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Typography psychology: What does your typeface say about you?

Forget handwriting analysis (that’s so last century): What does your typeface say about you?

I believe a person’s font of choice can reflect on her personality in telling ways. I bounced this theory off Carol Waldron, a typography professor at the University of Minnesota, who sounded marginally convinced.

“In some sense, any time we make a decision from a selection of options, yes, it reflects on personality,” she said. I reworded the question a couple of times, hoping to win her over. “Wouldn’t a Times New Roman personality differ from a Comic Sans personality?”

Still, Carol responded with cautious clauses like “I suppose so” and “to some extent.”

So here’s my case: The evolution of my personality, as reflected by the evolution of my favorite fonts.

So tell me: What does your favorite font say about you?

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Justin Heideman on 01/09/2008 - 04:40 pm.

    I’m not sure too much should be read into typefaces.

    Arial is a knock-off of Helvetica. Georgia is designed for reading on the screen, not the printed page. And comic sans is beneath contempt.

    Personally, I use Lucida Grande or Monaco most of the time. The former is the screen font in OS X, and Monaco (9pt in email, 12pt in editor) is a great monospaced font.

  2. Submitted by John Olson on 01/10/2008 - 05:42 am.

    Since the first “soft fonts” came out in the early 90’s and printer firmware was upgraded so that one did not have to use a cartridge plugged into the printer to get their reports, memos, etc. printed, it has been a flea market of fonts. Now, you can buy thousands of those wretched true-type fonts on a CD for less than what you pay for lunch.

    Advice to those who buy those: do NOT install them all! It slows your computer to a crawl and you will never use 80 percent of them! (Thank you, I had to get that one out of my system.)

    As one who does edit the work of others, it drives me nuts to have something come in that has a mish-mash of fonts embedded in it. I can take a report that is four pages entering my inbox and send it out as a three-page document simply by changing the font accordingly.

    My rant is that people can change the fonts with ease, but I still have to deal with documents where the original author uses a paragraph indent that is five spaces (typewriter days) instead of using the “tab” key or adjusting the tabs on the ruler bar.

    And yes, I do see work documents that come in typed in Comic Sans. Grrrr…..

    BTW, I prefer Optimum on the PC and Monaco on the Mac. 🙂

  3. Submitted by Kay Harvey on 01/10/2008 - 12:37 pm.

    Hey, Christina,
    I like this piece a lot and find your tack on this and find it totally engaging. (Can you tell?)
    I’ve long been a big fan of Arial, a reflection, I think, of my bent for the unadorned and natural. (No floral fabric on any couch I’ve ever owned, probably not even on a pillow!)
    It reminds me of a conversation with friends about the “look” we grappled for in our younger years. My friends hooted when I said “natural.” Both of their
    answers:”glamorous.” I suppose they still lean toward type faces with loads of serifs.
    Good work,
    Kay Harvey

  4. Submitted by Dani Frazier on 01/10/2008 - 02:42 pm.

    Both Copperplate and Bernhard Fashion show off my simplistic personality. I love that they are both clean and they don’t have a lot “going on” – no serifs, no crazy italics, etc. They’re somewhat well known, yet not commonly used.

    Good topic; I’ve never thought of relating typefaces to personalities, but now it’s all I notice!

  5. Submitted by Steve McPherson on 01/11/2008 - 04:40 pm.

    Typeface choice is a design, not a compositional, question. When it comes to Word documents, there’s not really a good reason not to use Times New Roman– it’s what’s expected, and anything else (save for choices like Helvetica or Baskerville) is just going to detract from the actual writing.

    In this day and age, the use of typefaces is horribly misunderstood. I think the best way to think of them are as spices in a recipe, and I don’t mean add Comic Sans for a dash of pizzazz. What I mean is that typefaces have specific histories and associations, and to use them without understanding what they contribute to the overall flavor of a page is simply irresponsible.

    Typefaces like Times New Roman and Helvetica are like salt and pepper– flexible, useful, and common enough, but brilliant when used well. Slightly more exotic serifs like Baskerville, Garamond, or Palatino are like sea salt to TNR’s table salt. Comic Sans is (and I’m being charitable here) more like rainbow jimmies. Do you want rainbow jimmies in your chicken soup?

    To carry this out even further, let’s say Helvetica is like good old fashioned cane sugar. Perhaps Futura is brown sugar. In this case, Arial is saccharine– a crappy substitute for the real thing that may very well cause cancer. Honestly, anyone who uses Arial in preference to Helvetica should look into Arial’s history. There’s a solid article about it here:

    Beyond all these metaphors and analogies, though, are some simple facts that have been alluded to: Georgia (and Verdana) were designed for use on computer screens– they have no place being printed out on the page. A distinction should also be made between body typefaces and display typefaces– making someone read an entire article in Zapfino is just plain mean.

    Basically, you have to be responsible in your typeface choices; to base your typeface choice around your personality is to ignore the thousands of years of history behind these typefaces, and to fundamentally misunderstand their purpose. I can’t agree enough with Justin that Comic Sans is beneath contempt.

  6. Submitted by Cat Schwamm on 12/30/2009 - 03:14 pm.

    I’ve been studying elements and the psychology of different fonts all day and this post was the best I have found. While the others give vague generalizations about what a font might mean in some contexts, or show the results of studies (which really end up showing nothing), yours was an honest appraisal of what a font really says about a person. I thought this was very well-written, adorable, and clever, as well as extremely informative. Thanks for the read.

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