The body language of words: Fonts as a form of communication

| What happens when we dress a word up in different fonts? |

Why does it feel like a word has a different personality or character based on the way it looks? Is it really possible that the variations in lines and curves which differentiate fonts can cause the same word to invoke different emotions, perhaps even different senses of meaning? If so, how does this happen?

Sarah Hyndman is a graphic designer who has been studying the effects fonts and typefaces have on us. Her creative and somewhat quirky methodology includes having people compare different fonts as if they were potential dates or look at different fonts while eating the same flavor jelly beans. In her TEDx Talk from 2014, she explained that fonts communicate to us through the “information that’s been hardwired into our DNA” and our “library of associations”. These might be better understood as two kinds of memory, respectively: the “memory” of associations we developed at a very early age about basic perceptual information (like shape, size, color, orientation) and episodic or event-based memory. In any case, her work reminds us of the very human tendency to make unconscious judgments — of people, words, and pretty much anything with a cover — based on appearance.

[G]raphic designer Sarah Hyndman asked women to choose between dating nine fonts … I know it sounds weird, but let me explain. Hyndman’s dating question is part of Tasting Type, a series of online experiments she’s been performing to gather data on how typography impacts human perception …

Now, of course no one is actually going to date a typeface (that’s impossible!), but Hyndman’s question is an intriguing one. Somewhere between my eyes seeing a typeface and my brain processing it, I assigned its symbols a set of judgements and associations that extend beyond basic shape recognition. Suddenly, Franklin Gothic wasn’t just a series of letters on paper, it was a visual metaphor for a potential lover, full of personality traits that it obviously can’t possess.

If you love that font so much, why don’t you date it? | Liz Stinson

[A] font can completely transform the meaning of a word. It can give it a backstory. It can give it a personality. And it can turn it into something that can influence … Typography is storytelling. Fonts turn words into stories.

So how do fonts influence us without us really knowing about it? They work a little bit like clothes. When we see them, they make a first impression … The clothes a person wears tells the world who they are … We’ve all made assumptions about each other — from their first impressions, from the clothes they’re wearing — whether you’ve been aware of this or not.

Wake up and smell the fonts | Sarah Hyndman