Font Changes Everything

By Robin Lawrence

One of the first choices one makes when preparing a design, large or small, is which typeface to use to display the appropriate message. Too often, improper font usage causes messaging confusion and leads to a less than desired result.

Originally, in the days when the printing press reigned, type foundries were limited to the font styles that they could forge out of metal. These generally included only simple styles, either serif or sans-serif. Serifs are the “feet” and extra flourishes attached to many fonts ( Times, for example). In today’s age of computers and the internet, however, there are thousands of options for fonts - each with their own intended tone and proper usage.

One of the most improperly used fonts has to be Comic Sans. This typeface was originally designed in 1994 for comic book style speech bubbles and quick tips within Microsoft computer programs. Its rather whimsical style helped it gain popularity with children and with businesses who serve or cater to children. For example, you would be hard pressed to find a day care center, which doesn’t use Comic Sans in their signage. The problem is, it doesn’t stop there. You can find usage of Comic Sans everywhere, from restaurants to doctors to professional offices. In nearly every case, these poor font choices give a childish feel when it is inappropriate to do so. Recently, Comic Sans was misused in a very public manner by CERN scientists in a presentation about their discovery of the Higgs Boson particle. As one might imagine, one of the largest particle physics findings in history conveyed in the voice of a child (by way of using Comic Sans) took away a small bit of credibility from some of the otherwise brightest minds in the world.

To further illustrate its improper usage, consider this letter:

Dear Mr. Jones,
It is with our deepest condolences that we write you of the passing of your grandfather. You were indicated in his will as a trustee, and we wish to be in contact with you.

It’s hard to take a serious message seriously when written in an improper font. Conversely, it would seem just as out of place to receive an invitation to a child’s birthday, in a ridged, serious font.

Come celebrate my birthday on Saturday. We will have lots of cake, games and a bouncy house. I heard batman might show up!

Typefaces set the tone of a design before the end user even reads the words, so choosing the appropriate one is key to effective messaging.

Sometimes the choice of one particular font verses another has practical reasons beyond aesthetics. The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay did a study about the campus-wide printing costs of their email and found a way to save upwards of $10,000. Their solution was simple: just by changing the school’s default email font to Century Gothic, they were able to cut costs by 10%. Century Gothic uses thin lines yet remains highly readable, and in turn uses much less ink when printing than their previous default fonts.

The real takeaway with all of this is to simply think about the font you choose for any given project. Perhaps you are giving your work the wrong voice and tone, or simply just spending too much when you print. Choosing the correct font can take just a few minutes of extra time, yet it can help yield substantially better results.

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