It’s All in a Font: How Font Choice Affects the Mind

by | May 11, 2020

By Rafal Reyzer

Font choice is a major component of book and cover design. In today’s guest post, Rafal Reyzer offers some insight into why certain fonts work and others don’t. I think you’ll enjoy this post.


 
According to an interview with the Wall Street Journal, when writing, Anne Rice, the author of Interview With the Vampire, sets her font to 14 point Courier and double spaces the text on her 30-inch Mac computer monitor.

This piqued my curiosity: “so other people do this too?” As I write these words, I use the 19 point Arabic Typesetting font to pour my thoughts onto the computer screen. Why this strange choice? Why not a simple sans-serif option like Arial or Calibri? It’s because fonts have a psychological impact on the human mind.

When I use my favorite serif font, I feel like I’m crafting a story from One Thousand and One Nights, which is a good feeling.

Inspired by the Naskh script, the Arabic Typesetting font is redolent of traditional book typography, and hardbacks found in antique libraries. Image Source

Why does typography matter?

How does it make you feel when you pick up an old, hardcover tome, flip through its pages, and notice that there’s an ornamented drop cap (initial) at the beginning of each chapter? Perhaps it grabs your attention and fills you with admiration for the author and the publisher who took the time to turn a word into a piece of art?

The style of the font, its size, thickness, and even the spacing between words can all subtly influence our perception on an unconscious level.

In one research study, they served identical jelly beans to two groups of people, labeled “eat me,” but used a different font for each group. The first one was a smoothly flowing round typeface, while the other was a jagged monster of a font. The result? People from the first group claimed that jellies were palatable, while the other group described them as sour. This goes to show that there’s a subtle subliminal influence at work here.

Notice fonts as you go about your business

In one of the chapters of On Looking, a fascinating book by Alexandra Horowitz, the author walks around New York City with a typographer Paul Shaw, who helps her notice the abundance of letters about town.

Doors, shop signs, t-shirts, advertisements – they all carry messages conveyed not only by words but by the hidden story of fonts. The Art Deco and Art Moderne letters on buildings are as intertwined with the city’s history as the architecture itself, and if you look closely, you’ll realize that certain fonts are like fads that go out of vogue.

Can you feel these Great Gatsby vibes? Image Source

The psychological influence of fonts

Every time you visit a website or open a book, you’re facing a conscious choice on the part of the author, publisher, or designer. What did they try to express with typesetting? Calibri, for instance, is a safe choice, as it’s inconspicuous and legible. This works well when you try to share information as fast as possible. Then you have something like Times New Roman that has this old-school, newspaper-ish feel to it.


And how about the iconic Blade Runner font? It instantly puts you in a cyber noir mood. For my website, I chose the Source Sans Pro font designed in 2012 by Paul Hunt for Adobe Systems. It’s a humanist sans-serif font, meaning it’s inspired by traditional letterforms, which I thought would be the right pick for users who want to read fast but are nevertheless inspired by language and arts.

Next time you ship out a piece of writing, think about what subtle emotion or perception you’re trying to convey with the lettering for maximum impact.

The authorship of this classic sci-fi font is veiled in mystery. Image Source

You might be surprised to learn that size matters in the world of fonts too. One study proved that larger font items were easier to recall for students. That’s why we often use bold fonts to put our message across, knowing full-well that many readers skim the text in search of crucial information. In this way, bold text and subheadings serve as a shortcut reading map for a busy reader.

On the other hand, fonts that are harder to read promote more recollection on the part of the readers because they require more focus time to engage with, and decipher.

Whichever font you pick, heed the words of the illustrator William Addison Dwiggins:

“If you don’t get your type warm it will be no use at all for setting down warm human ideas.”

Want to learn more about fonts and book design? Click here.

Rafal Reyzer is a full-time blogger, freelance writer, and content manager. He started RafalReyzer.com to provide readers with great tools and strategies for achieving freedom from 9-5 through online creativity. His site is a one-stop-shop for writers, bloggers, publishers, content enthusiasts and freelancers who want to start their own websites, earn more money and create beautiful things.
 
Photo by Alexander Andrews on Unsplash

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9 Comments

  1. Lindsey Russell

    As a dyslexic I hate reading blogs. Why? Because they are invariably in Calibri. It is a dreadful font for this dyslexic, don’t know about others with the disability, I find I am scanning up and down the page instead of across. Whereas the lovely ‘fat’ letters with squiggly bits of a serif font make the letters far easier for my brain to recognize and draws my eye along the line – faves are Garamond, Baskerville Old Face, Georgia, and Bookman Old Style.

    Reply
      • Lindsey Russell

        Nope – sorry, that is just awful and so is verdana. I need a serif font – the squiggles are what help me to recognize the letters. I’m also discalculate which means I have to get the calculator out to fill in the sum :(

        Reply
  2. Markus

    It’s my understanding that publishers want a monospace font when writers are making submissions. For that reason I switched from Times New Roman to Courier. Do you feel it’s better for an author to craft their story in a font that’s ascetically pleasing to the author, and then convert fonts for submissions, or write in a publisher preferred font. Would just like to hear your perspective.

    Reply
    • Rafal Reyzer

      Hi Markus, You’re raising an excellent point. When writing, I always prefer to go with my favorite font, even if it’s non-conventional. The right font can set a specific mood for your writing sessions and become a part of the overall creative ritual. But when submitting your work, in my opinion it’s better to convert it to something easily readable like Courier. I work as an editor, and I always prefer to read using the Calibri font. It’s so easy on the eye, fast to read, and gives an impression of professionalism. Take care!

      Reply
  3. Florence Osmund

    I’m in the formatting stage of a non-fiction book and am currently evaluating different fonts. Thank you for this helpful commentary on the subject.

    Reply
    • Rafal Reyzer

      Hi Florence, Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the read!

      Reply
  4. Ernie Zelinski

    You say, ” . . . fonts that are harder to read promote more recollection on the part of the readers because they require more focus time to engage with, and decipher.”

    That’s one of the reasons that I chose the “Black Chancery” font for the Limited Leather Edition of my “Life’s Secret Handbook: Reminders for Adventurous Souls Who Want to Make a Big Difference in This World.” It is an elegant old-world font, much different from what is normally used in the modern book trade.

    Reply
    • Rafal Reyzer

      Hello Ernie, Thank you for your comment. Yes, it’s fascinating that by using an unusual font, you’re demanding more from your readers, but at the same time, you’re boosting their recollection of the material. Moreover, a font like “Black Chancery” has a unique feel to it :)

      Reply

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