User Experience & Font Choice

Creating great marketing materials literally involves thousands of choices, from images and color selection to fonts and font size, bolding, highlighting and even underlining. Each one of these elements may seem minute and insignificant on their own, but each actually carries great weight and importance.

Human beings are funny creatures. Just the slightest whiff of a certain scent or smell can trigger an absolute onslaught of powerful emotion. The merest glimpse of a certain skyline or the sight of just the outline of a certain state can send us spiraling into an ocean of memories and the feelings they engender. The truth is, the tiniest of details can trigger the most powerful emotions in human beings – emotions that we ourselves have little to no control over.

Not only do we have little control over our emotions, but we also have very little understanding of them. In numerous studies, it turns out that what we think will make us happy, does not in fact do so. In addition, we also do not know what we like. Conversely, however, we tend to be adamant about knowing what we like and don’t like and yet studies show our preferences are not nearly as strong as we think they are.

So what does all this mean for marketing? It means that small choices matter. Colors, font sizes and font choices matter, but in order to make the right choices, you have to understand what makes people tick – what they are drawn to – even when they themselves do not. In addition, what people think they like and do not like and what they are actually drawn to are often two completely different things.

Take reading for example. It turns out that some very simple choices in text placement make a vast difference for readability. For instance, one study showed that placing two spaces after a period makes reading easier while other studies show that left aligned text is easier to read than text that is centered.

Ultimately, human beings are essentially lazy – hence the reason we are constantly coming up with time-saving inventions. If you want people to actually read your marketing materials, you have to present them to them in a way that not only grabs their attention, but then further makes it easy for them to read. While many novice marketers might be tempted to use swirling fonts or bold, dominating fonts, the truth is, people prefer what is familiar. We are instinctively drawn to what we are familiar with because it makes us feel safe and secure.

For the most part, fonts in the sans-serif family such as Arial, Verdana, or Helvetica are always going to be the best options, because they are simple, easy-to-read and most importantly of all familiar. This is the irony of so many marketing choices. Designers and marketers are all looking for something that makes them different, sets them apart and makes them stand out and yet what people are most drawn to is what is most familiar.

Sometimes, the most intuitive choices marketers make are actually wrong. Although to be fair, that’s not just true of marketers. In many, if not most cases, the most intuitive choice also turns out to be wrong. Always remember that marketers are also humans. If humans are often wrong about what they themselves like, how well do you think they do at figuring out what others like?

Color choice in fonts is also of critical importance. While once again, marketers may think that a neon color or bold color choice is the best option, the truth is light fonts against a dark fonts against a light background provide the best color contrast. Contrast is actually the most important element when choosing colors for a font. Having said that, there are millions of options just in the white family alone.

Walk into any paint or big box store and ask for white paint. You will most likely be shown a wall of paint sample strips with literally hundreds of shades of white to choose from. While the difference on a tiny sample strip may be almost unnoticeable, when you paint that same color on an entire wall, you will suddenly see a vast difference between a white with a subtle pink tone and a white with a subtle yellow tone. Those tones are what matter.

The truth is, while we don’t always understand the imperceptible forces that move us, we are still genuinely moved by them. While a loud, bold yellow may be off-putting, a subtle yellow tint to a font will actually influence in a different way than a subtle pink font would. The caveat to this, however, is that while color most definitely has a distinct impact on us, our reactions to certain colors are not universal.

When it comes to marketing, user experience is critical. In order to create an experience that users will respond to, however, you have to understand them. While it may seem like the best way to understand your users is to talk to them, that actually has it limitations. Understanding your users requires a combination of listening to what they are saying and listening to the science that backs them up or contradicts them.

James Gorski
In addition to being the editor at designrfix and writing about tech, web and graphic design among other subjects, I love “unplug” and be outdoors hiking and enjoying nature. If you can’t reach me, it’s probably because where I am at doesn’t have cell phone reception.

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