About four years ago, I received a surprising email—not surprising because of what it said, but because of the way it looked. The text was set in Courier, that font you see in movies when hackers write code on a black screen. The email became sort of a running joke at the office, and I couldn’t take this person seriously when they emailed again.
That’s judgmental, I know, but it turns out I’m not alone. A new study suggests that fonts can indeed change the way we feel about a certain message. The study was run by Monotype, the world’s biggest type foundry, which partnered with applied neuroscience company Neurons. Together, they surveyed 400 people in the UK, who were presented with different words laid out in three contrasting types. The scope of the study is fairly small, and the motivations behind a type foundry publicizing a study about the impact of type can’t be ignored. But the study does confirm one thing: Fonts are subjective, and they can mean different things to different people.
This isn’t the first study to explore the impact of different fonts. In 2018, a team of researchers at Australia’s RMIT University developed a typeface they said could boost memory retention (the font was difficult enough to engage the readers, yet legible enough so as to not obstruct the reading) but the impact of that font was later disproved. More recently, a major study determined that some fonts, like Garamond EB and Montserrat, were harder for older people to read. But the impact of typefaces on emotions remains largely unstudied, at least when it comes Latin languages.
There’s a reason this hasn’t been done at scale. “[Typography] is your tone of voice,” says Phil Garnham, a senior creative type director at Monotype. “And the aroma, the feeling that generates is really important and it’s subliminal.” Indeed, subconscious reactions can be hard to qualify, let alone quantify. Also, fonts go hand in hand with words—so, how do you distinguish between people’s reaction to the meaning of a word compared to the font in which it’s presented?
The founder and CEO of Neurons, Thomas Z. Ramsøy, explains that when we try to perceive …….