A few weeks ago Errol Morris asked a question on The New York Times blog, stating he was conducting a survey to determine if people were optimists or pessimists. Turns out the quiz was a cover for a larger experiment he was conducting: do typefaces affect peoples feelings, or more specifically, do certain fonts convey a feeling of truthfulness over others. To do this, a script ran that served the question to the viewer with a different typeface each time, including Times, Georgia, Helvetica, Baskerville, Comic Sans, Trebuchet, and Computer Modern. The result? Baskerville overwhelming conveyed a sense of belief:
Is there a font that promotes, engenders a belief that a sentence is true? Or at least nudges us in that direction? And indeed there is.
It is Baskerville.
I’m fully behind the notion that typefaces affect how people perceive information but I’m not sure one face can represent “truth.” A lot of the tools used by graphic designers – color, scale, shapes, typefaces – affect how a viewer perceives information but the reasons why are largely unknown. Why is blue more calming? Why is a triangle seen as powerful but upside down seen as unstable? Michael Beirut weighs in:
Once upon a time, regular people didn’t even know the names of typefaces. Then, with the invention of the personal computer, people started learning. They had their opinions and they had their favorites. But until now, type was a still matter of taste. Going forward, if someone wants to tell the truth, he or she will know exactly what typeface to use. Of course, the truth is the truth no matter what typeface it’s in. How long before people realize that Baskerville is even more useful if you want to lie?
“The truth is the truth no matter what typeface it’s in.”