Typeface Connotation

Matias Ferrari Carlevari, Purdue University


Since the invention of movable type, letters and characters of the Western alphabet have worn many different typefaces. The same way clothing can suggest fragments of the persona of who wears them, it has been suggested that typefaces carry connotative value. The fact that typefaces can non-verbally communicate is an intriguing fact due to the relevance of its textual signification and high usage in daily routine. Harrison and Morris (1967) suggested that typefaces can connotatively reinforce the textual content of a message, provide new and independent meaning for words, offer neutral or minimal connotation, or create a conflict between the connotation and denotation of the words. Research has demonstrated that images travel first from the eye to the thalamus and the amygdala, before a second signal is sent to the neocortex (Seward, 1997). The implication of this finding is that emotional responses to visual stimuli are already triggered by the time we get to think through them, thus influencing conscious attitudes and behavior. Given the potential influence that typefaces can exert on people’s attitudes, visual communications designers must understand the impact the messages they craft may have on their audiences, and avoid possible contradictions between how the message is presented and what was expected of the message. Visual dissonance (Soslo, 1996) an adaption of cognitive dissonance, is the mental stress produced by such contradiction, it is a factor known to hinder the possibilities of influencing attitudes and compliance gaining (Gass & Seiter, 2013). This research quantitatively investigates the connotative value of a set of four typefaces in the context of the Competence–Credibility–Charisma–Compassion Scale—or C4 Scale (Buck & Viera, 2001) as a method to understand the impact typefaces can have in presidential campaigns.




Sigman, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Design|Communication|Cognitive psychology

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