When it comes to fonts, it’s a bit of a popularity contest. Some fonts, like Helvetica, are universally accepted and loved by all, the cool kid of the class. But others aren’t so well received. Let’s take Comic Sans for example, the class clown. Just a glimpse of a poster written in Comic Sans could have you turning your nose up in an instant (that’s typeface snobbery for you). This unfortunate font has been known to evoke certain words, such as ‘childish’, ‘infantile’, ‘immature’, ‘unprofessional’ and ‘amateurish’ – just to name a few. And over the years, Comic Sans has developed an almost cult following of haters within graphic design. Talk to any designer about Comic Sans and you can see the aversion like a bad smell in the room.

Now let’s face it, you probably love to hate Comic Sans just as much as the next person. But don’t beat yourself up for discriminating. There’s a reason why it’s the most detested font in the world (we’ll come to that later). And in contrast to its adversary, Helvetica, a font so loved that they’ve made a film about it (yes, really), the disparity of esteem is massive. So that’s why we think it’s important to discuss the power of fonts in this week’s instalment. Welcome to the third post in our Let’s Talk Design series, where we aim to delve into the interesting world of typography.

Are Fonts Really That Important?

The short answer is yes. In fact, it’s the only answer we have for you. Because there is no doubt in our minds that typography is one of the most critical design decisions you’ll ever make. Fonts are the foundation of any good design piece. Choosing the wrong font for your banner, poster or signage can make your efforts unreadable and can even push your audience away. A bad font is an instant turn-off and you may not get a second chance to impress your audience. So choosing the right style of font is vital. The success of Helvetica and its track record with so many brands proves that the right font packs power. And with names like America Apparel, Nestlé, Toyota, Evian, Jeep, British Gas and The North Face using Helvetica in their logos to being the font of choice for signs on the New York Subway, it’s safe to say that clean and simple lettering is a tried and tested winner.

When it comes to finding a font, there are two main font families to bear in mind:

  • Serif – the word ‘serif’ relates to the small strokes attached to the top or bottom of typefaces. This can be seen in the well-known font, Times New Roman. This style of lettering is considered to be traditional and sometimes refined, regal or majestic. Best used in long copy and printed materials, the small strokes found on a serif font can help to make words easier to read. So for books, brochures, information booklets and the like, you may want to consider a classic serif font. 
  • Sans serif – the word ‘sans’ is French for without. So sans serif fonts do not contain these extra strokes. The finished look is much cleaner and more contemporary, making it ideal for the logos of modern brand names, large signage, posters, banners or in store POS. Sans serif is also fantastic for websites due to computer resolution being much finer than print, so you would not need to select a serif typeface like Times New Roman for long body copy online.

The Science of Fonts

Although pretty handy, it’s not just about finding a font that’s easy to read. A typeface like Helvetica – and other highly popular fonts such as Gotham, Futura or Garamond – are certainly soothing on the eye. But really, it’s about the emotions that they arouse. In a similar way to colour psychology, the right typeface can make your audience feel a certain way. It can actually influence your mood. A study called The Aesthetics of Reading by psychologist, Kevin Larson, examines the cognitive effects in the brain when looking at fonts that induce feelings of happiness. And interestingly, the results showed that those reading mood enhancing fonts had better cognitive function and were more receptive to information. So choosing a pretty font isn’t just design vanity – it’s about improving communication and making your audience more reactive to what you have to say.

But the most important tip when selecting your font for advertising is understanding context. Just because you’ve found your favourite font, doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for every design piece. The slick and modern Gotham probably isn’t the best choice if you’re designing invitations for a royal gala, whilst the refined and sophisticated Bodoni wouldn’t work for roller banners at a marketing convention.

The Right Font for Your Project

Context is everything when it comes to selecting the right font for your work. You see, the much hated Comic Sans started life as a children’s font for a computer programme called Microsoft Bob. It was never intended for wider computer usage back in 1994. The idea behind Microsoft Bob was to make Windows kid friendly, and if you look at the way each letter has been designed, Comic Sans is actually rather perfect for its original purpose. 

Just like Helvetica, the more attractive and grownup rival, Comic Sans has unmodulated strokes (fonts with modulated strokes include the likes of Garamond). This means that the thickness of the strokes doesn’t change (much) throughout. Whilst most sans serif fonts that do this manage to achieve it with finesse, Comic Sans is just downright clumsy. But for kids? It’s the perfect on screen companion. It’s silly, it’s fun, and it’s so child-like in appearance that it’s completely relatable if you’re 8 years old.

The story is that typographer, Vincent Connare, was unable to complete Comic Sans in time for the Microsoft Bob launch. So it was never used for that application. Instead, this fun loving font just circulated the Microsoft head office and in-house staff started using it to create posters for bake sales and birthday parties. Its popularity led to it becoming an official typeface for the rest of the world. So there we have it…..the most hated font in graphic design is simply a victim of wrong place, wrong time. But the key point here is that it’s important to choose the right font for the right purpose. Think about the audience. Think about context. And always think about what a font says about your brand.  

Our next post in the Let’s Talk Design series will be ‘Copy and the Art of Persuasion’, a closer look at the words we choose in advertising and print.

To find out how we can help you with design, please get in touch.

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