Let’s play a game.
An association game, of sorts. How many of the following fonts do you recognise?
Let me give you a hint – the creator of this typeface wanted to see “what vernacular writing may have looked like if the English language existed 2000 years ago”.
‘Tis a bit difficult to catch, but don’t worry, because answers will be provided later. How about this typeface?
Do you recognise this font, from years of reading newspapers, scholarly articles, and books? Looks like a prim and proper font, doesn’t it? Some might even term it… boring.
Ah, yes. We can see that you are abruptly thrusted into memories of childhood projects… something that smells like craft glue and cheap glitter that refuses to wash off. Yes, we see the grimace of pain on your face.
Well, what about this last one?
You might not know its name, but you definitely would’ve seen it around somewhere. According to many websites, this is the “most famous font” on the planet.
Now that we’re done looking, how many did you guess correctly?
The Power of Typeface and Fonts
The point of the association game above was to underscore the power of typefaces and fonts. Believe it or not, when you scrolled past each font, certain emotions would have bubbled up to the forefront of your mind and soul – particularly more so for some font as compared to others.
In this two-part case study, we’ll be studying how fonts affect consumer perception of brands, or the world. In the first part, we’ll take a look at the four fonts above, and discuss the implications and history behind each typeface.
Let’s work through the fonts displayed above, shall we?
Number One – Papyrus
Designed by Chris Costello, a budding graphic designer, illustrator, and web designer, at the tender age of 23 back in 1983 for the paltry sum of £750, the typeface looks innocuous enough. Yet many have an unslaked thirst of hate for it.
James Cameron’s major blockbuster film, Avatar, the world’s highest-grossing science fiction film (the film grossed more than $2 billion, about 2 million times more the amount Costello was paid for the typeface), used Papyrus for their movie poster.
Here it is, in all its unbidden glory.
Eight years after the movie was released, in 2017, Saturday Night Live (SNL) released a skit satirising the usage of Papyrus in Avatar’s logo. You would’ve thought the hate would’ve cooled after a near decade, but no, the dislike for Papyrus still goes strong, with multiple blogs proclaiming their intense distaste for the typeface up till today.
Hey, no judgement. When probed about this font out of curiosity, our designer quietly confessed her guilt for liking the font when she was younger. When asked why she felt guilt, she said Papyrus was judged to be “tacky”, but that she liked the font’s unique texture.
Number Two – Times New Roman
Times New Roman has become one of the most popular typefaces of all time, due to its easy readability. This typeface also stands out from the remainder, simply because it is a Serif typeface, while the others are San-serifs. What’s the difference, you might ask? Don’t worry, we have a lovely diagram here for you to explain the difference between the two.
Serif fonts tend to feel more classic or formal than San-serif fonts. Luxury fashion brands – think Burberry, Yves Saint Laurent, and Balmain – used to use Serif, before unveiling their new logos, in all their San-serif, capitalised glory.
Medium wrote an intriguing article regarding this, highlighting the reasons that have led to the shift from Serif to San-serif.
“This shift intends to communicate a change in the brands’ core image: from the fussiness of old-world luxury, to a fresher and simpler ethos… This is where the sans-serif logotypes come in. By stripping their logos of flourish, brands such as Balmain are purporting to overturn the usual equation between external display and internal quality, which once defined the category.”Shze Hui Tjoa and Foivos Dousos
All these highlight that the art of choosing a typeface – isn’t as straightforward as most business owners tend to think it is. A lot of thought goes into the psychology of the buyer, which translates to the visual strategies that many brands employ.
Number Three – Comic Sans
Easily the most recognisable typeface out of the four above – apart from probably Times New Roman, this typeface has long been the subject of criticism, ridicule, and mockery. In fact, much research has been conducted about Comic Sans and the dislike for it.
Film producer and essayist Errol Morris wrote in August 2012 that the “conscious awareness of Comic Sans promotes – at least among some people – contempt and summary dismissal”. With the help of a professor, he conducted an online experiment and found that Comic Sans, in comparison with five other fonts (Baskerville, Helvetica, Georgia, Trebuchet MS, and Computer Modern), makes readers slightly less likely to believe that a statement they are reading is true.
Some notable uses of Comic Sans include Britain’s Conservative Party tweeting an image stating “MPs must come together and get Brexit done” using Comic Sans in October 2019. People were so busy mocking the usage of the typeface that they didn’t realise the typeface’s notoriety was bringing the message to a wider audience.
Still think that typefaces and fonts are just merely design aesthetics?
Returning back to the less educational side of things, when asked for her thoughts on Comic Sans, our designer solemnly said: “If you’re in the creative industry, this is a taboo font that creatives shouldn’t even mention or speak of. It’s always associated with graphic design memes.”
Kind of like Voldemort, don’t you think? Comic Sans, the “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” of the typography world.
Number Four – Helvetica
Now we’ve come to the most famous typeface on the planet, Helvetica. It’s the most-commonly used typeface in the world, appearing in places from governmental agencies, to transportation settings, to road signs in Japan and South Korea, to football teams. Scholarly articles and films have been written about the history of this typeface, which was first developed in 1957 by Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann.
We included this typeface in this list because we want to highlight the accessibility of this typeface. Helvetica, alongside several other typefaces, were noted to be good fonts for people with dyslexia, or those who are visually-impaired.
Despite being seen as a “boring” or “generic” typeface alongside Times New Roman, it is one of the most easily-read fonts in the world. Despite the heat that it gets from wider public, according to Critical Axis, Comic Sans is also the preferred font for many differently-abled people. The typeface is legible, because it has bulbous curves, and disproportionate lines, which help people differentiate letters easier when they read.
Critical Axis even has the option to change the typeface to Comic Sans on their website.
Oftentimes, people are so caught up in the heat of the moment of choosing stunning and unique typefaces for their brands that they forget the importance of legibility. When choosing a typeface, it’s important to keep in mind the accessibility and inclusivity that brands should all aim for.
The Importance of Typeface and Fonts
With all that’s been said and done, we hope that you now understand the importance of typography and fonts for brands. Keep a look out for part two of this case study, where we’ll be studying the psychology of typography in closer detail, and some tips to choose the right typeface and font for your brand.