Does Font Matter?

News flash: Fonts matter regardless of whether you’re publishing in print or on the web. Typographers and graphic designers have long known that, of course.

And after reading this post, I hope you’ll be convinced, too.

The more people who will see a font, the more important it is. Where does font matter? Well, not in an email to a coworker. (Of course, Comic Sans won’t win you any friends.)

But if you’re designing a website or marketing materials, then your choice of font is crucial. You need to do your font homework.

fonts matter, font comparison image

Fonts can feel “formal” or “old” (top), while others can feel “professional” or “modern” (bottom).

How Much Do Fonts Matter?

Fonts matter because they have both aesthetic and practical implications. Some fonts (or typefaces) are better for print, others for online reading. Some typefaces look more serious, others more playful.

The font that you choose says a lot about your brand. Just as the word yes is more formal than yeah, yup, or you betcha, Palatino is more formal than Comic Sans.

But sometimes relaxed or fun-loving is the mood you’re going for. If so, the font choice should reflect that.

Check out some of the most recognizable corporate fonts.

Some fonts are even more believable than others. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris and Cornell pysychology professor David Dunning set out to determine whether the choice of font matters.

Morris and Dunning developed a fascinating experiment to test whether a statement in a certain typeface is more believable than the same message in a different typeface. The statement in question was about the possibility of an asteroid hitting Earth.

Different readers who saw the statement were presented with different typefaces. Some read that an asteroid would hit our planet in the Baskerville font, others in Helvetica, others in Georgia, and so on.

fonts matter, baskerville sample

Baskerville, the font used in many older children’s textbooks, seems to convey credibility.

The result of the experiment was that there was a statistically significant increase (about 2%) in people’s perception of the truth of the statement when it was presented in Baskerville rather than Helvetica.

As Dunning put it, “Many online marketers would kill for a 2% advantage either in more clicks or more clicks leading to sales.”

The implication, then, is that fonts matter a lot.

In one experiment, people were more likely to believe a message when it was written in Baskerville than in Helvetica.

Serif or Sans Serif?

You may know that Times New Roman is a serif font. And you may be familiar with certain font names like Arial or Comic Sans (both sans serif typefaces).

So what’s the difference?

  • Serif fonts contain smaller lines (called serifs) that finish off the major strokes of letters.
  • Sans serif (“without serif”) fonts don’t contain these smaller lines.
  • Serif typefaces are more decorative. They’re generally better suited for print, where they can produce an elegant look.
  • Sans serif typefaces are plainer. They’re generally better for online content because they can be easier to read.
fonts matter, serif vs sans serif font

A serif font (left) has small lines that appear on the major strokes of the letter. A sans serif font (right) lacks these flourishes.

The body text on this website is Raleway. We chose it because it’s a sans serif typeface and it feels modern.

We also think it’s easy to read. But if you disagree, tell us in the comments!

Some fonts have a longer history than others: John Baskerville designed his namesake typeface in 1757.

Final Word

Typography was long an artisan’s craft, and to a large extent it still is. However, computers now allow for fast design, typesetting, and printing.

But just because the technology has improved doesn’t mean that designers don’t need to know which font conveys which message.

After all, when you ask designers if fonts matter, they nod knowingly.

And then they begin weighing the merits of Garamond and Palatino.

Check out this glossary of typography terms or see which fonts are best for which purposes.

And while we’re talking about visuals, we offer document formatting services for clients that produce reports, white papers, and case studies.

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