If you’ve ever fallen victim to an all caps text or swayed back and forth between fonts for an email signature, you already understand the basic influence of typography, the art we apply to the printed language we use for daily communication; in other words, the form and arrangement of text on a page. But as we know, the typeface world extends much further beyond capitalization and well known fonts like Arial, Comic Sans, Helvetica, and who could forget Times New Roman, the old reliable that got you and your contemporaries through midterm after midterm (until 2007, that is, when Microsoft Office swapped in Calibri as the default font in Word).
Just one font receiving a lot of turned heads lately is Canada 150, a typeface created for the country’s 150th birthday. Raymond Larabie is responsible for the design, which unites the Latin characters of the country’s two official languages with characters of its Aboriginal languages, such as Inuktitut, Cree, and Ojibway. It may not be the present you would’ve wished for on a birthday — especially on one celebrating a century and a half — but it does beg us to consider why typography has the power that it does.
Type provides users with a sense of the content they’re about to interface with, while enlisting a distinct voice to help share that content. In today’s chock-full world of websites and apps, we’ve acquired a pretty good idea of what to expect from certain brands — and that’s based largely on their typographical patterns. For example, a bold, heavy typeface in all caps might come off as a bit severe for a company specializing in floral design services, while it might be perfect for a new, trend-forward men’s apparel line.
Typography can also help guide readers on how seriously they should interact with the content, or how to ascertain what’s being said. Take, for example, filmmaker Errol Morris’s recent experiment, which polled 45,000 New York Times readers on the credibility of a statement when it was written in Baskerville compared to Helvetica, Trebuchet, Computer Modern, Georgia, and Comic Sans. It turns out that Baskerville beats out the others when it comes to believability, suggesting we do, in fact, judge content by its cover.
But you can’t blame us. We’ve been programmed to respond to fonts in certain ways based on their role in history and pop culture. Ever since Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type with the printing press in 1440, copious amounts of typefaces have sprouted up with specific missions. In 1916 it was Johnston, a sans-serif typeface used throughout London’s Tube, and in 1967 The New York Times began using Edwin Shaar’s Imperial for its features. 2004 saw the unveiling of Facebook’s logo, a version of Klavika Bold, while 1977’s American Typewriter was selected for the “I Heart NY” logo supported by New York State’s marketing campaign.
So as you dive into the ins and outs of your marketing strategy, be sure to devote some time and attention to not only what you’re saying, but how you’re saying it. Trust us — it makes a big difference.