The definition of font psychology and how to use it

There are a number of different elements you can use to evoke specific emotions in your designs. You can use colors or shapes or layout to create a wide spectrum of feelings in your audience—from happiness to sadness to excitement. But there’s one design element that’s often overlooked that can have a huge impact on your audience’s emotional response to your designs—and that’s fonts.

Font psychology is a powerful thing. The fonts you choose to include in your designs can dramatically change how that design is viewed by your audience—and what kinds of emotions it inspires.

But what, exactly, is font psychology? Why is it so important? And how can you use font psychology to shape emotions in your designs?

These are the questions we will answer in the article below.

What is font psychology?

font psychology

Photo by Julie Johnson on Unsplash

Before we jump into why font psychology is so important (and how to use it in your designs to inspire specific emotional responses with your audience), let’s talk about what, exactly, font psychology is.

In a nutshell, font psychology the study of how different fonts impact thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

People have very different (and, oftentimes, very specific) thoughts, feelings, and associations with different font types. For example, when you use Comic Sans in a design, it’s going to create a very different emotional response for your audience than if you were to use Arial, Roboto, or Montserrat. Or when you feature Times New Roman as your primary font, people are going to associate it with completely different thoughts, feelings, and ideas than they would if you chose Yellowtail or Baloo. Understanding those different associations and emotional responses—and how to use them to your advantage? That’s font psychology.

Understanding font psychology is a must if you want to create impactful designs. Canva’s templates feature font styles and combinations to inspire every kind of emotional association and response with your audience, from fun and casual (like the Black and Yellow Manager Professional Business Card, featuring the Knewave font) to traditional and trustworthy (like the Navy Serif Lawyer Business Card, featuring the Vidaloka font).

Why is font psychology so important?

font psychology

Image via Type Tasting

Now that we covered what font psychology is, let’s jump into why font psychology is so important.

Font psychology allows you to choose the right fonts for your design...

One of the most powerful reasons you should use font psychology to drive your design decisions. It allows you to choose the right fonts for your designs—and gives you a ton of control over how your design is perceived and received by your audience.

For example, let’s say you’re designing a poster to promote your new children’s clothing line—and you want your audience to feel happy and cheerful when they look at it. Choosing a more whimsical script or graphic font is going to create the emotional response you’re looking for—while a more traditional serif is likely to fall flat.

The point is when you create a design, you’re looking for a very specific reaction from your audience.

And when you understand font psychology, it puts you in control—and allows you to choose the fonts that are going to inspire the kind of emotional reaction and response you’re looking for in your design.

...and avoid the wrong fonts

If you want your design to hit the right note with your audience, choosing the right fonts is (obviously) important. But just as important? Avoiding the wrong fonts.

Choosing the wrong font can completely change the look and feel of your design—and, as a result, it can completely change the way your audience reacts to it. For example, let’s say you’re designing a Facebook cover photo to promote your new financial consulting company. In a more traditional industry like finance, you want to inspire feelings of trust and stability in your audience—but choosing the wrong font, like a graphic or script font, will make your design feel too casual. On the flip side, if you’re designing a Facebook cover photo to promote your new personal training business, a super traditional serif font won’t inspire the kind of excitement necessary to draw in your audience—and your design will fall flat.

Bottom line: Choosing the wrong fonts can have a detrimental effect on your design. And understanding font psychology is so important because it helps you avoid choosing those less-than-ideal fonts.

Font psychology drives results

The last reason font psychology is so important? Because it works.

Every design has a goal. And by choosing the fonts that are going to inspire the right emotional response in your audience is going to empower you to hit that goal.

For example, let’s say you’re designing a Facebook post to promote a sale. If you choose fonts that inspire a sense of excitement, that social media post is going to drive people to get out their wallets and start shopping. Or maybe you want to use Instagram to build buzz around a new product. Using a bold font will not only help you stand out in your audience’s feed—but it will also help generate that feeling of anticipation and get people excited to get their hands on your product.

Whatever your end goal is for your design, understanding the impact of fonts on your audience will help get you there and achieve that goal, which is just another reason why font psychology is so powerful.

Want to use social media to drive results? Find the perfect design—and the perfect fonts—to drive results with one of Canva’s social graphics templates, like the Blue and White Fashion Spring Break Sale Facebook Post (which will stand out in anyone’s Facebook feed thanks to Aileron Heavy, a bold, rounded sans serif) or the Coral Photo Collage Raksha Bandhan Social Media Graphic (which pairs a bold serif, Abril Fatface, with a more sophisticated sans serif, Arimo, to pack a one-two punch that will grab your audience’s attention).

The psychology behind the major font categories

You know what font psychology is. You know why it’s important. Now, let’s take a look at the psychology behind each of the major font categories—and what kinds of emotional responses each category will inspire with your audience.

Serif

font psychology

Wells Fargo logo. Image via Wells Fargo Advisors

Serif fonts are the most classic of the bunch; when you use a serif font in your designs, it tells your audience you’re an established and traditional company they can trust.

