Monday, September 17, 2012

Did Errol Morris Crown Baskerville "King of Typefaces"?

Baskerville, the trustworthy type
Hunter Communications recommended reading from:
The New York Times

Link to article:
Hear All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth

(This NY Times link is a long article, actually the lynchpin in a series of three.  But don't be scared off, and you will discover a treasure chest of unexpected knowledge.) Documentarian and scholar Errol Morris started off innocuously enough with a quiz to determine "How optimistic or pessimistic are you?" But this was pure subterfuge, and the actual experiment was buried in the form, rather than the function of the quiz.  What he was really measuring was the comparative trust value of various typefaces, in other words, would the reader agree with a statement more if the typeface made it LOOK more believable?  Morris thought he knew the answers before he started, until he found that one typeface, Baskerville, had a rather startling advantage in trust and believability.

Excerpt: "But is there a typeface that promotes, engenders a belief that a sentence is true? Or at least nudges us in that direction? And indeed there is.

It is Baskerville...

I called Professor Dunning.

DAVID DUNNING: Baskerville seems to be the king of fonts. What I did is I pushed and pulled at the data and threw nasty criteria at it. But it is clear in the data that Baskerville is different from the other fonts in terms of the response it is soliciting. Now, it may seem small but it is impressive.

ERROL MORRIS: I am completely surprised by this. If you asked me in advance, I would have guessed Georgia or Computer Modern, something that has the imprimatur of, I don’t know, truth — truthiness.

DAVID DUNNING: The word that comes to my mind is gravitas. There are some fonts that are informal — Comic Sans, obviously — and other fonts that are a little bit more tuxedo. It seems to me that Georgia is slightly tuxedo. Computer Modern is a little bit more tuxedo and Baskerville has just a tad more starchiness. I would have expected that if you are going to have a winner in Baskerville, you are also going to have a winner in Computer Modern. But we did not. And there can be a number of explanations for that. Maybe there is a slight difference in how they are rendered in PCs or laptops that causes the starch in Computer Modern to be a little softer than the starch in Baskerville."

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