How Fonts Affect the Subconscious Mind

Well, we all use fonts in our everyday lives – even if we are merely below average computer users. Have you ever thought about why you choose one font over another when you type a letter, a document or a resume for that matter? What is that about a certain font type that makes it ‘just right’ for the job at hand? Let us try and answer this, and more questions in the body of this article. 



As you can well imagine, books were at first hand written (before printing presses were even present)… once printing technology became practically applicable, it was obviously more productive to use mechanics rather than manual labor to print! BUT a drastic change in the then-time user interface could have had negative effects on the business of selling books, and hence, the first fonts to be used for printing were handwriting-like, which provided a logical transition to the printing era.


Handwriting-like fonts:1 "Soul handwriting" font, 2 "I'm fashionista!" font, 3 "frank handwriting" font, 4 "Contribute" font

This could well be the first instance where ‘the psychology of fonts’ was ever put into practice. But today, times have changed; people have accepted the fact that books are definitely not hand written! But this is the reason because the handwriting fonts are always so much used and work so well again in a lot of different printed and online projects.

So where does this leave a publisher or a printer with the choice use of fonts (or even a web designer for that matter)?  Having gone just a little way into this article, if you have read between the lines then you already know that a font with a gothic style speaks of years gone by; they are apt for content that is intended to take the reader ‘back in time’, or maybe pose as a factor that sends across a subliminal message of ‘timelessness’. 


Have you heard of people (even psychologists) who claim to be able to predict personality traits of a person they have never met, simply by looking at their handwriting? Well, to validate that handwriting experts can do this even to a marginal degree is beyond the scope of this article. What is interesting though is the very idea that a writing can leave such an impact on the viewer!

Is it logical to assume then, that the choice of fonts too, have a lasting effect on your audience, subconsciously though it may be. If you were using a pen to write a letter on an emotional subject close to your heart, the increased pressure that you apply on paper can increase the boldness of the writing, and somehow help convey the emotion that you feel. Would it make sense then, to consciously alter fonts when typing out such content? The use of bold and italic fonts is many a time applied for this very impact.

Did you ever consider the fact that the background and age group of your readers has a direct effect on their receptivity of the fonts that you choose? Fonts tend to affect ‘readability’ of the text itself, and they are broadly divided into fonts that have ‘tails’, called serifs, at the tops and bottoms of the letters (or serif fonts), and fonts ‘sans’ without the tails.


1_Serif font (with tails/serifs): Book Antiqua, 2_ Sans Serif font (without tails/serifs): Verdana


Today we see many variations of both categories, and hybrids as well. In general, serif fonts are considered more readable that the ‘sans’ types. This could possibly be thanks to generations of people that have grown up as kids learning to hand-write before they ever used a computer – and it will be interesting to see what happens next, with the current generations who are more comfortable with a  keyboard than a pen!


Coming back to our discussion on the choice of typefaces, it may be safe to say that most adults on the planet today may feel a certain affinity towards reading handwriting-like fonts. That said and done, studies have shown that uncommon fonts somehow have the effect of improving user understanding of the text on hand. Could this be because of the fact that the reader is forced to concentrate harder on a font that is not very familiar to say handwriting? On the other hand though, fonts that are too hard to comprehend could easily throw the readers’ concentration and interest completely away from the text! In today’s age of extremely short attention spans, this could prove to be quite a reality! 


The longer that your text piece is, the more is the possibility of varying emotions being portrayed through the writing (say for example a novel); and therefore more are the chances of requiring different font types to portray different emotions. If you are vey new to the idea of fonts sending across emotional signals, just browse through a novel – why is the title a particular font? Why do western novels have that classic western font? Why does the author choose to italicize certain parts, and to have other parts of the text in bold fonts?  Another example that proves the use of fonts to convey emotions, could be children’s books – they almost always have large, friendly looking colorful fonts. Even toddlers who cannot read yet enjoy simply looking at the large curving fonts. This proves beyond doubt that the visual appeal of the font is independent of the content itself, although both need to work hand in hand to create the desired impact on your audience. 

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