Online, it takes less than 2/10s of a second to make an impression. This is a harsh contrast compare to the 7 seconds in real life. So how do you make a positive impression in such a small snapshot of time? Online appearance is everything, and the look of words is just as important as what they’re saying. This includes typography.
The look of a typeface creates the whole tone. Immediately a typeface initiates many subconscious successions in our brain which create connections to feelings.
To serif, or not to serif
The main distinction between typefaces is serif vs. sans serif. Serifs are the small lines, also known as tails, attached to a letter. Originally, these were used to separate the letters into distinct units for typewriters and typesetters. Although our technology of word processing has developed far beyond this, the serif has many qualities.
Serifs make each individual letter and symbol distinctive. This allows our brains to recognise the letter far quicker than sans serif. With only 2/10s to create an impression, this could be very important. The brain takes longer to figure out letters if they are as distinct and obvious. This is why serif fonts are primarily used in printed works.
The serif allows the brain to recognise letters even in large bodies of text when our attentions span shortens and fatigue increases. With serifs, the letters follow the horizontal flow of the eye. Further this helps our scan path. The scan path is the natural pattern we use when reading. A scan path naturally breaks up words into scans and pauses, which is further emphasised with punctuation. Generally, it takes around 7-9 letters before a need to pause and process what you’re reading.
So, when is a serif not necessary? In contrast to serif fonts, sans serif typography works better on the web. This is owing to the DPI of the different platforms. The resolution of a printed work is at least 1000 DPI, whereas, on a monitor this can be 100 DPI. The smaller size of font works far better with sans serif font. This is because of the simplicity of the font.
Typography: the hidden triggers
However, typography is more than just what is easy to read and understand. Typefaces have emotional triggers within them. This is why typography is so important to brands. Emotions dominate decision making, motivation and memories. The importance of emotion in advertising is seen clearly by the change in shift of demographic research.
A typeface can even embody a personality. Stephen Banham, a typographer, once said
“Whenever I read text set in Gill Sans, I can’t help but hear the voice of an English narrator reading along with me.”
With all the different possibilities, how can you choose! You want to create the correct impression for the style of brand you desire. Thump has created a break down of the main five categories of typefaces and the main association to them.
Associations: Authority, tradition and respect
Font example: Times New Roman
Brand examples: The New York Times and GAP
Most newspapers use serif fonts, with The Times commissioning Times Roman in 1931 to improve readability.
Category: Sans serif
Associations: Clean, modern and stable
Font Example: Calibri
Brand examples: Chanel and Microsoft
Sans serif is particularly good at emphasising a single word, and is also more legible from far away.
Category: Slab serif
Associations: Bold, strong and modern
Font Example: Courier
Brand examples: Sony and Volvo
Slab serif is very good for attracting attention, and has been found to be most legible in cases of poor quality printing.
Associations: Feminine, elegant and creative
Font Example: Brush Script
Brand examples: Cadbury and Instagram
Script is definitely a typeface to avoid if you’re trying to be corporate
Associations: Fashionable, sharp and intelligent
Font Example: Marjoram
Brand examples: Facebook and NARS
Modern typeface is particularly important in millennial marketing.
Next time you see a brand or a logo, have a look at the typeface style and think, why did they choose that?