We see millions of fonts every single day, from the news we read to the adverts we pass on the way to work. The successful ones will stick with us, while those that miss the mark mean something isn’t doing the job it needs to.
But what makes a good, successful font? The answer comes in the form of font psychology, meaning there’s a connected emotional and visual reaction to whichever font you may choose to represent yourself. Especially in the digital age, a connection is more important than ever, and an important reason why brands and businesses should carefully consider what font truly gets the job done.
Let’s take a closer look at what font psychology means, what it says about you and your business and which styles best represent you.
What is font psychology?
In essence, font psychology is the visual and emotional reaction you have to the font you’re seeing. According to Albert Mehrabian’s Rule of Personal Communication, 93% of personal connection is non-verbal, meaning ideas and values need to get across in the simplest way possible. Depending on what we’re looking at, we’ll have our thoughts, feelings and actions impacted in different ways.
One theory that is used in psychology to explain how a font is perceived by other people is the Kolenda Font Model. It’s a step-by-step guide dissecting how we perceive fonts and what we associate with them. When an individual sees a font, they make an association between the font and a trait. For example, if someone sees a fitness brand that is about gaining strength using a bold font, the customers will see that font and think: thick, bulky and heavy. This perception will then also be associated with the fitness brand.
Before we delve further into fonts and their possible meanings, the basic rules and terms of typography need to be applied and considered too. In brief, typography is the art of constructing a message in a way that will be visually pleasing. This also has an effect on font psychology, if you wanted to evoke thoughts of tallness or slimness, adjusting the spacing or deciding whether to use uppercase or lowercase will have an impact on an individual’s perception and thoughts of the font and brand.
Shape and color psychology
It’s also worth bearing in mind the rules of shape and color psychology, too. In shape psychology, we’d be looking at its geometric form and how that elicits an emotion or feeling from the viewer. This would impact fonts too since they have elements in geometric forms. A font could have more roundness to create a relaxing, soothing wave, or rigid lines, soliciting a completely different look and feel from its viewer. Color psychology also plays an enormous role in changing human mood, fluctuating through different hues and shades. With the right cultural context and knowledge, shape and color can be deployed to successfully create the mood you want your font to embody.
Why you should use font psychology
Behind font psychology lies the power to drive your decisions and goals. Opening yourself up to understanding how people react to fonts means you have influence over how your design and business are perceived by who you’d like to target.
When we design something, there’s an end goal in mind. One of the key tools in the design toolkit is the knack of picking fonts that will inspire and empower your message, enabling you to achieve the goals you set out to. If you’re designing for a flash sale, the right signage fonts will help prompt consumers to buy instead of browsing. The perfect combination of fonts for social media posts makes it more likely that consumers will continue to return and engage with your content. Generating these feelings of excitement, trust and anticipation mean people will be excited to engage and buy from you.
Of course, it’s just as important to make sure you’re not choosing the wrong fonts. This can have a catastrophic outcome, with lots of hard work not hitting the right notes.
Let’s say, as an example, you’re looking to sell gifts in a Mother’s Day campaign. You’ve got a killer commercial filmed that will pull at our heartstrings and your products are gift-wrapped and ready to go. And you use Georgia as the font in your adverts. Instead of feeling nostalgia, love and joy, your target consumers are left with a feeling of authority and grandeur that doesn’t sit in line with the rest of your campaign. If one cog is slightly loose, the whole wheel falls apart. Ensuring your logo, colors, shapes and fonts all work together in harmony is what will set apart the font psychology do’s and don’ts.
Overall unity and consistency in design play a big part in reinforcing a strong relationship between your brand and potential customers. A way to do this is through Picture Superiority Effect, a theory that says people remember pictures more than words. This is why understanding font psychology is so important, as we’re looking to enhance aesthetic appeal to our target audience, alongside color and shape. Similar to the many parts of the business, each part of a design needs to work together as a unified whole to achieve its goal.
Types of fonts and their meaning
There are six different font styles, each equipped with different characteristics—ranging from respectable heritage to boldly confident. Let’s take a look at each type of font to understand how and what they communicate differently.
We’ve all used a serif font at one point or another. They are considered one of the most traditional font options of the bunch. They’re most often used to create a classic, traditional and stable look and feel. This font is a great match for brands and businesses that feel established, or want to evoke a sense of trust and respectability.
Businesses that are most likely to use serif fonts include law firms, insurance companies and consultants. It can also work for a business that wants to convey knowledge and authority of a subject or a design for more formal situations.
After a serif font to try out? Times New Roman, Georgia and Garamond are amongst the most popular choices.
Slab serif fonts
Think of slab serif as the little brother of serif fonts—the same family, but with the bold confidence of youth. The two categories may look similar, but with slab serif fonts the serif is squared off giving a chunkier look and feel. They still have that same heir of tradition but are a lot bolder, distinctive and more confident.
Slab serif fonts are perfect for those businesses that want to pack a punch and leave a lasting impact. Coupled with new innovation and intuitive products, slab serif fonts can help to convey that energy. Popular picks for slab serif fonts include Courier, Rockwell and Museo.
San serif fonts
Clean, crisp and modern, sans serif fonts are both minimal and engaging. These fonts are straightforward and embody a no-nonsense attitude, but also feel progressive and open. There aren’t any extra flourishes that might distract the eye—san serif takes a simple yet effective approach.
There’s a clear break with tradition here, with psychological associations of adventure and modernity. This clean and simple look is often found in fonts used by tech companies (think of how the Google logo has changed from serif to sans serif in 2015) and brands that may consider themselves as forward-thinking and modern. Look to Arial, Century Gothic and Helvetica as classic examples.
Feeling fancy? Try a script font. They have a feeling of femininity and elegance, their hand-written element provoking creativity. They’re fun and romantic, mimicking forms of handwriting and doodling.
Script fonts are the most likely to inspire other creative ideas, rich in both emotion and history. They’re a perfect match for visual brands, though their artful nature means they should be used fleetingly and with caution, as too much usage can leave text feeling illegible. Lucida Script, Lobster and Zapfino are popular fonts you may be familiar with.
Modern fonts are styles that are, well, modern, of our present time, new, different from past fonts. They take on a more futuristic look, though it’s actually rooted in 18th-century history, first appearing in print in 1784 thanks to the typographer Firmin Didot. Modern fonts combine practicality and playfulness, their legibility transitioned between thick and thin strokes.
These fonts each create a sense of exclusivity and intellect. It’s a great way to announce your brand by showcasing it with a modern font, particularly attracting the interest of the millennial demographic. Discover Matchbook, Politica and Klavika to put this psychology into practice.
Often display fonts are used for large-format mediums like billboards, headings, or book covers. They can be serif, slab serif, or sans serif, and so on. They can also be a unique, decorative style. Novel and trail-blazing, there can be a pictorial element to these fonts, though these are used solely for eye-catching headlines.
When using a display font the style will affect what your audience will associate with the font. In general, display fonts can evoke a more casual, fun, or unique look and feel. The biggest plus is being able to adapt a font to exactly suit your personality, which can be ideal for any kind of business. Look out for Bombing, Gigi and Jokerman as examples of this.
Now time to apply font psychology
With this new knowledge on the psychology behind font types, it’s now time to apply it. The perfect font will resonate with the brand identity you’re looking to create while finding the inspiration for it is key. If you just can’t decide on a font for your business, don’t fret. You can always seek out some professional help.
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About the author
Jasmine Waters is a writer, content creator and artist from the UK. She works across copywriting, journalism and script practices, alongside bringing the latest market and retail insight to global independent businesses.