The Psychology Behind a Typeface And Its Impact on User Interface

Illustration by Rafika Aulia Rahma

Do you ever struggle when picking the typeface that suits your design? A typeface that can be eligible enough to represent your message embedded in the user interface design. It seems pretty obvious that typeface had a big role in constructing the perception toward the whole design. One of several elements the users would see at their first glance. A crucial aspect that designers need to notice if they really want to get more recognized by the users.

As we live in a world full of images and colors with different shapes and forms, designers need to draw attention to the visual appearance in every design they provided. Users commonly take their first seconds to skim around the design then decide to stay or leave soon. User Interface is build to make them stay and be interested in using the product. If you deliver a message, navigation, or sign with a wrong typeface unsuitable with the design, it could decrease their interest in exploring the design deeper.

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Choosing the right one isn’t too hard If you already know what kind of typeface you need. Before finding the right one, please know about the psychology behind every typeface itself at first. Yup, typefaces also had various meanings and intentions within their different shapes and models. Typeface psychology can help you identify and choose the right one fitted with your design needs and purposes.

  • Typeface value
    To understand the psychology of typeface, we need to dig into its core value. According to Bryan Reimer’s journal that studied typeface design impact on road users, he and his team described two main values founded on typeface design. There is the intrinsic and extrinsic value that lies within the typeface embodiment.
  • Extrinsic: Physical appearance, size, color, contrast
    The extrinsic factors that can be seen from a typeface are its physical appearance, size, color, and contrast. For the physical appearance, a typeface with different application forms may have different functions. A commercial billboard with a huge size of a sans-serif or modern typeface could be used to attract people to see their product’s campaign. It is definitely can be seen from a distance. While warning signage along the toll road may have less big than a billboard, signage is placed for warning people about the direction they may take ahead. It is placed in a certain area and has an entirely different purpose from each other. The color of a billboard can also flood with colorful themes based on what they were campaigning for. Whilst signages often had fixed colors, which depends on what the context of warning and instruction was. Both of those two typeface examples deliver different values based on their physical, size, and color appearance.
  • Intrinsic: Shape, width, height, stroke, slants, serifs
    While the extrinsic value can be seen roughly from the appearance, the intrinsic value is more focused on the typeface’s meaning and interpretation. When delivering a typeface design, designers should know what they really want to deliver to the users. Several factors can be the intrinsic value of a typeface, such as a shape, width, height, strokes, slants, and serifs. Please take a look at the Cadillac script logo; it has a calligraphic typeface on the italic version as their main logo. The italic calligraphic typeface that they use can represent the luxurious car they sell. It established the exclusivity feel within their brand. Users would agree with Cadillac’s branding as they represent the exclusivity with the typeface logo that fitted with their product. Intrinsic value works on delivering a subliminal message beneath the design. It’s like giving a personality toward a design with the right typeface.

Several aspects of typeface psychology can affect the User Interface design. These aspects can be applied to help you pick the right decision on typeface to make a better User Interface design.

The main goal of creating a User Interface design is to make users triggered to do interactions. Design visualization holds the key to the User Interface to become more attractive enough for the users. Besides the graphic and other elements, the typeface is one of the design visualization aspects that impact the user’s impression of the whole design. Make sure that the typeface you already choose suitable for the whole design concept. When creating a commercial design about food application, try to pick a simple yet playful typeface with intriguing colors like red or yellow. Many believe that the color psychology of red and yellow can makes people feel hungry. Mixed it up with the geometric or sans-serif typeface so it can be more attractive and stands-out. The right decision that you make can drive the users to interact more with the design you have provided.

Humans are already gifted with a clear mind to process whatever comes into their vision. As a designer, we should know how to utilize this to enhance the design we provide. We can add the typeface design value to drive the users to believe more. Build user perception so they can merely think that we can prove our legibility.

Personality can emerge from many aspects of the design. A well-fitted typeface is one of those aspects. It let the design to have a distinct characteristic that differs from the other. A well-known brand design like Coca-cola could be easily recognized just by looking at their script logo. There is another carbonated drinks company out there, but no competitor could overpass Coca-cola. The script logo on every product they have has built entire brand awareness and recognition among the consumers. Their calligraphic script logo with slants stretched below the baseline manifested as their personality and will be remembered all the time.

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After understanding the fundamental aspects of Typeface psychology, you need to explore more on the typeface mood. Yup, typefaces have different moods and characteristics. It means they can be used for different purposes based on the typeface characteristic. Utilizing the right one could boost the design you have provided to be more relatable yet more fitted for the target users.

The formal typeface is commonly used for companies design who bring a “class” to their value. It brings a more classical image to the design. Usually, they use old-serifs typefaces like Adobe Jenson, Granjon Roman, or Garamond. The formality can be found in this kind of typeface because of its lightness and simplicity. It can emerge the feel of luxury and exclusivity within the brand. Take a look at high-end fashion brands like Gucci, Prada, or Dior. These brands have been used serif typefaces for their logotype for decades. This is proved that the typeface they used can help establish a luxurious feel to their users. The other functionality of this typeface is used on more formal occasions like finance or lawsuit companies. The serif typefaces itself has been revolutionary changed throughout the times. Old-serifs, transitional serifs, until modern serifs. However, these serif typefaces still bring the mood of formality to the design we provide with.

If you want to provide a design with a less formal intention, try to use sans-serif typefaces. Sans-serif is derived from the serif typeface, but it is more modern and simple. It doesn’t have the serif or little strokes behind. Use this typeface to create a more youthful and non-formal atmosphere in your design. There are several classifications of sans-serif like grotesque, neo-grotesque, and humanist. Both of them deliver more user-friendly vibes through the design. Helvetica, Century Gothic, Futura, and Franklin gothic are an example of it. This kind of typeface is suitable for making an advertisement or campaign design. It’s more bold and attractive for users to look at.

Casual typefaces can be picked from serif, sans-serif, or script typeface. Although it comes from a serif typeface, it doesn’t have any formal value. It usually consists of uppercase and lowercase with a thickened version. Script typeface can also be used for casual purposes. The strokes and slants of this typeface can bring a casual feel to it. The other option you can use is handwriting typefaces. It can also bring casual nuances into your design. You can try Brush script, Pacifico, Bianca, or Mermaid.

If you into the more modern-looking design, you can try using modern typefaces. This kind of typeface is also derived from sans-serif but with the influence of more cleaner, flat, and high line typeface. The modern typeface can be used for technology-related design. It can bring more futuristic nuance to the design you provide. Try on Bodoni or Latin Modern as your typeface.

The display typeface works on the design that wants to deliver playful images to its users. This typeface is usually found in entertainment and FnB company’s design. It is bold, wide, and big for sure. Take a look at Disney’s logotype with a very bold typeface. They want to deliver that their company is family-friendly and playful from its appearance. Or take another example of Coca-Cola, with their bold calligraphic logotype. It can deliver the company a versatile personality that convinced its users and consumers about their market range. You can try using Broadway or Cooper Black as your typeface. These typefaces can bring you the boldness and stands-out statement on your design.

Understanding typeface psychology may help you to pick the right one for your User Interface design process. There are thousands of typeface choices that can be applied for various purposes. Choose wisely, and remember to look back at what kind of messages and images you want to deliver to the audiences. Be creative, and be mindful!

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Contributor: Abdul Hamid

A global brand and experience digital product design agency that builds digital products to move at the speed of culture.