Type is everywhere, including right in front of you. We see it all the time, and you may think you don’t pay attention to it. All words look the same right? Wrong. The fonts we see, in signage, presentations, packaging, texts, influence us in subtle ways.
Take Elon Musk‘s ‘fifth mode’ of transportation, the Hyperloop, an alternative to boats, planes, automobiles and trains. According to Musk (founder of Paypal and Tesla, the electric car company), you would be able to travel from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco in under 30 minutes, or 343 miles at more than 685 mph by Hyperloop. That’s more than twice as fast as the world’s fastest train.
It’s very informative. Indeed Musk has confirmed it as a close representation of his original idea. One small problem, it doesn’t look believable. That’s because of John’s font choice, Comic Sans.
Here’s the same diagram re-rendered by Brent Couchman, an independent designer and illustrator. Brent used Proxima Nova & Kulturista.
Most people will look at the second diagram and feel more inclined to believe it than the first, simply because of the font choice. Both typeface — the form of the letters you see, and typography — the format of the letters on a page, have a profound influence on the meaning you extract from the written word. It’s the visual language that adds depth and character to written language, in the same way tone, dialect and emphasis add that to the spoken word. Shakespeare recited by Patrick Stewart sounds a lot different to Shakespeare recited by Paddington Bear.
In a study conducted by Cornell psychologist David Dunning and New York Times writer Errol Morris, readers were asked whether they found various pieces of text believable. The differences in the texts? Only the typeface. The same text was presented in Baskerville, Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica and Comic Sans. Here are the results in a nutshell.
Fonts like Baskerville and Georgia had a higher truthiness than poor Comic Sans, perhaps validating the work of Matt Dempsey at Comic Sans Criminal and aggravating the good people at Comic Sans Project.
The bottom line, if you want to be believed, pay careful attention to the font choice.
- Hate Comic Sans? Blame this Microsoft virtual assistant (arstechnica.com)
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.