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The secret life of fonts

Monday, January 3, 2011
posted by Rita Handrich

The new book, Typography for Lawyers, has been getting a lot of attention for encouraging more attractive font in legal communications. The book is getting rave reviews from attorneys who realize that part of persuasion is visual presentation. And we think Matthew Butterick (the author) is onto something. Perhaps he’s been reading social sciences research along with practicing law and studying typography.

Two researchers from NYU examined the emotional punch and persuasive impact of two fonts (Times New Roman and Arial) when presenting satirical readings drawn from the New York Times. Their abstract (below) shows something we undoubtedly all suspected—Times New Roman is a funnier (and angrier) font.

“The aim of this study was to explore the latent affective and persuasive meaning attributed to text when appearing in two commonly used fonts. Two satirical readings were selected from the New York Times. These readings (one addressing government issues, the other education policy) were each printed in Times New Roman and Arial fonts of the same size and presented in randomized order to 102 university students, who ranked the readings on a number of adjective descriptors. Analysis showed that satirical readings in Times New Roman were perceived as more funny and angry than those in Arial, the combination of emotional perception which is congruent with the definition of satire. This apparent interaction of font type with emotional qualities of text has implications for marketing, advertising, and the persuasive literature.”

While the NYU researchers believe the research has implications for marketing—Butterick thinks you should not use either Times New Roman or Arial in written legal communications. His book, which offers alternatives to the use of your specific, habitual fonts, is a worthy read for legal writers (and others) everywhere.

Butterick, M. (2010). Typography for Lawyers. Jones McClure Publishing.

Juni S, & Gross JS (2008). Emotional and persuasive perception of fonts. Perceptual and motor skills, 106 (1), 35-42 PMID: 18459353

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