“Type alters what you smell” and other insights from Sarah Hyndman's latest type-based research


Graphic designer, writer and Type Tasting founder Sarah Hyndman’s new book How to Draw Type and Influence People explores the way in which we use type to understand different messages and how we interact with it in our everyday lives. Here, inspired by her recent research and findings, Sarah argues that written language is not just seen; it is also heard, felt, tasted and sniffed.

Words have more impact when you can touch them

Words on paper invite us to touch and physically engage with what we are reading. We feel the texture, weight, smell of the paper, and we know where we are in relation to the beginning, middle and end. Research shows that this creates more of an emotional connection, intensifies the experience, and makes the information more memorable.

In a Royal Mail study, participants were shown identical information on a digital screen and on paper. Results showed they were able to recall the information more readily when it had been presented on paper. Brain imaging (fMRI) showed that this is because it engaged the senses of touch and proprioception, and it also generated more response in the area of the brain linked to emotions.

When you want to get creative, if you write/sketch your design ideas on paper it engages more senses than designing on-screen. The results of fMRI research reveal that this stimulates creative thinking and idea generation.

“I was surprised how quickly we generated design ideas by sketching” said Daniel, UX designer on a Design Thinking with Typography workshop.

Type consumers don’t just read with their eyes

The type consumer, or user experience of typography, is different to that of the graphic designer, and this is nothing to do with expertise.
Designers pay conscious attention to type and make decisions based on knowledge, carefully considering which typefaces to use and how to set them. By contrast, the experience of the type consumer (we are all type consumers when we are off duty, with a universal understanding the complex visual codes communicated by type because we have been learning these all of our lives) is unconscious and automatic; it is mingled with instinctive associations, learned references, and stimuli from all of the senses. It is a visceral and multi sensory experience that generally takes place beneath the radar of consciousness.

This happens because reading creates the illusion it is a simple, effortless and automatic activity but the process builds on complex cognitive, linguistic, and social skills developed at an early age. The task is performed by our non-conscious brain, which gathers a great deal of information from the type, independently of what the words are spelling out. Type takes a short cut direct to the non-conscious brain.

Rational decision-making involves cognitive processing as we think through a decision logically; this uses more energy, whereas instinctive decisions are processed instantly on a non-conscious level, in an area of the brain controlled by memory and emotions. This is where it is estimated that 85% of our decisions are made, so appealing to the instincts can make a decision feel easier to make.

In my opinion, if we want to encourage healthier eating, why not use typography and language to prompt customers to buy on impulse and by desire, instead of presenting it as a conscious and rational choice?

The below both contain the same snack bar, which would you WANT to eat?

Sight isn’t our only sense

We absorb information through all of our senses simultaneously. This speeds up our ability to judge situations and react quickly and is fundamental to our ability to recognise signals and communicate. This played a vital role in human survival when our ancestors needed to respond to danger quickly, often relying on sound or smell when it was dark and a large proportion of our genes are still devoted to detecting odours.

We live in a visually dominant world, it is estimated that over 80% of all brand communications are designed for sight alone. But less than half of our brain is involved in processing what we see and research shows that all of our senses are important in creating brand relationships.

Our mood can be affected by any of our senses, and it’s important to consider how our senses are processed by different parts of our brain. Sight is largely a rational and “screening” sense, while smell, taste and touch go directly to the area of the brain that deals with emotions and memory, according to psychologist Antonio Damasio.

What this means is that some senses have a more direct and emotional impact on us, creating brand intimacy and trust. Designing for multiple senses is a way to ensure that our work is noticed in an increasingly visually noisy world, to make emotional connections with the audience, and gives us the opportunity to inspire positive change.

Type alters what you smell

The typeface and design of packaging often indicates whether a scented product is masculine or feminine. It turns out this can actually alter what smells like, without us even being aware of it.

Gender stereotypes in typography date back for almost a century, as can be seen in the results of a study from 1933, the results are similar to those from a 2017 Type Tasting survey. We continue to learn and reinforce these visual codes through association and repetition.

In this Type Tasting demonstration two identical bottles of scent have a label placed on them, one in typeface A and the other in typeface B. The typefaces are chosen to reflect feminine or masculine typographic stereotypes, and the perfume has been selected because it is gender-neutral.

Participants are asked to rate where each scent sits on a ten-point scale from feminine to masculine, they smell each in turn and often don’t realise that they are both the same. The combined results from all three events show that Scent A is rated as smelling feminine, scent B as smelling masculine, with almost a 14% difference between the two. This shows that we are influenced by typographic stereotypes because they set up our expectations.

While this is a fun demonstration to prove the concept, it shows how type can be used to improve and enhance experiences, and that it’s time to break the stereotypes!

Type can’t trick people

Type creates anticipation for the experience it describes. It is important that these overlap; that the type creates authentic expectations that positively enhance the experience. In my research I find that when expensive chocolate is presented with an expensive or cheap typeface to describe it, results show that it will taste better and people are likely to pay more for it with the expensive typeface. However, I have found that this does not work with cheap chocolate; it has the opposite effect and even makes it taste cheaper. The disappointment when the experience does not live up to the anticipation, amplifies the disconnect between the two.

We cannot trick people into thinking a cheap product is expensive. However we can use typography to improve the experience of a good product because there is more to type than meets the eye.

Sarah Hyndman runs Type Tasting workshops (www.typetasting.com) that teach typography based on psychology and the senses. Her new book How to Draw Type and Influence People: An Activity Book published by Laurence King is being launched this week.


Sarah Hyndman: How to Draw Type and Influence People


Sarah Hyndman: How to Draw Type and Influence People


Sarah Hyndman: How to Draw Type and Influence People


Sarah Hyndman: How to Draw Type and Influence People


Sarah Hyndman: How to Draw Type and Influence People

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