Whats Your Type... Literally?
Here, author Simon Garfield offers up some interesting font facts and explains how your preferred choice of typeface really shows off your personality.
by Kimberly Dawn Neumann
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We are living in a digital world, and handwritten communication is becoming less frequent as people type, text, and email messages to friends, family — and even dates. Not surprisingly, people have started to "personalize" their emails by using different fonts. But what exactly goes into each person's preferred selection? As it turns out, the story behind picking the script (or serif, as the case may be) can be very
In handwriting analysis, it's tough to disguise who you are.
"The great thing about type now — which wasn't the case 15 to 20 years ago — is that we have this enormous font choice," says Simon Garfield, author of the international best-selling book, Just My Type: A Book about Fonts. "Our type preference isn't as revealing as personal handwriting, but it is a way of expressing individuality and personality."
In other words, if you're taking your online dating correspondence to a new cyber-level through personalization, you might want to be aware of the fun font facts below.
Font Fact #1: Don't judge "default font" users; they're just being efficient
When it comes to selecting a font, a large portion of people using email will go with whatever their computer assigns automatically… especially if they're busy. In the case of Microsoft Word, the default font is Calibri. And really, there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, Garfield says it's a very neutral, warm and effective typeface that works fine in most situations. "It's likely the most used email typeface in the west," says Garfield. "I think what it says is: 'I'm fairly happy with what I've got, and what I have to say is maybe more important than how it looks to me; I don't want to necessarily stand out from the crowd or appear particularly exceptional in any way when writing my emails.'" So if you get an email from a date that's using a very standard-issue font, don't assume it means the sender's not creative. Rather, he or she might just be putting that energy into other, more important things — like word choice, perhaps?
Font Fact #2: Fonts can lie
In handwriting analysis, it's tough to disguise who you are. But with fonts, someone may give away his or her personality… or keep it cryptic. "If someone really is a heart-on-the-sleeve kind of person, [he or she] may want to express that and maybe would use a script font — that is, one that looks like handwriting — or conversely might disguise [his or her] emotions by using something like Times New Roman," explains Garfield. "The choice of typeface we now have on our computers allows us to be honest or noncommittal." Funny, since that also seems to be a choice that people have to make when they're dating online. Just remember: If you're really looking for your match, it's better not to put on a faux font because you want people to get a sense of the real you.
Font Fact #3: Some fonts are more romantic than others
"I'm aware that readers obviously want to create the best impression online, so I will impart that if you start a conversation romantically online, it's unlikely that you're going to frighten someone away by using Comic Sans — but you probably wouldn't want to use Papyrus," says Garfield. "I would suggest as a general piece of guidance that it's smart to choose a sans serif font for a romantic note." For those of you who don't know, sans serif is simply any font which has less flourishes. Look at the feet (or tips) of the letters; if there are little extended lines — like the ones visible with fonts like Cambria or Georgia — you're working with a serif font. Lop off the feet and tips (like Tahoma does) and you're dealing with a sans serif font. Make sense? According to Garfield, sans serif fonts appear less formal and more contemporary to readers. "If I had to generalize, I would say that sans serif faces are more modern (though they've been around for 200 years) and they have a warmer, homier feel," explains Garfield. "Serif faces are more classic — they've been around for 500 years and are what you're used to seeing in newspapers."
Garfield also suggests that someone romancing via type consider using italics, which might make a note appear "softer" and "gentler" to the reader…as if leaning over to whisper sweet nothings in another person's ear. In other words, if you want your email to read more like a love letter and less like a press release, go for the warmer, rounder, sans serif fonts — possibly italicized.
Also, if you're thinking of breaking up with someone electronically (which we don't recommend if you've already been intimate, by the way; in that case, have the decency to at least pick up the phone), there are some fonts that will get your message across more clearly. For example: Verdana may have a respectful feel to it (again, italicizing can soften the blow) — but for the clingy person who just doesn't "get it," you might want to try a more rigid or technical font like Courier, which sends the message that there's no room for misinterpretation or going back to the
Like a knock-off Hermes scarf or Kate Spade bag, Arial is known for being a clone of Helvetica.
way things were (i.e., when you say it's over, you mean it's OVER).
Font Fact #4: Font preferences are personal
When it comes to art, some people like it modern and some people prefer classic — and fonts are the same way. "It's hard to explain, but certain things just appeal to a person, the way a certain drum beat or use of color works. Sometimes you can't tell why you like something, you just do…it's the same with a typeface," says Garfield. "You want to portray yourself in a flattering light but also a genuine light when writing online, so I would suggest that you choose something that you're comfy with that you would actually use every day." Just as your date would likely feel deceived if you posted a photo taken 15 years ago in your profile, it's good to represent yourself accurately in your choice of font. "It's a bit like if you live with someone…you're not going to go about the house in your best party frock all day," explains Garfield. "It's the same with type, really…you want to choose something that isn't outrageous and that represents you."
Not sure which one suits you best? Garfield recommends taking this online four-question quiz created by Pentagram to give yourself a jumping-off point.
Font Fact #5: Fonts have their own psychological profiles
Curious what some popular fonts might be saying (without you even knowing it)? Garfield — who says there are more than 100,000 different fonts you can choose from — shares his insights on some of those frequented by computer users everywhere below:
— Helvetica is probably the world's most familiar font. Helvetica is Swiss, mid-century modern, it's still cool, and it's on everything you see and touch — including American Apparel undies. It says: "I'm in control, I know what I like and so what if 10 billion other also people like it?"
— Like a knock-off Hermes scarf or Kate Spade bag, Arial is known for being a clone of Helvetica. To some it suggests settling for second best, while others see it as a soft sign of rebellion. Its main attribute is that Arial definitely annoys font purists (Microsoft licensed Arial because it was cheaper than Helvetica, and the designer of the latter died penniless).
— It's the Prince William of fonts; think traditional, but with a twist (except, of course, that it's American and was created by Frederic Goudy more than a century ago). The Copperplate user revels in boldness and confidence, but also a slight unpredictability. Is it a serif or a sans serif font? Actually it's a hybrid, also known as a semi-serif. It's also a classic which will outlive us all.
— This is a 16th-century French font that says class, durability… and a hint of conservatism, too (or at least, a reliance on what's trusted and true). If you want something respectable and warm, Garamond's a fine choice. In fact, it's one you probably know well already, since it was used for printing the Dr. Seuss books and U.S. editions of the Harry Potter series.
— It will make you think that every word you write is good enough for the New Yorker (even though it actually uses Caslon). It looks like something your great-grandparents would have used if they'd had a MacBook Air back then, with every character finely calibrated for the digital age (it was designed as a cyber-font for Microsoft). Georgia's as daring as you can be without breaking any rules.
6. Times New Roman
— At one point the most used and imitated typeface in the world, Times New Roman was originally developed for use by London's famed newspaper The Times in the 1930s, taking up less space than its predecessor while also being easier to read. A lot of books still employ it (albeit in digital form) and its use hints at sobriety, traditionalism and a strict adherence to good form.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a popular New York City-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in such publications as
Maxim and frequently online. A certified dating/relationship coach, she's published two books: The Real Reasons Men Commit and Sex Comes First and is the founder of www.DatingDivaDaily.com. She has a tendency to personalize her emails with Georgia.