What Does the Font Say?

We are writing more than ever before—in the US we send 6 billion text messages a day, while every minute Facebook users share nearly 2.5 million pieces of content, Twitter users tweet nearly 300,000 times, and email users send over 200 million messages. How often are we trying to convey emotion in those messages? How often does our messages get misinterpreted? How many people can recall a disagreement that happened because text is bad at conveying emotion? Can fonts convey emotions?

We have ways of conveying emotion in text. We use ALL CAPS TO YELL AT PEOPLE in text. Let them know you’re mad. I use commas, colons, semicolons, dashes, en dashes, and em dashes (just to name a few) to convey more meaning than the words alone. And I just used parentheses. Not to forget the emojis – those which are defaults in our messaging systems and those from early era chat rooms.

ASCII emoticons of the west

The smiley face

:- )    : )    : D     :o)    :]      :3     :c)     :>     =]     8)


The frown

>:[      :- (      : (      :-c     :c      :-<     :<      :-[       :[       :{


My favorite, the rose



ASCII emoticons of the east


(^v^) (^u^) (^◇^) ( ^)o(^ ) (^O^) (^o^) (^○^)



(‘_’) (/_;) (T_T) (;_;) (;_; (;_:) (;O;) (:_;) (ToT)



(*_*) (*_*; (+_+) (@_@) (@_@。 (@_@;) \(◎o◎)/!





And the cool new emojis on phones


Even the font we pick can have an impact on the readers. For example, in satirical readings Times New Roman is perceived as more funny and angry than Arial. While good mood and increased performance on cognitive can be induced by good type design (i.e., kerning, small caps, old style numerals, and sub/superscript features, symmetry as shown below). San-serif fonts are more viewed as more playful than serif fonts. There are many more example of popular press having an opinion on what the font says, and even on font evoking smells, but this is an area ripe for more concrete research done with experimental designs.


We went from spending more time talking to more time writing. With all of this writing, and more ways than ever to miscommunicate, we are also finding more ways to communicate emotion through text and font—in hopes of not being misunderstood.



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