Some of the associations and emotional responses you can expect from using a serif font in your designs include:

  • Trust
  • Respect
  • Authority
  • Formality

Serif fonts are a great fit for more traditional brands and industries, including:

  • Financial companies
  • Law firms
  • Insurance companies
  • Consultants

Want to inspire feelings of trust and respect with your logo design? Get the look with one of Canva’s serif logo templates, like the Purple Simple Attorney & Law Logo or the Grey Octagon Attorney & Law Logo.

 

Sans serif

font psychology

Google logo. Image via Google

Think of sans serif fonts as serif’s more up-to-date, sophisticated cousin. These fonts are typically viewed as cool, sleek, and modern. Because of their prominence in the tech world, sans serif fonts are also strongly associated with being cutting edge and tech-savvy.

Some of the associations and emotional responses you can expect from using a sans serif font in your designs include:

  • Straightforward
  • Modern
  • Trust
  • Sophisticated
  • Tech-focused
  • Cutting-edge

Sans serif fonts are a great fit for any brand who wants their designs to be viewed as innovative, bold, and sophisticated, including:

  • Tech companies
  • Fashion brands
  • Start-ups

Want to position your brand as modern and cutting-edge? Capture the look with one of Canva’s sans serif logo templates, like the Cream Corner Frame Photography Logo or the Charcoal Yellow Rectangle Architectural Logo.

Script

font psychology

The iconic Coca-Cola logo. Image via Coca-Cola.

Script fonts are much more elaborate and detailed than other font categories; they lend a “special” look and feel that can elevate designs to a more elegant and sophisticated level. Because they replicate handwriting, they also have a more personal touch than other typefaces. Depending on the font, they can also feel fun and whimsical or more traditional and old-fashioned—making script fonts one of the most versatile categories in the design world.

Some of the associations and emotional responses you can expect from using a script font in your designs include:

  • Elegant
  • Sophisticated
  • Fancy
  • Creative
  • Happy
  • Traditional
  • Personal
  • Whimsical

Script fonts can be a fantastic choice for a number of brands and industries that are going for an elegant, whimsical, and/or personal touch with their designs, including:

  • Food and beverage brands
  • Fashion brands
  • Children’s-focused brands

Want to use a script font to inspire feelings of whimsy, creativity, or elegance with your audience? Get started with one of Canva’s script logo templates, like the Light Pink Floral Logo or the Yellow and Black Vintage Beauty Logo.

Examples of font psychology in action

Now that you know some of the major thoughts and feelings associated with each major font category, let’s take a look at some examples of font psychology in action—and what it looks like to use fonts to inspire specific emotional reactions in your designs:

Happy

font psychology

Branding design of Frosty's Ice Cream via 99designs designer green in blue.

There’s nothing happier than ice cream—and the font choices in this ice cream logo are sure to inspire happiness in anyone who’s ready to grab a cone. The star of the show is the script font, which has an old-fashioned feel that’s sure to bring up happy memories of long summer days and beachside vacations. When combined with the straightforward sans serif, the overall feel of this design is one that definitely brings a smile to your face.

Want to capture the look and feel of this happiness-inspiring logo? Get the look with Canva’s Simple Bakeshop Logo T-Shirt template, which balances the Nickainley script font with the classic Montserrat sans serif.

Powerful

font psychology

Ad for Nike. Image via Cuba Gallery

Sometimes, the most simple and straightforward fonts are also the most powerful. In this Nike ad, the designer wisely chose a number of bold design elements—including bold background color, bold photo, and a bold sans serif font—to create a powerful image that jumps off the screen and immediately grabs your attention.

Need a bold sans serif to communicate a sense of boldness and power in your design? Get the look with Canva’s Pink Background Fashion Magazine Cover template, which features a modern (and powerful!) sans serif font—Sifonn.

Authoritative

font psychology

Ad for The Guardian. Image via Ads of the World.

When you need your design to make an impact and show your authoritative side, a traditional serif is best—as demonstrated in this ad from the guardian, which clearly sends the message that when it comes to reporting the news, they don’t take outside influence lightly.

Need to send a clear (and authoritative) message like the guardian? Capture the look (and send your message) with Canva’s Fall Fashion Flyer template, which lets Bodoni FLF, a strong serif font, take center stage.

Sad

font psychology

ASPCA ad. Image via ASPCA.

Not all designs aim to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Sometimes, evoking feelings of sadness can actually strengthen your message and inspire your audience. In this ad for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the designer chose a simple, straightforward sans serif font—which has the somber tone necessary to go with the ad’s powerful (and upsetting) messaging and imagery.

If you want to inspire feelings of sadness to drive home powerful messaging, simple fonts are best. Get the look with Canva’s Gold & White Simple Food Drive Promotion Flyer template, which uses three classic, straightforward sans serif fonts—Montserrat, Montserrat Light, and Libre Baskerville—to get the message across.

Use font psychology to your advantage

When you’re creating your designs, you want to use every element to your advantage—and that includes your fonts. And now that you understand font psychology and how to use it to create a more impactful design, all that’s left to do is get out there, choose your fonts, and start designing!

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