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The vital role of typography in keeping your customers interested

What typography actually is and what typographers actually do proves difficult for many to define. It’s just words and letters, isn’t it? Making them look pretty? Getting paid to choose a font from that drop-down on a Word document? Shouting at people for using comic sans?

It is, of course, a great deal more than that. So much more than that in fact, that companies that get their typography right can advertise successfully based on nothing more than their logo. It’s not just about producing enduring logos either. Typography is all around us, it shapes and guides the way we consume and interpret information. Done well, it enthrals and delights. Done poorly, it can disengage an audience, regardless of how brilliant the content might be. It’s a serious science and as technology allows typographers to become more creative and as companies become more experimental with their typography, there has never been a more important time to get it right.

What is Typography?

The best way to start answering this question is clarifying what it isn’t. Typography is not the craft of creating and designing new fonts and type. That is the job of type-designers. Think of the difference between the two in terms of the following analogy:

The type-designer is the brick-maker, they conceive the style, set the dimensions, and make the product available for purchase. The typographer is the bricklayer, they decide what brick is most appropriate for the structure and lay them in a way that transmits a desired message be it minimalist, rustic, extravagant etc.

So, to put it in simplistic terms; typography is the art and technique of picking the appropriate type and organising it in an appealing way.

‘The typographer is the bricklayer, they decide what brick is most appropriate for the structure’

Why is it so Important?

Humans are emotional beings (some more than others) and our feelings play an enormous part in our decision making. Typography is about conveying a ‘feeling’ and influencing how a piece is understood. A mission statement on the website of a funeral directors might be gentle, empathetic and sombre in content but if the typeface is curly, playful and childlike, the message is lost and the words become redundant. Likewise, a poster for a new scratch-card boasting extravagant prizes would struggle to capture attention and excite, if it was presented in lower case Times New Roman.

Good typography also performs another vital function; it keeps people reading. Done well the reader should barely notice the formatting and be drawn in to the actual content. Think of it like a cinema. If you went into a beautiful, stylish and clean cinema with comfortable seats set at a gradient which ensures a great view from all angles and distances from the screen, you are able to focus on enjoying the film. If the cinema is dirty, the seats wobbly and uncomfortable, the gradient low so the bottom half of the screen is a row of heads, you leave remembering not the film but your experience of trying to watch it.

This isn’t just graphic design propaganda either, it’s backed up by hard research. In July 2012, The New York Times ran an experiment entitled “Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?” Readers were presented with a passage from David Deutsch’s book The Beginning of Infinity where he claims that we needn’t worry as to the threat of earth being hit by a large asteroid as such an occurrence is so rare and we are better equipped now to deal with such an event. Following the passage were two yes or no questions asking readers whether they agreed with Deutsch’s claim in the passage and then whether they believed they were an optimist or a pessimist.

The New York Times were being sneaky though. They were not the least bit interested in whether or not people actually agreed with Deutsch’s claims, or even if people regarded themselves as glass half-empty or half-full. They wanted to know if typeface really could affect how people perceive written text.

What the 40,000 participants hadn’t realised was that, although they were all presented with the same passage, different people received it in different typefaces. Six typefaces were deployed in the experiment: Baskerville, Helvetica, Comic Sans, Computer Modern, Georgia, and Trebuchet.

The results showed that passages presented in Comic Sans inspired the highest amount of readers disagreeing with Deutsch that there was little threat from asteroid Armageddon, with Helvetica running a close second. Baskerville came out as the type persuading most readers that Deutsch was right and in fact we can relax at the prospect of being wiped out by a big chunk of space-rock any time soon.

David Dunning, the psychologist who helped construct the experiment explained, “Fonts have different personalities. It seems to me that one thing you can say about Baskerville is that it feels more formal or looks more formal.” In other words, because Baskerville is a formal type, readers took the content seriously, contrary to how they reacted to the exact same content when it was presented in comic sans.

This might be a good time to look at your website, or the emails shots you send out. Does the font you’re using properly reflect the message you are attempting to communicate? Who is your target audience? Do they require a formal tone? And, if so, how well is your font setting that tone? How credible do your readers think your content is based on the type within which it is presented?

Since the New York Times study, further findings have shown that a professional revamp of graphic layout, with typography obviously playing a critical role, can mean a 20% increase in email list subscribers, an extra 1% on top of sales page conversions and a 150% increase in lead inquiries. These figures ain’t small potatoes. They are business-changing.

The Hub Group know this all too well and with an expertise in creative services, particularly when it comes to typography, they are perfectly placed to make sure that your brand is communicated in ways guaranteed to delight customers and boost growth.

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