Font Psychology: How to Pick the Right Typeface for Your Brand
“The secret of type is that it speaks.” – Paul Claudel.
Visual artists and brands use shapes and colours to evoke certain emotions. With a deft brush stroke, they can connote a feeling of dynamism and passion with the colour red.
A strong character needs solid and blocky shapes to get the point across, while a character of beauty and elegance is almost always drawn with flowing and sensual forms.
While shapes and colours are the primary design elements that convey emotions in artworks, typography can also help express the same feelings, albeit subtly.
Different styles of typography evoke different feelings from the reader. Marketers use this technique to make their target audience feel sure about their brands—font psychology.
Before we get into font psychology and why it is essential, it is best to discuss what fonts are.
Fonts vs Typeface vs Typography
The terms font, typeface, and typography are often used interchangeably, and, quite frankly, it does not pose a big problem. That is unless you want to get technical, and font psychology is all about technicalities.
Typography is the art form of arranging letters and text in a legible and visually appealing manner. It deals with the appearance and structure of the text to create an impression on the reader.
That is the etymology of the word. In Greek, the word typos means “form” or “impression,” while graphia means “writing.”
Meanwhile, a typeface is a set of letters and characters with a common theme and design. A typeface can have slight protrusions that jut out from the letters (serifs); they can also be plain (sans serif) or decorative.
Fonts refer to the technical aspects (i.e., weight, width, and style). To illustrate this, Roboto (sans serif) and Roboto Slab (serif) are two different typefaces, while Roboto bold, Roboto light, and Roboto italic are different fonts coming from the same typeface.
Why typography matters to your brand
A marketer’s main job is to guide people along the sales funnel from being mere prospects to eventual customers by influencing their decision-making process along the way.
Apart from the proper use of colours and shapes, typography is a method visual artists use to help brands influence how customers perceive and receive their message.
However, it is not as simple as picking the prettiest font you can get your hands on. Different typefaces and font styles express different emotions and carry different meanings. Hence, selecting the right font style for your brand is crucial to help send the right message to the reader.
The best way to harness these emotions from fonts is to understand font psychology.
What is font psychology?
Much like colours and shapes, people also associate font styles with certain feelings and emotions.
Font psychology can also express a brand’s personality without saying a word. Font psychology studies how to use fonts to achieve this effect properly.
Different brands use different fonts to convey their identity. For example, in the luxury car department, brands like Rolls Royce and McLaren could not be more different in their styles.
Rolls-Royce uses an angular font to convey formality and tradition for its stately cars with a timeless design.
Meanwhile, McLaren, who builds modern exotic cars, has opted for a more futuristic-styled font and a forward slanted “M” to convey dynamism and forward movement.
Let’s examine how different font styles can communicate different things to readers.
The three major typeface categories (and what they connote)
There are three distinct typeface categories, each with its psychological connotations. In this section, we will discuss what emotional responses these different categories create.
Serif typefaces are designed with fine protruding lines extending from the letter’s main strokes. This typeface is the most traditional option and conveys a feeling of heritage, elegance, authority, and formality.
Because of its air of respectability and tradition, banks, insurers, and law firms often use this typeface. Its elegant lines make it a top choice for several heritage fashion houses and magazines.
A few brands that have once used a serif typeface for their logos include HSBC and Burberry. Some examples of popular serif typefaces are listed below:
2. Sans Serif
If you know your French, you know that sans means “without” in English. Hence, sans serif font is a serif font without protrusions.
What results is a clean, sleek, and simple typeface that conveys straightforwardness, modernity, and sophistication.
Sans serif typefaces are versatile. Their pleasant and straightforward feel is a good choice for budget airlines and retailers.
Tech companies and sports brands also use this style because of its adventurous and fun connotations. It is also a good choice for heritage companies (like HSBC and Burberry from the previous example) looking to transition their brands to the modern era.
A few examples of popular sans serif typefaces include:
Since script typefaces mimic human handwriting, they bring a more personal feel to the readers and, thus, help build a brand’s identity. As such, script typefaces depend heavily on context to get their point across.
Script typefaces feel more formal, elegant, and traditional when done in a calligraphic style. In contrast, more ornate typefaces can exude a fun, creative, and playful vibe. Popular script typefaces include:
- Brush Script
- Grand Hotel
Other font traits and their connotations
Besides the main defining features of typefaces, specific traits of the fonts—stroke, height, and case style—can also help evoke certain emotions.
Light vs Heavy
Lighter fonts are typically associated with beauty, delicateness, and femininity. Meanwhile, heavy fonts are associated with boldness, durability, and masculinity.
