The font you choose says as much as the words
by Alan Zisman (c) 2001
First published in Business in
Vancouver, Issue #632 December 4-10, 2001, The High
Tech Office column
You are how you write... or at least, what font
to write with.
That's the claim of psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman
in a study
commissioned by printer manufacturer Lexmark.
While professional page designers may spend much time
just the right type style for each project, most of us stick with a
favourite font or two, chosen from the list that came on our computers
or was installed with a new piece of software.
Just as many people personalize their answering
as a means of self-expression, what font we choose tells others a lot
about us. An incongruity between content and font choice can reduce the
In The social and emotional connotations of fonts,
suggests that users of soft, curvy fonts want others to see them as sex
Courier is reminiscent of old-style computer
print-outs or manual
typewriters. Using it, according to Sigman, is akin to showing up at a
interview in comfortable but worn old shoes and a sweater.
Users of plain and simple styles such as Arial (the
popular font) or Universe are looking for safety and anonymity. Prince
Charles reportedly prefers the similar, but more classic Helvetica
Handwriting fonts, he reports, were often chosen by
other large corporations hoping to appear personal and friendly. Now
there's often a rebound effect; readers wonder what you're trying to
Choose Comic Sans (as I tend to), and you're telling
that you're looking for attention. Times-styled fonts, the default in
word processor programs, suggests a person hoping to be perceived as
trustworthy and respectable, according to the good doctor.
Sigman offers two rules for important documents:
n Size matters. Large font sizes, he claims, suggest a
who is too insecure to leave any of the page unfilled. Use a small font
(let's say 11 points) and a minimalist font for power letters.
n Match the font to the message. There are times when
want to choose a font to stand out from the crowd, but be very careful
what message your font sends.
Classic serif fonts such as Times are conservative and
traditional, while sans serif fonts such as Arial appear more
contemporary. Sigman suggests matching the font to the potential
employer in résumés and job
Love letters would benefit from fonts with big rounded
friendly looking tails. True italics, not just the tilted letters that
often get when this style is chosen, can help provide a softer
quality. For Dear John letters, Sigman notes that italics or
fonts may give the recipient unwarranted hope.
Choice of font can also help convey a nonverbal
message in a resignation letter. A font combining professional and
human qualities (Sigman offers New
York or Verdana as examples) would be a good choice in leaving a job
enjoyed. If, however, the job was hell, it might be a good time to use
otherwise scorned font Courier; presumably the same qualities that make
a favourite of nerds everywhere let it communicate coldness, covering
your anger and hurt.
(Sigman notes that Eddie George, the governor
of the Bank of England, is rumoured to stick to Courier,
perhaps as a way of demonstrating that he is beyond conventions.)
Sigman concludes that "advertisers have grown to feel
type of font chosen is crucial to their message." He suggests that the
rest of us should give our use of fonts the same sort of attention. If
we don't, our readers will, consciously or not, draw their own
You can find Sigman's study online at: www.lexmark.com/canada/newsroom/data/Lexmark%20Font%20Study-DrSigman.pdf.