Any words you read will evoke an emotion. A news article chronicling a devastating event will make you feel a certain way, while a humorous story will elicit an entirely different response. Or maybe you’re reading an opinion piece you vehemently disagree with.
Whatever the subject matter, the genre and tone of the writing will determine a reader’s emotional engagement with the text. But did you know that font has just as much of an impact on reader emotions? Let’s take a look at how to leverage fonts as you design your website.
How Fonts Evoke Emotions
Think of what you read every day. Road signs, billboards, emails, text messages, news articles, and even office signs all use fonts to convey a message. An advertisement’s job is to persuade viewers to invest in a product or service, while an office sign conveys the organization’s branding in a professional manner. On the other hand, your newspaper (or mobile news app) is meant to be readable and informative.
Just how does this work, though? Why do some fonts make us feel certain ways? The answer has a little to do with art and a lot to do with science.
In one psychological study, two groups were shown different versions of The New Yorker – one version with a poorly designed layout, and one with a well-designed layout. The researchers found that bad design evoked negative emotions, while good design took less time to read and evoked a stronger sense of clarity among readers.
Preferences for fonts are also impacted by culture. Consider, for example, your bank’s website. What if the main body font were Impact, usually associated with newspaper headlines? Or what if it were Comic Sans MS, designed to look like handwriting? These fonts are associated with a markedly different vibe than a bank would want to convey.
Which Typeface Should You Use?
Individual typefaces may be fun or expressive, but they’re not always practical. If you’re going for readability and professionalism on your website, choose the most appropriate, adaptable font for the job.
Here’s a breakdown:
- Serif. Serif fonts – like Times New Roman, Georgia, and Garamond – all have little lines (or “feet”), called serifs, attached to the ends of their letters. These are the most serious, traditional fonts.
- Sans Serif. Sans serif fonts have no little “feet” or protrusions. The name means, literally, “without serif.” Examples include Arial, Helvetica, and Verdana. These fonts are considered more streamlined and modern.
- Script. Script fonts are designed to resemble handwriting. Some are fun and casual, while others look elegant and formal. Yellowtail is a good example of the former, while Edwardian Script is an example of the latter.
- Decorative. Decorative or display fonts are designed to grab the reader’s attention. However, they’re not always practical and don’t lend themselves well to readability.
Tenets of Legibility
Above all else, your website needs to be easy to read. If readers have to work too hard, they’re not going to want to stay.
Sans serif fonts are largely considered more suitable for digital body content, while serif fonts are usually reserved for print. Script fonts, on the other hand, are rarely ideal for web copy, unless used in a page heading or logo. Even then, however, they must be readable. Decorative fonts are the most “original” and are also more suited for headlines.
Don’t make your readers guess what they’re reading. “Was that an a or an e? Or maybe an o?” Not a good look. Make sure the letters are easily discernable. One way to do this is to use the “Il1” test, to see how easy it is to tell the difference between a capital I, a lowercase l, and the numeral 1.
Legibility also depends on size and spacing. Larger font sizes are easier to read and can elicit a stronger emotional connection. When in doubt, increase the size, and use nothing smaller than 12pt font. Make sure there’s plenty of space between letters as well.
Hopefully, this little guide has given you some insight into how to choose fonts for your website – as well as how to mix and match different types, depending on the kind of content you want to present. Good design matters – but only if your content is just as good.
With the sheer number of fonts available, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. When in doubt, stick to the classics; a legible sans-serif body font will beat out almost any wacky, newly designed alternative. Quantity – even in the age of the internet – is no substitute for quality.