Bold for Boys, Script for Girls - Not


Allan Haley in Archive on June 17, 2009

“I’m looking for a typeface to use for a brochure about my company’s line of automated sheet metal cutters – you know, something masculine.”

“I need a happy font for a party invitation.”

It seems that we are continually trying to assign personalities, emotions or other human traits to typeface designs. Perhaps it is a way to make sense out of the seemingly unending array of typeface designs. Maybe we assume that “personality style” is part of every typeface designer’s standard design brief for developing new typefaces. Maybe we do this because font marketers have learned that “humanizing” a design makes it more appealing and accessible to font purchasers.

The problem is that 99% of all typefaces do not have personalities – or any other human qualities. Sure, the typeface Party, as a result of its name and distinctive design traits, is used to set lots of invitations and festive announcements. But this pigeonholes the design and can prevent if from being used in other applications. Party is as appropriate for an ad for women’s shoes as it is for a brochure for educational toys.


In the 1970s, the typeface Souvenir was generally regarded as a “happy,” “friendly” design and gained the reputation of being the “smiley face” of type among sophisticated graphic designers. As a result, it became one of the first typefaces that designers loved to hate. Consider the fact that Souvenir first made its mark as the corporate branding typeface of a major airline. Think the design team behind the airline branding project picked the typeface because it was cute? Probably not.

Want the brochure, brand, or ad you are developing for a client to be memorable and to stand out from the crowd? Then don’t assume that typefaces have personalities. If the client is a tire store, you may gravitate to bold sans serif typefaces. They’re masculine right? Maybe, but they are also overused for automotive products. What if the client is your local church? A nice calligraphic typeface like Zapf Chancery might be good for their logo – and it would be about as distinctive as a glass of milk. A typeface like Perpetua Titling or Humana Sans would be just as appropriate – and would give the church a distinct visual identity.

Typefaces do not have personalities.

Allan Haley
Allan Haley is Director of Words & Letters at Monotype Imaging. Here he is responsible for strategic planning and creative implementation of just about everything related to typeface designs.

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