How your beautiful (type) face is hurting your message

6:38am

Saint Paul

 

Good day dear reader!

Are you snowed in yet?

It’s snowing again here in the midwest. We have the snowiest February on record, and there’s another week ahead of us.

I almost had a day at home with the kids —not really a break at all— and I was hoping to edit the podcast.

Alas, it didn’t pan out that way today. I’ll be in the office today, all good.

While in the office yesterday I got an email:

font_choices

I have some thoughts on that.

My grandfather was in the printing business. He taught me a few things about fonts typefaces that echo true today.

One thing I’ll always remember is that using all-capital blackletter typefaces (also known as Old English) is a cardinal sin in the printing world:

font_choices_blackletter

I most often see this all-caps choice as a sticker on the back window of pickup trucks. It’ll read GONZALEZ or MARTINEZ or something.

The illegible message always makes me think of Grandpa.

Anyway, I’d like to share a few additional thoughts about typefaces that might improve your written persuasion and marketing.

If you’re interested, read on.

The first thing I noticed in yesterday’s email is the difficulty of reading the text, especially at the small font size:

font_choices

The email uses a serif typeface, which is almost certainly a choice of the author.

Serif typefaces have those little swirls (or hooks, or serifs) at the ends of letters.

The serifs exist to lead your eyes across the letters. They’re meant to improve legibility… on the printed page.

Yes, serif typefaces are designed for printed text, or for larger sized headlines where clarity isn’t as much an issue.

Sans-Serif fonts, however, are designed for computer screens. Like emails and blogs.

Sans-serif means the font has no serifs. In smaller sizes, those lovely serifs muddy the screen. Sans-serifs remove those hooks to improve readability.

Here’s the same message in a sans-serif font:

font_choices_sans_serif_small

And here it is again, in a larger size to further improve readability:

font_choices_sans_serif

Daniel Kahneman wrote in Thinking, Fast and Slow about the brain’s ability to understand a written message.

Kahneman created experiments that had fuzzy letters or low-contrast type, and would measure people’s pupils while they read these texts.

As participants’ mental loads increased, their pupils measurably expand.

(You can test this by looking at your eyes in a mirror and count downward from 200 by sevens, for example. Pretty cool, isn’t it?)

When the brain has to work harder to understand a message, two things happen:

  1. The reader gives up sooner because it’s mentally taxing to continue, and
  2. The message is more memorable, because the brain needed to use more logical reasoning to understand what it’s reading.

In persuasion and marketing, you often don’t want the message to be seen. Being memorable isn’t necessarily the goal.

(By the way, my current website header intentionally uses difficult-to-read text against that bookcase, to be more memorable. Scroll up and check it out. I’ll still be down here.)

Anyway, you want the message’s intent to have an impact. You want a clear pane of glass to see the possibilities beyond.

In other words, your fuzzy, fancy font…

might be a distraction!

Eugene Schwartz said you want to speak to the gut, to the monkey brain.

You want your message to bypass logic and skepticism, to help the reader feel what’s possible.

Now, if someone reads your message and they’re looking at the design, and not the product on the other side of that message, you’re doing yourself and your market a disservice.

font_vignelli-canon-57

Famed designer Massimo Vignelli suggested that designers limit their typeface choices to some very basic, readable options.

Garamond, Bodini, Century, Futura, Times Roman, and Helvetica were his suggestions.

Many designers might disagree, saying that a typeface helps to brand your company.

If you’re more worried about your brand than about helping your clients, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

Ok back to it.

Jeffrey

10 Things I Learned from “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A. Norman

During my last trip to New York City, we visited the World Trade Center Transportation Hub, also known as the Oculus.

"Oculus" by Jeffrey G Thomas, 2017 CC-By-4.0
“Oculus” by Jeffrey G Thomas, 2017 CC-By-4.0

The stunning architecture of this sweeping building cannot fail to impress. The inside feels huge and open like a European cathedral. The outside looks like a pair of wings, flapping in multiple photographic exposures across the Manhattan skyline.

One thing that will forever stand out about the Oculus, however, was the doors.

Continue reading “10 Things I Learned from “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald A. Norman”