For example, the logo for Tiffany & Co., a luxury jewellery brand, is thin and tall to prime its female target market with the correct attitude about its brand.
Meanwhile, the logo for Rolex, a luxury timepiece brand, is bold and heavy. This is a subtle way to message their male target market that their watches are durable.
While both logos use different serif typefaces, the difference in the lightness and heaviness of the fonts resulted in a different message for each brand.
Condensed vs Extended
Condensed fonts have connotations of being precise and economical. Meanwhile, extended fonts are typically associated with feelings of spaciousness and relaxation.
For example, the logo of Mitsubishi, a heavy industry company, has a condensed font format to convey that their machines are economical and meticulously made.
In contrast, the logo of Netflix, an entertainment company, stands loose and separated, representing relaxation.
The vast space taken up by the Netflix logo can also connote that they have an extensive catalogue of movies.
Lowercase vs Uppercase
Lowercase letters give off an approachable and compassionate vibe. Meanwhile, an all uppercase font style can give off a sense of power and success.
Except for the uppercase D, the logo of carmaker Mazda uses lowercase letters. This strategy perfectly encapsulates their fun “zoom-zoom” mentality.
Meanwhile, Jaguar, a luxury carmaker, uses uppercase letters to signify their cars’ power and the success their target audience strives to achieve.
Short vs Tall
Short and stocky logos express stability and durability, while tall logos are associated with beauty, luxury, and ambition.
For example, the logo of Siemens uses a short and heavy font to signify heaviness and stability, which is perfect for an industrial company with infrastructure.
In contrast, Forever 21 uses a taller font to convey beauty and aspiration.
Do note that the font size is not what makes it tall but its proportions. As such, you may notice that Siemens and Forever 21 display the letter E differently in their logos.
How businesses should choose their font styles
Choosing the proper typeface and font for your company logo and marketing materials is a crucial step in your branding.
Here are some aspects you should look at to serve as a guideline when designing the typography for your brand.
1. Know your brand’s identity and target audience
Defining your brand’s image is a crucial step in branding as it sets the tone for how you will communicate your message to your audience.
That said, the font you choose should reflect your brand’s identity and how you would like it to be perceived by your audience.
Making a customer persona is an excellent way to help you see your brand through your target audience’s psyche.
A customer persona is a semi-fictional representative of your target market with distinct traits and attitudes.
When creating one, consider their demographics, characteristics, goals, challenges, and methods of helping them.
Think about what you would like your customer persona to feel from just looking at your logo, your product’s packaging, or your advertisements, and think of the best font to go along with it.
2. Reflect on the tone of your message
Besides branding, it would be best to consider what feelings and emotions you want to convey in your messaging.
A sombre message requires a sombre font to go with it. Anything else can make the design look tacky and distasteful and make the message miss its mark.
Imagine a hot sauce company typically using a zany and ornate font to convey happiness and adventurousness. Now imagine that same company using that font to issue a public apology. Yikes.
3. Readability is crucial
While having a memorable logo or headline is good, one non-negotiable in font psychology is to make it legible and readable.
A hard-to-read font can distract people from the message you are trying to convey and even turn off potential customers who have seen it.
Legibility is essential for the parts of a product label for your customers to see your product even at a glance and, ultimately, pick it among the numerous other brands on the grocery shelf.
4. Combine contrasting font styles
While choosing one font and sticking to it is not a bad idea, combining contrasting font styles will create another layer of aesthetic appeal in your branding.
Combining contrasting font styles is also an excellent way to establish font hierarchy.
Font hierarchy refers to how content is presented visually to let readers know where to look and the sequence.
You can use an ornate serif typeface for your headline to grab the reader’s attention while using a sans serif typeface in the body of your content to make it more readable.
Alternatively, you can use a big and bold sans serif typeface for the headline and then a serif typeface for the body text. This can help readers distinguish the headline and content hierarchy without making the design bland.
5. Consistency is key
Once you have chosen the best fonts that embody your brand, you should use them across all media or channels you use online and offline.
Consistency will also help your target audience’s thoughts and emotions for your brand to stay within the ideal range.
Keep font psychology in your branding toolbox
Typography is an integral part of building a brand’s identity and voice.
Visual artists should always have font psychology in their minds when creating designs for a brand’s logo, website, packaging, and social media posts.
Remember to keep your brand’s customer persona in mind when choosing a font. It should match how your customers feel (and should feel) about your brand.
However, don’t let these guidelines stop you from experimenting with your designs. As Pablo Picasso once said, “Learn the rules like a pro so that you can break them like an artist.”