What is typeface, and why does it matter in technical communication? “Impression Management Using Typeface Design”, which is featured in the Journal of Marketing and was written by Pamela Henderson, Joan Giese, and Joseph Cote, describes the fact that while both academics and practitioners generally agree that typeface design is “an important visual tool for accomplishing corporate communication objectives”, research done on typeface itself has been somewhat inconsistent and does not encompass the many variables and attributes of typeface. For that reason, they created a set of guidelines that assign impression to typeface itself.
What is Typeface?
Typeface, which includes different weights, styles, width, slants, italics, etc., is crucial to technical communication because it is the visual element through which your reader will extract the information. You want to choose the typeface that will be the most suited to your goal and reader’s perception. “Impression Management Using Typeface Design” is quite extensive, but I will focus on a few key elements for a working understanding of typeface.
In the “Impression Management” study, they included analyses using pleasing, reassuring, engaging, and prominent variables. They also considered universal dimensions of elaborateness, naturalness, and harmony, and font-specific design dimensions of flourish, weight, and compression. All of these elements are influences of their subsequent responses. Natural, script-appearing typefaces, for example, were shown to be reassuring and pleasing fonts.
It is important to note that a tech writer might have to make some “trade-off” in order to get the desired response from the chosen typeface. Common and highly readable fonts such as Georgia score low on elaborateness, but high on harmony. These fonts would be suitable for formal printings and advertisements, and although they are not excessively pleasing and prominent, this serves the purpose of providing the reader with a font that they see often (since these fonts are generally common), making it easier to recognize and understand. High readability and clarity is crucial to content that is, for example, long and requires the strict attention and understanding of the reader, such as a manual or set of instructions. It is worth the trade-off of pleasing and prominent in this scenario.
The “Impression Management” study emphasizes reader response and the purpose of the text, which is an essential element both in typeface considerations and in tech writing overall. I believe in a very reader-centered approach to tech writing, in which the reader is always at the forefront of my mind when creating a document. How will they react to this text? It’s important to think beyond the content and realize that the presentation can have a great impact on reader perception.
(When in doubt, choose Helvetica.)
Henderson, Pamela W., Joan L. Giese, and Joseph A. Cote. “Impression Management Using Typeface Design.” Journal of Marketing 68.4 (2004): 60-72. Web.