5 Ways Fonts Are Controlling Your Life

You may think that you and your mouse cursor are in control of the typefaces available at your fingertips, but in reality, fonts are controlling you way more than you know. Whether you realize it or not, the typefaces that you interact with on a daily basis - from the exit signs on the highway to the numbers on your wristwatch - are influencing the way you think and interact with the world around you.How does something as simple as a font have such a big influence? Here are 5 ways that fonts are controlling your life right now, without you even noticing.

1. Telling You How to Feel

Like people, each font has a unique personality. Based on their design they can be playful, trustworthy, or edgy - and we all seem to know which fonts fit into those categories without question, as if we understand it in our gut. Why is this? It's because our brains interpret them in a different way than the words they portray. Designer Sarah Hyndman explains this in her TEDxBedford talk on typography:

"Typefaces communicate with our subconscious, they leave our conscious brain to read what the words are actually saying. And that's why we often think that we're not really paying attention to fonts - we are, it's just we're not paying attention to them consciously, but they're still getting in there and they're still talking to us."

Freedom fonts

Fonts are not only talking to us, they're telling us stories and influencing us. The same word in two different typefaces can portray entirely different feelings. Take the word ¢€˜freedom,' for example - using different fonts, we can change the meaning from creative abandon to national independence. By choosing these typefaces, the designer was able to make you feel either child-like or full of patriotic pride. Such is the emotional power of typography.

2. Using Your Memories Against You

So, why did you associate curly-cue letters with child-like creativity and old-fashioned calligraphy with patriotism? It's because fonts are using your own memories against you to get you to think a certain way. In the case of the above example, seeing prints of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution since elementary school has caused you to connect the handwriting style of the founding fathers with independence itself. You have become so familiar with seeing certain fonts in certain situations over the years that now that seeing a particular font - even out of context - subconsciously triggers the memories of where you've seen it before.

Based on memory alone, you can probably imagine the swaggering western font used in cowboy movies, the hard digital fonts on futuristic sci-fi novels and even the flowing script used on holiday cards. Once associations like these become familiar, brands use that familiarity to gain trust with their customers. This phenomenon is why the logo of beloved soda company Coca-Cola has remained largely unchanged for 100+ years, and explains the uproar when Gap and Tropicana debuted new logos, and were forced by public demand to revert back to their former designs.

3. Swaying Your First Impressions

Just as we instantly evaluate people based on the clothes they wear, our brains make first impression judgments based on fonts. In fact, using the wrong font on a resume can affect your job opportunities. A recent study found that recruiters spend only 6 seconds reviewing an individual resume, so if the font you chose is hard to read or invokes the wrong tone, chances are you will quickly be passed over for someone with a more appropriately designed resume.

According to an article by Bloomberg Business, the best typefaces for successful resumes are Helvetica and Garamond - and you should avoid the default choice of Times New Roman: "It's telegraphing that you didn't put any thought into the typeface that you selected¢€¦It's like putting on sweatpants." And by all means, avoid the font designers love to hate, Comic Sans - a lesson CERN scientists learned the hard way when they announced their findings on the Higgs boson with a presentation set entirely in the font, to the chagrin of nearly everyone, including the man who created Comic Sans himself.

4. Influencing Your Productivity

Typefaces have varying levels of readability, especially when viewed on a screen, and considering how much time we spend on phones and computers, this can make a big impact on our productivity. "Working Americans spend almost a third of the workweek checking and reading e-mail," says Rebecca Greenfield in "Your E-Mail Font Is Ruining Your Life: "In a 40-hour week, that's over 11 hours a week reading online communications in fonts that aren't doing our eyes any favors."

In order to be more productive in your email communications, set your mailbox to use a legible serif font like Georgia and avoid san serifs like Arial. Major companies are taking note of what fonts work best on digital devices, and are designing unique typefaces for interfaces like the Apple Watch and the Amazon Kindle that make the digital reading experience better for their users.

5. Affecting the Way You Learn

While information retention is usually linked to learning style, the case can be made that fonts are affecting how much you remember. According to a study done by Princeton University, volunteers presented with information in harder-to-read fonts recalled 14% more than those given the same information in legible fonts. The belief is that difficult to digest fonts force readers to concentrate more, leading to more deliberate study and better retrieval later. "Every day, psychologists are showing that seemingly insignificant factors can have big effects on how we process and retain information," says Connor Diemand-Yauman, lead author of the study.

Whether you realize it or not, fonts are influencing your daily life. A knowledgeable graphic designer can deftly wield typefaces in their designs to craft the perfect brand identity that tells your clients exactly what your company is like without ever having to say a word.