Using Typography to Convey Emotion

By Stephanie Sprouse

Font choice, much like color choice, is an important part of design and can completely change the tone of a piece. The weight, texture, and shape of a font combine to determine how we perceive the text and play a large part in telling the story behind its message.

Why Is Typography Important?

How you say something is just as important as the words themselves. Anyone who has been told “OK, fine” can attest to that—depending on the tone, it can mean there’s no problem, or that there definitely is one. When talking to someone in person, the slightest inflection can completely change the meaning of what someone says, and it is no different with the written word. Type out “could this line be any longer?” and you can practically hear the frustration in your head. Change it to “could this line be any longer?” and you’re suddenly hearing Chandler Bing from Friends. The words are the same, but the format changes the interpretation. Using typography intentionally can help communicate meaning, convey emotions, and ultimately tell a meaningful story. 

For instance, I get greeted in the morning 3 ways. I can give you an idea of how they differ using font:  

The Sun: Good Morning font example

An elegant script, even digitally, carries the same emotions needed to write in that style—calm, gentle, soft, organic. The sun is a slow greeting.

My Cat: Good Morning font example

Didot fonts provide the elegant tapering of a calligraphic script with the clean sophistication of typed letters. Being a tuxedo, my cat greets me formally with a great deal of class. This is inevitably followed by demands for breakfast.

My Dogs: Good Morning font example

The thick, inconsistent shapes that make up these letters are loud and exciting. This matches well with the play tackles I receive from my pups as they bounce around the room.

Here are a few tips for communicating common emotions through typography:

Personal/Casual

These fonts often look handwritten and have rough edges or other imperfections that make them appear more approachable and friendly. For example:

BlackJack, Quikhand, Tornac fonts

Warm/Welcoming

These fonts also have a handwritten touch but are cleaner and more refined. For example:

Cookie, Gabriola, Rancho fonts

Bold/Tough

These fonts often use all capital letters with heavy weights and no tapering edges. They can have a rough texture but appear more like a stamp than handwritten. For example:

Bernier, Cooper, Vincent fonts

Professional/Knowledgeable

These fonts are clean, light, and easy to read. Their visual appearance is a bit understated to let the words themselves have more of the focus. For example:

Adonis, Dosis, Neutra Text fonts

Playful/Childlike

These fonts are a bit…wonky. They often have inconsistent thickness, chunky letters, and while they can be handwritten, they look as if they were written by a kid. For example:

Comic XT, Margarine, Seattle Avenue fonts

There are also general adjustments to any font, including weight, italics, and capitalization that can change the tone. So, next time you’re about to use Calibri because it’s the default font, try to see if another font would say it better and make the difference between “How you doing?” and “How you doing?”.

Related: Visual Weight Matters in Marketing

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