Today, the number of screens a customer interacts with is increasing. This means that every brand has multiple platforms and placements to consider when placing its ads. But this also means that the competition for attention is more intense than ever. So, it takes a strong and evolutionary branding strategy to actually make your brand stand out in the crowd.
The key to successful branding is to establish brand aesthetics that reflect the personality of your brand. These visual cues should also trigger all the right emotions. Colors and fonts are the two main visual elements that determine the impact any brand asset creates.
Image Source: Kimp
Color psychology is something that people often talk about. Let’s talk about font psychology today. That’s right! Just like different colors trigger different emotions, different fonts do too.
So, if you want your branding efforts to hit the mark, you should have a clear understanding of font psychology. The typeface is one of the strongest physical attributes of a font that determines the emotions the font triggers. So, let’s look at the most common typefaces and how each connects differently with audiences.
Typefaces and their emotions
Based on a broad spectrum of similarities, fonts are grouped into typefaces. Within typefaces, you might see different font styles but some basic structures in these fonts remain similar. You will find very different applications for the fonts in each of these typefaces.
Let’s talk about the three most commonly recognized typefaces namely Serif, Sans-serif, and script and the impact each of these has on the onlooker.
1. Serif fonts
These are fonts where you notice a thin or thick extension at the end of the main stroke in any letter. Times New Roman and Georgia are popular serif fonts that most people know.
These are fonts that have a ‘traditional’ connotation to them. Some even associate them with ‘sophistication’. Others might relate them with a ‘heritage’ feeling. That’s why you might see this font predominantly used by heritage brands or even some luxury brands with a narrow niche audience.
Image source: Oleg Tarasov from Behance
Take a look at the examples above. At the top is the original logo of Mercedes Benz, the famous German luxury automotive brand. And below it is the same logo in a font without serif. Does it evoke the same emotion? It definitely doesn’t! So, if you want your brand to be seen as an authoritative name, a luxury brand, or as a respectable heritage business, using serif fonts is non-negotiable.
2. Sans-serif fonts
These are fonts without serif and are noted for their cleaner appearance. They are mostly used when readability is of utmost importance. Because of their simplicity, the fonts in this typeface work for brands with diverse audience groups.
Fonts without serifs also have a ‘modern’ vibe to them. There are no distracting accents in these fonts. As a result, they get the message across without any fluff. You will notice these fonts mostly in taglines or even in website text sections where readability is crucial.
People often associate these fonts with ‘casual’, or ‘straightforward’ styles. They are timeless, versatile styles you can choose for your print ads, as well as display ads and social media posts.
The present-day Netflix logo is the perfect example of a sans-serif font that comes across as modern and accessible. The font chosen works well for a brand that’s all about creating easy ways to consume content from the comfort of home or while on the go. This casual and ‘chilled-out’ style is achieved through a flexible and clean sans-serif font.
Image source: Netflix
But, you might be surprised to know that just over two decades ago, the very first logo of Netflix did have a serif font.
Image Source: Logos World
Back then it also had a film roll symbol in the logo for emphasis on the services it offered. But in today’s digital landscape, a logo so rigid doesn’t reflect the brand’s personality.
3. Script fonts
Script or handwritten fonts are known for their versatility. You can use them to trigger very specific emotions ranging from ‘cool’ and ‘funky’ to ‘elegant’ and ‘classy’. So, you will find them both in luxury brands and consumer goods.
Coca-Cola is one of the most popular global brands that uses a script font. The overall cheerful style aligns perfectly with the brand’s tagline, “open happiness”.
With that being said, take a look at Coca-Cola’s logo from the year 1890.
Image source: The Logo Smith
The brand gave up the dramatic swirl logo font seen above and went back to a clean-looking font a year later, in 1891.
As you can see, even within the script style, you need to be careful about the shapes of the letters and the emotions they might trigger. Let’s give you one more example of how different script fonts trigger different emotions. Kellogg’s, the popular breakfast cereal brand as well as Cadillac, the luxury automobile brand, both used script fonts to build their brands.
