Typeface Perception

People see typefaces all day long, but the ones they actually perceive are unique in some way.  Helvetica is boring and overused, so people don’t notice it.  Some typefaces are associated with store brands, other types lend themselves to what they are selling or have a logo-like quality, while still others are used for emotional impact.  Typefaces oftentimes immobilize a person’s perspective.

“There’s a Starbucks!”
That’s what some people can automatically figure out from seeing just two dark green box-like letters.  While a lot of stores use free or everyday fonts, some have fonts created just for them.  These are the most memorable because they are seen in one context, the context of the particular company.  These fonts especially trigger memories when color is associated.  The Snickers font is another good example.

Look-Alikes and Faces
Sometimes typefaces look like what they are selling.  Like one of the critics mentioned in the documentary, Helvetica, grunge fonts are popular for out-of-the-norm, subculture, or counterculture music (Helvetica).  Interested buyers can look for the grunge appearance and know that they are buying what they like.  Other typefaces truly become a kind of face.  These types are a kind of logo in which the font is used for the title of the company, but an image is included with the typeface as a kind of extension.  The Unique Landscaping truck exemplifies this concept through its use of the open sun as the dot on the “i”.  If a palm tree is attached to the font or is an extension of the font, the viewer automatically assumes one of a few things: the company is about the beach, landscaping, or vacations, or otherwise has calm and happy implications.

Chills up Your Spine
Typefaces can positively or negatively affect a viewer’s emotions.  Take Chiller for example.  It is often used to imply something scary, but it could probably be used to resemble something chilly (cold).  Robin Williams uses Pious Henry as an example in her book, The Non-Designer’s Design Book (160).  This decorative font doesn’t seem like it would work for a serious adage, but it actually mimics long tree trunks (160).  The same thing happens with the flyswim decorative font (150).  Williams writes that “the entire piece of prose has a more exciting visual attraction and a greater energy due to the contrast of type (150, emphasis added).  Flyswim is also decorative, but it copies the movement of emotions in the solemn work.

Differing Type
The use of differing typefaces is another matter altogether.  Headings in a different typeface from copy often draw attention.  Unreadable type may trigger negative perceptions of a company.  If a company uses more than one typeface, it can turn customers away.  Or if a company changes their typeface after so many years and customers dislike the new appearance, customers may boycott the company over type!  Certain types and type format are associated with different things, such as IRS forms or other legal documents. 

Type Conventions
Type conventions immobilize or jar perceptions of a specific text.  Seeing Times New Roman or other serif fonts may trigger thoughts of academic work or narratives.  When Times New Roman is used outside of essays or novels, viewers may wonder why that typeface was used.  Certain typefaces are used for certain things: Helvetica is used for street signs, Times New Roman for heavy reading, and other sans serif fonts for legal documents (Helvetica).  If a typeface is used out of the convention it is ordinarily presented in, a viewer may be momentarily thrown off.  Conventions cue the reader about the type of subject they will be reading about.

Typefaces can be displayed different ways, and they mostly cue the readers on the emotions or content of text.  Some fonts are company-specific; others have associated images; decorative fonts give off emotional cues.  Type conventions organize typefaces and help readers sift through content.

Works Cited
Helvetica.  Dir. Gary Hustwit.  Perf. Michael Bierut, Neville Brody, Dimitri Bruni.  Swiss Dots, 2007.  Streaming.

Williams, Robin.  The Non-Designer’s Design Book: Design and Typographic Principles for the Visual Novice.  Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press, 2008.  Print.

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About Allison L. Goodman

I am a stay-at-home wife and mother. I fill my days making taking care of my daughter, encouraging others, cooking meals for my family, managing my resources through DIY projects, and writing.
This entry was posted in Criticism, Design and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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