Font Psychology: The Art Of Choosing The Right Typeface For Your Brand

It’s a logo that has become synonymous with the internet: the multi-colored Google banner set against a clean white background.

After 16 years of sporting the classic 1999 masthead, the internet powerhouse finally decided to debut a contemporary version of its beloved logo to represent the changing times.

From using a serif typeface, the Google banner dropped the serif for a more streamlined font by the name of Product Sans. The updated logo—which is rendered seamlessly across mobile devices—signaled more than a shift in design. It also ushered in a new era marked by the company’s growing influence on internet culture and broader technology space.

The change may have been subtle, but the whole world took notice.

The updated typeface on the Google logo illustrates the power of font in building brand identity. Companies are thus mindful of the overall appeal and message behind their branding when they choose a font style. It’s one thing to catch the attention of your target audience; it’s another to elicit positive brand recall because of it.

And it all begins with the design, even with something as basic as the typeface.

Typeface vs. Font: What’s the difference anyway?

It’s not uncommon to find people interchanging the terms typeface and font. Typeface refers to the style of the glyphs and the overall look and feel that make characters unique. Garamond, for example, is a different typeface from Arial.

Font, however, refers to the computer files or—in the days of movable type publishing—the metal casts which produce the typeface. Simply put, it is the collection of letters, numbers, and symbols expressed in different weights and sizes.

A font family (type family), meanwhile, refers to a typeface differentiated into subsets, which means they have slight deviations from one another but retain the overall styling of their glyphs. Arial Black, Arial Narrow, and Arial Unicode MS, for instance, all belong to the same Arial font family.

Proficiency in identifying which typeface will match a brand’s personality and influence buyers’ decisions is crucial when communicating with designers.

Font psychology is part of consumer psychology

In much the same way a person’s style of handwriting can signify a unique aspect of their personality, so can the typeface in a logo convey the identity of a brand.

Think of the GAP logo, for example, with the classic white serif typeface set against a dark blue square. For more than two decades, the iconic design closely resembled an actual shirt tag, allowing shoppers to associate the logo with the clothing brand easily.

The design, however, was updated to a bold black sans-serif text on a white background with a faded blue square floating in the upper right corner: the look was reminiscent instead of tech brand logos, such as the ones for Microsoft and Google, owing to the use of the sans-serif typeface. After receiving negative feedback from consumers, GAP soon reverted to the original logo.

Font psychology is part of consumer psychology—and the more specific the font style is, the more unique the brand personality tends to be. And, ultimately, the easier the brand recall.

This is the reason some companies opt to develop their own signature font styles, as in the case of Product Sans by Google being used widely across platforms and devices.

Consumers have also been known to gravitate toward particular styles and veer away from others. A famous example is the much-maligned Comic Sans typeface. “Comic Sans is a sans serif typeface – designed to be informal, casual, and used for that kind of material—like a comic,” said Barbara Chaparro, who led a university study on people’s perception of different typefaces.

“People, especially typographers, get upset when it’s used improperly. For example, if someone sends an email or writes a document using it,” she said.

Chaparro’s findings suggest people tend to view fonts as having distinct personalities, with serif fonts being perceived as more traditional, sans-serif fonts more casual, and monospaced fonts plain and dull.

Other studies echo this hypothesis, purporting how the size of the font, the thickness of the strokes, and the spacing between characters can trigger memories and mental images for onlookers. Larger font sizes, for instance, are said to evoke a stronger emotional response.

Clarify your brand message

Before choosing a typeface, consider first the story behind your brand and brand persona. List down the qualities you want to convey to your target market and why these qualities define the brand.

Do you want to be traditional or trendy? Exude a familiar charm or an experimental vibe? Who is your target market, and what do they care most about? Do you reflect the same values? The important thing is to remember your vision when crafting your logo.

Define your image

After outlining your brand values, create the mood of your logo. Keep in mind that the interplay of color schemes and font styles produces different effects on the target consumer. Choosing a bold typeface in white and setting the text against a black background elicits a response distinct from when you set it in a combination of bold and light fonts on a gray background.

A coffee shop logo, for instance, can use either serif or sans-serif, and script or modern typefaces depending on whether you want the brand to come across as classic or edgy.

Serif fonts suggest an old-world vibe and are often a favorite of luxury brands such as Gucci and Hermes. The small strokes at the tip of the characters exude a hint of elegance and formality. Sans-serif fonts, in contrast, appear minimalist compared to serif fonts, but these work to the advantage of forward-thinking brands like Citi, Spotify, or LinkedIn.

You can also explore different combinations of typefaces, weights, and font sizes to highlight specific words or letters and give personality to an otherwise plain text.

Prototype and keep testing

To choose a font style that truly embodies your brand, be open to prototyping different samples and soliciting the feedback of stakeholders and peers. It’s always helpful to test ideas out to people who can offer a different perspective. Many of the brands that attempted to update their logo but failed may have missed a vital step: listening to feedback.

Finalize your design

After researching different styles and understanding how they relate to your brand message and how they appeal to your target consumers, it’s time to put together the final design with the help of design tools.

Does the overall look capture the vision you outlined in the beginning? How do people perceive the brand in connection with the logo?

Before circulating your new logo, be sure to announce its release officially in a forum and highlight the message behind the design. In the case of Google, for instance, the change entailed a simple switch to a sans-serif typeface, but it represented a new era for the company.

How to Choose the Right Typeface

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