Barefaced facts about fonts

IF, in this digital era, we judge one another according to the technological choices we make – i.e. the smartphones, laptops and tablets we own – it follows that we’re going to measure each other’s personality, aptitude and worth against the fonts we use.

That makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, for centuries we’ve happily assumed all kinds things about people we hardly know because of their accents. And, since nowadays we communicate largely in text and technology allows us to select fonts from a myriad of options, it’s inevitable we’ll postulate, generalise and pass judgement on others because of the typefaces they choose.

It’s a serious thing and several recent studies have been conducted into the subject. What’s more, whereas there was a time when companies appointed graphologists to analyse prospective employees’ handwriting to assess their character and suitability for a job, these days they’re looking at candidates’ choice of fonts.

They believe, as journalist Gus Silber asserts, “Fonts speak louder than words”.

So, what does your preference in typeface say about you? Do you go the serif route and choose fonts with rounded edges and/or extra strokes on the top or bottom of characters? Or do you shun embellishment and use only sans serif fonts?

A study conducted by Wichita State University found that fonts provide clues to your personality type, attitude and mood. For example, clean, hardworking sans serif Calibri was found to be most appropriate for business communication. Users, says the study, are “stable and conformist”.

In fact, Calibri is, according to a micro-study I conducted on Twitter, a highly popular choice for email, as are fellow sans serif fonts, Arial, Helvetica and New Century Gothic, which have a similar no-nonsense, unpretentious appeal. They’re minimalist, clean and easy to read on the screen. Researchers say the fonts are “conservative but modern” and users, “professional and serious about their careers”.

However – and this is my own aside (because I use none of the above mentioned typefaces) – many, it seems, use Calibri and Arial because they’re default fonts, which suggests to me users could be unimaginative and even plain lazy.

But back to the facts: Like me, many people write emails in a sans serif font but go for serifs (like Georgia, Cambria and Perpetua) for more creative documents. As communication strategist and author, Sarah Britten puts it, “It’s as though the font influences the writing itself”.

So, what’s my type? Up until now, I used good old Times for my articles and Optima for email. According to researchers at Wichita, my choice of Times means I’m “stable, polite, conformist, formal and practical”. Further studies say I’m “boring, scholarly and play it safe”. And my use of Optima doesn’t bode any better. It’s deemed “a bland, neither here nor there font” and, say the experts, tells the world I have “little character”.

What to do then? Naturally, I set out to track down a font that’ll best express my vibrant personality. I’ve settled on Gigi, which is described as “the sex kitten of the typeface universe”. Studies say it’s “flexible, happy, creative, elegant and cuddly”. So, voilà, I gave myself a facelift and now have a sexy new font. Sure, my documents might be illegible, but at least I’m cool.

(This article was first published in Business Day as my column on the Business Life page in 2012.)

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About Administrator

Freelance writer based in Hout Bay near Cape Town in South Africa.
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