The Scholarly Kitchen sends us this TEDx talk by Sarah Hyndman whose website (plus associated blog) is called Type Tasting. Her message is that typefaces are not inert designs. They are a bit like clothing that words put on. People intuitively recognize that what they chose to wear affects others’ reaction to them — you don’t wear shorts and a T-shirt to a job interview — and we ought not to be too surprised that the same effects can be detected in typeface choice.

If you don’t see a video here please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Ms Hyndman tells us of an experiment she conducted making several people each eat a (same flavor) jelly bean while exposed to one of two different typefaces. The typeface on the left is rounded and comfortable, the one on the right jagged and threatening. Subjects reported sweeter/sourer tastes depending on the typeface they were shown. Ms Hyndman informs us that there’s more research into this effect going on at Oxford. I suppose, if, as seems undeniable, the typeface on a printed piece can alter your reaction to a message, then the typeface you use to write something is likely to affect what you end up writing. (The Scholarly Kitchen does discuss this.) In this blog I address you in Arial, an unfussy, down-to-earth face, which perhaps suits my no-nonsense, bloke-ish affect. Arial is a face I spent a long time abhorring, mainly because it was used by Microsoft’s Windows (I’m a Mac maniac), but here I am using it. (Of course I didn’t actually spec Arial: I picked up and used a template provided by WordPress which happened to use Arial. But I did choose it didn’t I?) I sort of salve my conscience by thinking that it may actually be Helvetica (Arial was allegedly designed to mimic Helvetica and to provide the look of Helvetica without the license fee!) Actually my blog may in fact really be using Helvetica — detecting the difference is rather hard and is I fear beyond me. Other stuff I write uses Palatino, a much more traditional look. I don’t think I write differently in Palatino, but who knows. I expect there may well be slight differences. I did see a tweet from someone recently objecting to setting a Jane Austen novel in Times Roman, mainly I think on grounds of anachronism — but does the businesslike straightforwardness of Times Roman actually affect the reading? These Oxford researchers have lots of material to look into.

Whether we want to acknowledge it or not: Synesthesia rules — all the way down.


* Ms Hyndman says “font”. Old-school sticklers might insist on “typeface”. See Font.