The recent questions I've asked all about how to achieve a special psychological effect in typography, and I think I need to have a better insights on the psychology of typography to effectively convey the readers the effects I want. I know after all typography is about that, but despite reading many articles about italic and bold, only today that I can finally satisfactorily differentiate when to use these emphasis:

  • Bold: introducing definitions or making comparisons, when the emphasis effects shouldn't be fleeting.
  • Italic: nuances emphasis, when the word in emphasis naturally embeds in the reading flow.
  • Underline: sentence breakdown, when in one case nearby words form one group, while in another case nearby words form different groups
  • Quote: wording choice, which can be a new term just being coined, or a sarcasm

But there are more options to make a contrast: color, x-height, typeface, kerning, spacing, all caps, etc:

Source: Colour and typography - A Practical Guide to Web App Success

I'm paralyzed. Is there a resource to learn about the psychology of typography? One of my focus is to document linguistic features, but I want to learn about the topic in general. I'm looking for something like How do designers choose shapes in a design?, or more descriptive like "on average a person stops at an italic word for x second, and a bold word for y seconds".

  • Is the list of recent questions that you've asked really necessary? Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 15:48
  • 1
    @ZachSaucier absolutely it's necessary. It's closely tied to his current question and forces it to appear on the sidebar which allows more users to find related information. I'd say he's done the leg work for the community so we don't have to post comments like "Related: www.GDSE/related" Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:02
  • I honestly think this may fit a bit better at English.stackexchange.com where you are likely to find more copywriters as opposed to designers, but I don't think it's totally off-topic here either, just very broad. Actually, searching English.SE answers some of your questions.
    – Scott
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:15
  • @Scott thanks, I didn't know that there is a typography tag there. But I don't think there will deal with kerning or spacing
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:27
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    That's a valid point Ooker. Like I posted, I don't think this is really "off-topic" here. I merely feel "psychology of typography" is a semester long course and any other answers would be merely links (which aren't great) to long articles.
    – Scott
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 16:38

4 Answers 4


I don't think Psychology is the proper search term to associate what you're looking for in relation to your line(s) of questioning here in graphicdesign.stackexchange.

Rather than Psychology of Typography, look into "Semiotics" and "Interpretation" of Typography.

The extent to which the visual aspect of printed verbal language is meaning-making in its own right, and how it interacts with other modes of meaning in a complex process of semiosis.

Start here: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/7d30/cde598aa0e66f661df1640f54b5b91decd73.pdf

Good luck.

Note: There will still be some ambiguity as you move into this area of study that will give you cause for grief. For example: In semiotical discussions of typography, colour refers to hue (green, red, etc.). In typographical discussions of colour, it refers to the density of the resulting "grey" when viewed from a distance. Condensed type has a darker "colour" from expanded type.


For what it's worth, Typography is both an art and a science. You can approach a study of it from either direction. It's a study of communication. Psychological aspects of it come from that.

I start my first class with "Typography is the visualization of human communication." I repeat myself varying the way I speak the words.

The reason I start with this definition is to compare it with normal conversation between people, say. Voices vary in pitch, volume, cadence, and a myriad of other variations depending on the subject and the passion of the speakers. We whisper, shout, explain, sing, mock, etc. Typography attempts to portray this vocal variation with use of text and space. Pay homage to the way something is "said" using typography. There's a reason that typefaces are referred to as "voices."

Then, I take each letterform, one-by-one, identifying all the parts—strokes, bars, serifs, coves, legs, arms, etc. because until something has a name, it doesn't exist. This is done so that you can become better at identifying all the different typeface designs.

Practice makes perfect so a plain-text manuscript is composed and compared with other classmates' work on the same manuscript so that you can appreciate that some layouts are better than others. Rinse and repeat.

There are many texts and workbooks dealing with the subject and everyone has their favourites. There is no one reference.

EDIT: Beginner's books on typography - graphicdesign.stackexchange

  • I understand that typography is similar to voices, but the difference is that you already have a unique voice that portrait your personality when born, but you have to learn about typography.
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 19:23
  • @Ooker You are confused. Each typeface is a metaphor for a voice. For a simplistic example: In this "voice" I can whisper or SCREAM or (think something without saying it) or talk normally. Now, pick another typeface (voice) and try some yourself. You'll only get better with practice.
    – Stan
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 14:40
  • But what is the difference between SCREAM, SCREAM, SCREAM, scream, scream and scream!!!!!!? I've tried to practice, but still not going much far
    – Ooker
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 15:11
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    @Ooker I don't know. I give up. What is it? Which one looks loudest or closer to what you want to express. Try some famous quotations. Then, try some variations of each. Vary the spacing, line breaks, typeface, position on the page, get a book (any one to start and look at the bibliography for references to read/study.) Have FUN. Put the best two into your portfolio. I gotta go. My bus arrived.
    – Stan
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 15:19

There really isn't a realm of psychological research based on typography. In other words: don't overthink it.

There are general rules of typography, and, of course, rules are often meant to be broken. At the end of the day, what matters is context. Is the type you are using appropriate for the context? That's the key.

Your example questions are all fine questions, but not questions with any specific answer--nor an answer rooted in psychology.

Consider type your artist's palette. Just as a painter would have a palette of colors for their brush, you as a designer has a palette of type options.

The painter may follow general rules of color theory, but in the end, they're choosing colors based on what 'feels right' for the particular painting.

And that's what experienced designers are doing as well. Good typography skills are more about experience and intuition than they are about any hard science.


I do not think psychology is the only correct social science you need. Its probably more sociology, history and probably ethnology or anthropology... Ouch. That is probably too much.

Writing systems are cultural. This is pretty obvious when you compare a pictorial writing system to a phonetic one.

But one of the main thing that shape typefaces are the tools used to write.

Serif fonts have its roots in monumental engravings to reduce the risk of the inscription to brake. Some are brush inspired, some calligraphy styles were shaped by the different pens used.

Some fonts are based on the usage, for example, Egyptian fonts that were developed to be viewed at a distance on posters.

Some were developed on ideology, like sans-serif fonts, and some are purely designed with aesthetics in mind, like any art deco inspired font.

All this should be traced with the historical context of each typeface.

Color is indeed related to psychology, but its roots could be traced also in the cultural realm.

Size yes, it is psicológical. It is different to see a humongous thing to see a tiny thing.

Some minor ad just ment s lik e k e r n i n g. are more perceptual choices, but I do not think it needs to be addressed on deep psychology backgrounds.

But in general, I think the historical context is the most important one. One of my favorite readings was one book about the history of typefaces.

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