I must have been a designer in a past life (or perhaps I’m one of Tino’s Jacks), because typefaces are among the many things that make me nerd-out. So when I saw that fonts were the subject of last week’s HTC Agora, I knew that I had to be there.
I know what you’re thinking: “fonts? What’s the big deal? So long as the words are the same, does the font they’re written in really matter?” Allow me to answer that question with a picture.
Okay, so that’s an extreme case. Only a clown school would consider using Comic Sans for their logo. But I think I’ve illustrated my point: the fonts we use are not accidental, and a simple change in font can radically change the tone of the message. Consider the differences between Gotham, the font used by the Obama-Biden campaign, and the sterner appearance of Trajan, as used by Romney-Ryan.
I doubt anyone’s vote was swayed by the choice of typeface, but it’s not a stretch to suggest that the fonts reflect their intended audiences: Obama used a font designed in 2000 in a campaign aimed at young voters, while Romney proposed a very straightforward return to tradition with a font designed to look like Rome. In 2008, John McCain’s campaign used Optima—the font used on the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial. These choices are not made lightly; designers and experts get paid hefty sums to know how to present every detail of a campaign or business.
Look at the logos for Pepsi and Coca-Cola and try to guess which one has been in use for decades, and which one was redesigned within the past few years to appeal to the youth. If you didn’t know better, it’d be hard to guess that the two companies are in the same business.
But if you aren’t majoring in graphic design or advertising, why should you care?
Well, if you’re writing a paper perhaps you’d like to know that a study shows that people trust Baskerville more than any other font—perhaps you’d also like a professor who allows you to make that choice. But if you spend more time reading words than looking at them, it’s because the fonts are doing a good job of fitting in. You would notice (and hate) if a textbook was written in Impact. On a sign or a headline, it wouldn’t steal a second glance from you. 90% of the time, fonts are there not to seem out of place.
Culture Shock posts are written in Arial, a fairly standard font that doesn’t have serifs, those fancy add-ons at the end of letters. Does that say something about us? Does your font choice, if you’ve ventured beyond Times New Roman, say something about you?