• Transform magazine
  • May 17, 2021

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The type writer: Emotion-driven typeface design

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Bruno Maag discusses type as a conveyor of emotion

Early humans appeared about three million years ago, evolving into homo sapiens about 300,000 years ago. Despite our achievements, we are still a tribal species grouping together around ideas, ethnic identities, religion, etc. Brands understand this tap deeply into this human behaviour to create brand loyalty through visual – and also auditory – identity.

One thing that all humans have in common, irrespective of cultural background, is that round shapes are perceived as warm, friendly, and inviting, while edgy and pointy shapes signal danger and have a cold, unfriendly expression. This is an evolutionary trait that has allowed homo sapiens to survive and thrive over the past few hundred thousand years. In typography and typeface design we can exploit this phenomenon to elicit an emotional response to a brand’s visual expression. Luxury lifestyle is often represented by typography that is high contrast, or uses very light and slightly condensed lettering. It emphasises the evolutionary vertical bias that we have; it is at the same time authoritative and ethereal.

Recently, we have been able to witness a number of luxury lifestyle brands departing from the norm. For example Burberry, which sacrificed a high contrast, slightly wide typeface for a monolinear and nearly geometric sans serif. It changed a traditional and luxurious expression for a look that can be described as utilitarian and contemporary. It is debatable whether that was the right decision as there is a danger that by following this trend aesthetic the longevity and values of the brand may be compromised.

When choosing the typographic expression for an identity it’s always important to consider the long term positioning of the brand. Typefaces are often regarded as bit players in a visual identity, when in practice, they carry emotional cues that communicate, or without care, contradict, a brand’s intended expression across a broad range of media, from billboard to app.

Bruno Maag is president of Dalton Maag