Over the past couple of years, I’ve eaten sans serif, I’ve made huge typographic swear words with an ex, I’ve wandered Dalston taking pictures of kebab shop exteriors and I’ve seen Bodoni predict my fortune. Hell, I’ve even tried typographic dating. Why? Because of Sarah Hyndman, the one woman tour-de-force behind the Type Tasting enterprise, which takes a fun approach to typography and how it affects us emotionally.
Through workshops, talks and “type safari” outings, Sarah’s approach has encouraged a very democratic, fun new way of looking at type, and she’s made a number of fascinating discoveries which have been drawn together in her new book The Type Taster: How Fonts Influence You.
“We are all type consumers,” says Sarah. “Typefaces/fonts play a vital role in our everyday lives. They help us to navigate, to make choices, to shop, they keep us safe and they play a game of sleight of hand.”
Here are some of the discoveries the book reveals about the power of the letterform.
1. One man’s Helvetica is another man’s “meh”
In one of Sarah’s surveys, she asked people to come up with adjectives to describe different typefaces. The responses of designers and non-designers were markedly different, which may seem like an obvious thing to suggest, but the discrepancy is potentially eye-opening for those in the creative industries. Here’s what we mean:
Non-designers – “everyman,” “meh,” “dull”
Designers: “intellectual,” “intelligent,” “stylish”
Non-designers: “a clown,” “silly,” “doughnuts,” “friendly”
Designers; “architecture,” “art movement,” “technical”
2. Fonts reveal your personality
“Fonts are like typographic selfies,” Sarah says. “You are drawn to typefaces that reflect your values and aesthetics, and dislike them when they do not.” She adds: “Today a great deal of what you write is done by tapping on a keyboard where the fonts you select, and how you use them, replace your personal handwriting style. Your choice of fonts may not be as individual as your handwriting but it still reveals a great deal about you – and this can be analysed.”
3. Typography can get you a girlfriend
Perhaps. While our very own editor-in-chief Rob Alderson is quoted in the book as saying “typography is seen as the least sexy design discipline,” Sarah reckons type can help us find our perfect date. Her online Typographic Dating Game asks participants to select a typeface they feel best represents them, and select their match based on the typeface they find most desirable. “It is not particularly scientific, but it does demonstrate that we readily identify with fonts and that we instinctively know which ones we might be compatible with,” says Sarah. Most men surveyed chose to be Futura (“stylish and calm,” “minimalist but substantive,” “a modern classic”) while most women chose to be Didot (“subtly classic,” “different but still tasteful,” “arty but elegant.”)
4. You won’t find many triangles on food packaging
Sarah says: “The brain’s fear processor, the amygdala, plays a key role in recognising potential threats. It becomes activated by visual elements with angular or sharp contours and it remains unaffected by soft contours and round shapes.” This is known as “contour bias,” and explains why most food packaging uses either curved letter or classic styles. “This is even the case on products like crisps where angular shapes and lettering might better represent the crunchy experience,” says Sarah.
5. Typography could have the potential to slow the obesity epidemic
In one experiment, Sarah tested how looking different typographic styles made food taste different. People were given two identical jelly beans, and ate one looking at black letters in a rounded typeface, the other while looking at black, angular letters. Those looking at the rounder typeface found the sweet to be an average of 17% sweeter. Sarah says: “Could we add sugar, fat and salt [flavours] via the packaging, like a placebo, and reduce the amounts in the actual food, but so that our perception of what the food actually tastes like is unaltered?”
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