait to a font.
This revelation has gone largely unnoticed. However, the results of their font personality test are intriguing and they should be taken into consideration when deciding on a font for a brand.
Fonts and their unique typographical features.
Fonts are often credited with creating first impressions and they are typically classified by their unique typographical features and general appearance–for example serifs (text with little sticks on top) or sans-serif styles without any added flourishes.
However, there is very little research into fonts and most empirical data revolves around legibility or readability. This means that there is very little evidence to support the effect that fonts have on our subconscious when viewing websites, advertising creatives or digital documents.
Designers view fonts as having a personality.
Brand designers; graphic designers; typographers and web designers will often assign a personality to fonts. This is called “typographic allusion” which refers to:
The capacity of a typestyle to connote meaning over and above the primary meaning which is linguistically conveyed by words.“(Lewis & Walker, 1989, p. 243)
Brumberger describes this as:
Content and purpose of the text should dictate the design – the form – of a document, and that form, including typography, should express the content just as the verbal text itself expresses content.”Brumberger (2003, p. 207)
There’s a slight splutter of research into the psychological impact that fonts have on print. But how people view digital documents and web pages is largely unstudied.
As outlined above, researchers behind Perception of Fonts: Perceived Personality Traits, had four goals when writing their paper:
- Advance research into how people respond to typeface
- Discover if we view fonts as the visual appearance of spoken words
- Reveal if fonts have an effect on how people feel about an advertisement or marketing campaign
- Why different typefaces work better for different messages, audiences, and media
For many years, designers, marketers and conversion rate optimization experts have spoken about the effect that different fonts and branding have on conversion rates. This includes form optimization, building landing pages and sending newsletters to subscribers.
This strongly correlates with the results of this study and further supports how important it is to choose a font that has a similar personality to your brand or product.
Font personality test results.
Figure 1. Twenty font samples were used in the online survey.
Table 1. 25 uses were evaluated for each font.
Fifteen adjective pairs were used to assess the perceived personality of fonts. The scores were based on a 4-point Likert scale as shown.
In 2013, Alysha Fligner, an undergraduate at Fisher College of
Business of The Ohio State University made an interesting discovery regarding choosing a font for packaged products.
Fligner created two fictional cookie brands with two different fonts on the packaging. Both brands were shown to one hundred people chosen at random.
The study showed that consumers are able to consistently identify semantic qualities associated with a particular style of typeface, and they also seem sensitive about whether or not the associations match up to the product.
It was also found that the connotations of fonts on packaging carry over to perception and evaluation of a product, leading to enhanced persuasion.
This persuasion is strongest when packaging and choice of font aligns with what consumers expect from a product.
Therefore, you should be very careful when choosing a font for your brand and ensure it aligns with what your consumers think about your product.
Sans-serif font personality test.
What is a sans serif font?
Sans-serif fonts are often used to convey simplicity and modernity or minimalism because they have less stroke width variation than serif typefaces.
Helvetica is the most popular sans-serif font which was licensed to both Apple and Adobe and used by graphic designers worldwide.
The first version of Helvetica was designed by Swiss type designer Max Miedinger in 1957.
Miedinger wanted to design a new sans-serif font that could compete with other popular fonts in print such as Arial and Times New Roman.
He also wanted the font to be resistant or “neutral” so people would not give any additional meaning against its intended purpose.
Sans-Serifs Are More Readable Via Screens
Sans-serif fonts were initially used in print to emphasise words. This is because the typeface stands out due to it’s simplicity and more often than not has a darker (blacker) type colour.
Sans-serif fonts have four classifications and brands around the world have chosen them because of their simplicity, clarity and legibility.
At GoGoChimp, we also use sans-serif fonts in the majority of our web design, landing page and email marketing work.
This is primarily due to how easy the fonts are to read, meaning that we can convey information to the viewer much quicker than we can when using a more complex font.
Roman typefaces are more legible because the theory states that serifs assist in the horizontal flow of reading and eye movements.”De Lange et al., 1993, p. 246
When to use a sans-serif font.
Participants in the font personality test preferred Sans Serif fonts for:
- Website Text (62%)
- Email (60%)
- Online Magazines (56%)
Sans Serif fonts were least preferred by participants for the following uses:
- Digital Scrapbooking (32%)
- Computer Programming (34%)
- Math Documents (36%)
Users most preferred Serif fonts when they were used for:
- Business Documents (71%)
- Website Text (67%)
- Online Magazines (63%)
The three uses that users felt were least associated with Serif fonts were:
- Scrapbooking (28%)
- Children’s Documents (34%)
- E-Greetings (38%)
The most preferred use for Script/Funny fonts was:
- Digital Scrapbooking (61%)
- E-Greeting (60%)
- Website Graphics (53%)
The Script/Funny fonts were least preferred for:
- Computer Programming (2%)
- Scientific Documents (3%)
- Spreadsheets (3%)
- Math Documents (3%)
Modern Display font personality test.