Cadillac recently went through a logo redesign but, for the sake of our look into script fonts, we’ll look at their previous logo.
Image source: 1000logos.net
Image source: Cadillac
If Kellogg’s had used the elegant traditional script similar to that used by Cadillac, it would not have appeared relevant to its consumer-friendly brand image. And similarly, the casual brush script from Kellogg’s would not have captured the sophistication associated with Cadillac cars. So, the services you offer and the type of audience you wish to connect with, all have a strong influence on the font styles you should choose for your branding.
Applying font psychology in branding
Now that you know how different typefaces trigger different emotions, you should also know how to use them effectively in branding. Let’s talk about how and where to use these insights in marketing.
1. Consider the context
You might like a traditional font like Baskerville in a book you read. But if you use it in marketing emails, it loses the friendly and conversational tone that these emails are supposed to have.
Even big brands that use antique fonts in their logos might go for some sleek sans-serif fonts in their social media posts or digital ads.
We spoke about the Mercedes Benz logo earlier. While the brand does use serif fonts in its main logo, take a look at the other font styles it uses for its different campaigns.
Image source: Mercedes-Benz
‘Mercedes Me’ connect is the mobile app interface that brings a host of mobile-operated functionalities to the car. You will notice the use of a more relaxed font in this one, perfect for the smartphone-reliant generation. ‘She’s Mercedes’, a women empowerment initiative by the brand, has a more feminine script font in its logo.
That’s how even traditional brands today make use of different font styles to effectively engage different audience groups and convey different messages.
2. Combine different typefaces for a clear visual hierarchy
Even within the same image or graphic design, you can have a combination of typefaces put together to create a visual hierarchy.
For example, serif fonts look ‘powerful’ and sans-serif fonts are easy on the eyes. So, you can use a combination of these two to create a clear differentiation of sections in your logo or ad or other graphic designs.
Using font combinations is important to maintain legibility and also to convey your message clearly. Some fonts look good when used individually but when you have to create specific areas of focus or differentiate CTAs (call-to-action) you might not get the desired effect with just one font.
Script fonts, for example, look great when you use them in logos. They look conversational and casual. But if you make them too small or use them in long lines of text, you miss out on the readability aspect.
Louis Vuitton, the French luxury fashion brand uses a serif font in its monogram and a sans-serif font in its wordmark. Layering these contrasting typefaces makes this look like a well-balanced design for the diverse audience groups the brand caters to today.
1. What other aspects impact font psychology besides font style?
Other than font style, the following aspects also influence the visual impact of the fonts in branding:
- Letter case (using all caps vs sentence case)
- Font colors
- Size of fonts
- Presence or absence of additional styles like the slant of the font
Having specific sections of the font in large size text indicates that these are important sections. Fonts with thick strokes and those in dark or bright colors also have a similar effect. Smaller fonts and muted colors might be sections that people often skip or might read at last. This again comes in handy while creating a visual hierarchy or direction in your design.
2. Should you use font combinations everywhere?
In short text sections like ads and logos, it makes perfect sense to use a combination of different font styles or typefaces - within reason of course. We’re talking about up to font styles to keep things from getting too busy. But on a blog or website, too many variations in typefaces might look like inconsistencies and can bring down the credibility of the content. They also make the user interface look cluttered or disorganized. In such cases, it would be better to play with the variations in font colors or text size instead of changing the typeface.
3. What if I don’t have time to learn and apply font psychology?
Chances are as an entrepreneur or marketer you aren’t looking to moonlight as a designer. And fair enough. This is where professional design services come into play. Working with a professional designer can take a load off your to-do list. Just write up a design brief, include your brand assets and await your designs.
But there is the challenge of finding the right designer(s) that can help you stay on budget and design according to your preferences. This is where unlimited design subscriptions can be a real game changer. You pay a flat fee, you get to request as many iterations and revisions as you need, and you get to work with designers who have experience with a wide range of designs and industries.