Can fonts really affect our feelings?

Why Fonts make us feel.

Typography can elicit strong reactions and feelings. People fall in love with typefaces. People despise typefaces. We all have favorites we love to use in designs, and others we’d just never consider. Just watch Gary Hustwit’s documentary “Helvetica,” and you’ll see the full range of emotional responses a single typeface can cause.

Anecdotally, we all know that type is emotional. But is there actually any science behind that? What is it about type — the actual on-the-page design — that generates these emotions? And what about more complicated feelings, like trust?

How fonts drive emotion

Monotype partnered with applied neuroscience company Neurons, and put our deepest held beliefs to the test to find out if different typefaces really do affect our emotional state. We wanted to understand how fonts drive experiences, associations, and feelings, and assess the effectiveness of different typefaces in unique situations.

Can fonts influence our response to taglines and slogans? Can they encourage us to perceive a company logo in a more positive way? Do they really build trust between brands and consumers? Do minute details have an outsized effect on how we feel about a font?

Monotype and Neurons surveyed 400 people using three kinds of stimuli: single words, a sentence using those words, and a sentence with the words including a brand. Each of these was set in all three typefaces, and respondents rated the combinations using a range of emotional metrics — such as how sincere, memorable, trustworthy or confident they felt.

“Finding the right connection between brand direction and typeface choice is something type designers know inherently themselves, inside out,” said James Fooks-Bale, senior director of brand, Monotype. “We wanted to put that to the test, and to shine a light on the value that typography brings to brands and their audiences.”

The results confirmed everything we already believed about how type taps into our emotions. Typeface choice alone plays a significant role in how people feel — boosting their positive response by up to 13 percent. Even Neurons was surprised by how compelling the results were, as they typically see results between 0-5 percent.

In the absence of color, logo, movement, or any other element of a coherent visual identity, type still has a powerful effect on people. It’s astounding to think that just the simple shapes of a letter can spark a cognitive and emotional reaction, leading to a subconscious judgement of how honest, or sincere, or innovative a brand or statement is.

Choose your fonts wisely to stand out

The flip side of this is that a poorly chosen typeface has the potential to negatively impact the metrics that so many companies hold dear — in particular, trust, or the ability to stand out from competitors.

“It’s invaluable to have research supporting what we type designers have known all along: type gives brands the emotional edge,” Monotype Creative Type director Phil Garnham said of the research. “Typographic features, the granular details found within letter-shapes and overarching tonal themes in fonts, connote real meaning and appropriateness, and have the power to directly influence emotions.”

Our relationship with type is an emotional one, whether we realize it or not. Decades of research and thought have gone into branding and the psychology of color, but far less attention has been paid to the science of type and emotion.

Proving that our brains have such a significant response to letter shapes should put type choice at the top of the branding agenda. And it supports our belief that fonts influence not just how easily people understand something but the way it makes them feel.

Monotype and Neurons have continued to dig into this area of research, and Monotype will be revealing our latest findings at Adobe MAX on Tuesday, Oct 18 from 3:15 PM - 4:15 PM PDT.

Brand designer Marie Boulanger and creative type director Terrance Weinzierl will walk attendees through the latest round of research and share the results for the first time. You’ll get an inside look at how these experiments are conceived and how the findings can help designers select type that closely aligns with project goals, brand values, and customer expectations. It’s a session and designer, type-lover, or curious human shouldn’t miss.

Pre-register here.

This Adobe MAX 2022 post is sponsored by Monotype.