Emotional and Persuasive Perception of Fonts

By Ashita Kulshreshtha   views

What makes fiction a bestseller? Well, besides the attributes of the story such as the subject and the plot, the role of visual elements is of equal importance. Fonts constitute integral tools for visual communication. Understanding the importance of fonts is a crucial aspect of the font psychology which aims at studying the persuasive meaning of the text in two different fonts. Such a study has found relevance for art, design, visual communication professionals. Researchers have also found a direct correlation between a font type and brand message. Furthermore, the font psychology dealing with the ability to alter the convincing qualities of a text, as well as perception of other emotional qualities, has relevance for marketing, advertising, and persuasive literature professionals.  For instance: if a cookie box had a brand name written in an appropriate font, the end-users were more likely to take a cookie from that box.  According to contemporary design experts, a format of communication is determined by the content and objective of the text. Typography is an essential component in the format in decoding the objective of the text and communicating a key message to the target audience. 

Comprehending the importance of fonts calls for a clear distinction between fonts and typefaces. It is to be remembered that typeface is a wider category and comprises many fonts. Hence, a single typeface comprises numerous fonts. For instance: Times New Roman is a part of Serif family and Serif here refers to a typeface. The image below describes the personality attributes of various fonts


Wichita State University conducted a comprehensive study on fonts wherein over 500 respondents were surveyed about their perception of various font and typefaces. The findings can be broadly summarized as

Serif scored highest on being Formal, Mature, Stable and Practical.

Sans serif fonts were broadly perceived as neutral

Script fonts were attributed to being “feminine,” “funny,” and “casual.”

Modern fonts were called “masculine,” “assertive,” and “coarse.”

Monospaced fonts were perceived as “dull,” “plain,” and “unimaginative.”

The grid below summarizes the findings of the study in a comprehensive manner.


Another study conducted by New York University delves into drawing parallels between reading material in different fonts gauging the persuasive impact of the font on the message. The study chose two readings on government issues and education policy from a New York Times satirical editorial as a starting point.  Based on respondents’ feedback on the emotional attributes of fonts, the study highlighted that Times New Roman is more satirical (angry and funny) than Arial. However, the study suffers from two major shortcomings. Firstly, the respondent population was American, and the results cannot be generalized for other populations. Additionally, the choice of satirical readings for the study limits the relevance of these findings to a specific style of written communication.

It can be assumed that emotions offer the secondary explanation of a concrete textual message, just as additional lines and curves at the end of letters can be construed as secondary and parallel messages transcending the physical representation of the message. This leads to certain takeaways from this theory. Firstly, there is a need to formulate a design and content strategy with a choice of fonts as a key focus for drafting clear, easy to read the text. If one were to go by conventional observation, 20 percent of blogs use Georgia(serif) for header text and 20 percent of blogs use Arial (Sans Serif) in the blog body copy. Also, the choice of fonts is dependent on the objective. If the objective is to target a wider audience, use the typography which is universal and accessible. On the other hand, if the target is a niche audience, one must use a font that is most appropriate for that set of audience. For instance: Script typeface is generally referred to as playful and is suitable for the website of kids’ e-commerce store. In the below set of images, notice the type of font used. The font used for Amazon e-commerce website caters to the general audience whereas the font of hopscotch.com is more stylish and is meant for kids


Also, fonts indicating a call to action, headline and landing pages should be bold, clear and legible. They should motivate visitors to take the desired action. Thus, well-crafted typography can captivate the audience, evoke emotions and reinforce brands’ key messages. Here are certain key elements to be incorporated for a better understanding of font psychology.

Use Visual Hierarchy: Incorporating visual hierarchy enables the reader to quickly glance through the content, identify key elements and comprehend the co-relation between elements. This is important as readers might face paucity of time or interest to go through the entire content word-by-word. Broadly speaking for any content, there should be two types of fonts:  headline and body font should have some variation in terms of colour, font weights or font families. The set of images below demonstrate the impact of visual hierarchy. The image with ‘After’ as caption is more legible and easy to comprehend as compared to the image with ‘Before’ as caption.


Choose legible, easy to read font: Readability and legibility are key factors to be taken into consideration while choosing the font. Readability refers to the arrangement of typefaces and words on a page while legibility enables a reader to distinguish between individual characters. The font suitable for the headline may not work well in the body copy. For instance: Display faces are specifically designed for headlines. Serif is commonly used in print while sans serif is common for websites due to resolution and screen size. The image below illustrates this aspect.

For readability, it is important to consider paragraph spacing, font size and letter spacing. The set of images below represent the spacing and readability of various fonts.


Use contrast wisely: Space and colour determine contrast. A darker text on a light background is favourable for reading whether in blogs or print as it provides makes reading easier. Coloured type is used for headlines and display text. The image below shows the difference between good and bad contrast.


Be mindful of font-size: Font size is dependent on screen or surface the message is displayed on. For instance: in a paragraph, the font size should be such that it should not contain more than 45-70 characters per line.

Pay attention to paragraph spacing and line-height: The spacing between each line of text can have a profound impact on readability. The space between lines of text, i.e. leading should be at least the point size. Generally, digital experts prefer a leading size of at least 150 percent of text size. The image below highlights the importance of line height.

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Compare typefaces to choose the most appropriate: On shortlisting the potential font combination, do compare all options side by side. This exercise will help filter out the most appropriate font. Understanding the importance of fonts is as important as choosing the colour. The image below highlights the difference between various typefaces.


Refer to font delivery service: One might want to refer to font delivery service in case of the digital medium. These are subscription-based services gives access to a variety of fonts and deliver them to the web properties in a readable way.

Thus, the importance of fonts cannot be overlooked if one were to make brands or artwork resonate with the target audience. Understanding the font psychology and perception of fonts reflects good taste in design and relies on experience.

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