Monday, February 14, 2011

Does Font Matter?

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To most folks, a font is a trivial thing.  It may be easy to get lost in the design-landscape that clutters our everyday life: street signs, letterheads, retail product packaging, and of course the flood of images we endure every time we log on to the world-wide-web.  Cluttered enough for any business owner to ask themselves: 'does font even matter anymore?'  An understandable question to ponder when so much of what we visually digest seems to go unnoticed, and in turn perhaps seem invisible.  Could the font that you've chosen in your logo really be doing all that much to communicate with your markets?

Recent research is pointing to 'yes.'  Although we may not seem to notice it, Fonts themselves can help to influence decisions and perceptions even when we aren't conscious they are doing so.  An article by researchers Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz, (Published by the Association for Psychological Science) suggests that processing fluency, a term that describes the ease in which we interpret and understand visual data, can be integral to how we feel about the data itself.  The general gist is that if something is easy to understand (having high processing fluency), it is easy to do, good, and more often than not, trust-worthy.  We do not, however make the correlation in our heads, and instead use past experiences and perceptions to justify why we feel the way we do about it.  It would be wise for any firm that needs to communicate trust, accessibility, or security, to stick with a sans-serif font (fonts clearly separated and defined without excessive lines).  Think insurance companies, department stores, or banks.

Although this might suggest that we all go out and change our letterheads and logo fonts to Arial and Helvetica, the converse relationship of this same principal of processing fluency is important to note as well.  Fonts that are harder to read or understand tend to make us feel that the subject at hand is more complex or difficult.  This may seem like a negative thing, but depending on what the subject is, a font that is harder to read can sometimes make us feel that the subject itself  is more valuable, complicated, and rare.  The study showed that participants believed a roller coaster was scarier, crazier, and in turn more desirable if the name of it was more complex to pronounce and was written in a script or serif  font (more curls and loops).  Script and serif fonts therefore serve well to companies who's reputations rely on feelings of adventure, excoticness, or luxury.

At the end of the day, I am tempted to say that your products and services must still ultimately speak for themselves.  Fonts can however do more than their part to help you establish a better relationship with your customers, by positioning and aligning your business' reputation with the feelings that are carried in the hearts and minds of your clients.

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