What is a Modern Display font?
A Modern Display font, sometimes called “headline faces,” is a typeface that is intended to stand out when presented in larger sizes.
Modern Display fonts are typically used as titles and headings rather than the smaller text found in the body of a document.
For example, at GoGoChimp we use a Modern Display font for our logo. However, we use a different font for the body of our website (as seen in this article on our blog).
We also use a tilting font for our logo which is a subset of display typefaces that are typically associated with branding, titles and headlines.
So the question remains: are designers right to only use Modern Display fonts for logos, branding, headlines and titles?
Modern Display font personality test results.
The font personality test found that the top three rated uses by the survey’s participants for Modern Display fonts were:
- Website Graphics (47%)
- Website Headlines (44%)
- Website Advertisements (44%)
The uses least chosen uses were:
- Online Tests (9%)
- E-Books (9%)
- Spreadsheets (10%)
- Online Assignments (10%)
Monospaced fonts personality test.
What is a monospaced font?
Monospaced fonts were first seen in early computers and terminals because of their simplicity.
This was critical for displaying text as early devices had limited graphics capabilities.
The default typeface for most IDEs and software text editors is monospaced.
This helps the readability of the source code.
It’s also used when entering tabulated data into plain-text documents or technical manuals.
Mono Spaced fonts are also common in:
- Biochemistry for displaying nucleic acid and protein sequences as they ensure that letters occupy the same amount of space and it makes it easier to read and compare different sequences
- Screenplays and stage play scripts to make it easier to judge the time a script will last for from the number of pages. The industry standard is 12 point Courior with one page of a script estimated to take one minute of screen or stage time
- Tablature music with each line representing a guitar string, which requires that particular chord to be played across multiple strings. Monoppaced fonts help musicians because of their fixed width
When to use monospaced fonts.
Oddly, monospaced fonts have seen a resurgence in branding and design. For example, Supreme’s website has a similar design to an early computer terminal:
Supreme’s website design is so basic and dated that it becomes memorable and current.
However, the personality of the font will undoubtedly influence visitors’ perception of the brand.
The monospaced font conveys a dangerous, edgy and urban feeling. There’s also an overtone of hacking, the dark web and red pills.
It’s also worth noting that Zuko, a form optimization, tracking and analytics tool uses a monospaced Droid Serif font for their contact forms.
Over the years, Zuko has analysed millions of form submissions. This means that there’s a good chance that the simplicity of a monospaced font helps with form submission conversion rates.
I highly suggest that you take a look at their excellent (free) form optimization guides that are available as both a downloadable PDF and a web version.
When to use monospaced fonts.
Users from the font personality test chose the following as the best uses for monospaced fonts:
- Technical Documents (45%)
- Computer Programming (40%)
- Math Documents (40%)
Monospaced uses with the least number of votes were:
- Digital Scrapbooking (18%)
- E-Greeting (21%)
- PowerPoint Presentations (22%)
The emotional meaning of fonts.
The typeface Fraktur has many associations with Nazi Germany, and Helvetica is commonly associated with the U.S. government since it is used by the IRS on tax forms.”Shaikh, 2007, p. 21
When you see a font, it will activate the past meaning of that font, including the semantic meaning (like what happened in Nazi Germany) and the emotional meaning (disgust, for example).
However, this past meaning isn’t fixed which means that you constantly update what fonts mean in your brain.
- Fonts with similar experiences will strengthen connections
- Fonts with dissimilar experiences will weaken connections
- New experiences will add new information to your brain about fonts
The font personality test found that when an advertisement’s message, image, and typeface have the same meaning, it will have a better response from the audience.
This means that if the typeface has a matching connotative meaning to the image and message it can influence people’s responses and attitudes.
The researcher found that typeface can generate different affective responses. This is because it is an integral part of advertising design. If you change the typeface, people will have a different mental picture than what the advertiser wanted them to have.
Advertising professionals should not choose a typeface for a campaign based on intuition. They should try to select a typeface based on rationales that are supported by research.
Fifteen adjective pairs were used during the font personality test to assess the perceived personality of fonts. The scores were based on a four-point Likert scale as shown below:
Here are the top three fonts for each personality adjective:
This table displays the uses with the highest consistency among participants saying “Yes, I would use this font.”
The findings from this survey mirror previous research done on print samples.
Users consistently attributed personalities to the fonts displayed.
The twenty types of fonts chosen for this study resulted in five factors.
Each contained a related set of typographic features that designers can use as guidance when setting the tone of digital documents; website text; logo design or marketing creatives.
Furthermore, conversion rate optimization experts can use the results of the font personality test in order to improve conversion rates.