The many (type) faces of ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Trent Thompson
Nov 6, 2015 · 3 min read

For some time now, I’ve wanted to show off the differentiating characteristics between typefaces. Making it so that anyone can easily grasp those differences and have it be a bit fun. Now, that’s quite a tall order. Typically people don’t usually pay much attention to typefaces as a designer might, which is totally fine. So just recently, I saw this tweet from Indra Kupferschmid

Indra really nails it. She shows off a great way to see the difference a typeface can make when being used and adds a human emote into the mix. The various and subtle differences of Helvetica and San Francisco create their own specific and slight expressions into ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ that we can pick up on. It’s the structure and placement of the head, shoulders, arms, and hands that give way to the emote being sourly indifferent to happily unconcerned.

Instead of comparing only two typefaces, how about 250 of them? Enjoy…

What’s super fascinating is that our brains are doing all the heavy lifting when we see ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. We are wired to see the pattern of the human face and add ourselves/humanity into the simple structure. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics discusses how simplifying a face enables us to add more of our own concepts for what we want that face to be or to emote.

From page 36 of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics

A typeface’s role is massively impactful. With the slightest and smallest detail, a particular typeface delivers a deeper sense of context of the message to the reader.

A typeface implicitly and unconsciously helps a reader understand the emotional environment of the message, be it reading a belated birthday card or a memoir of someone’s personal experience of cancer treatments. Rounded off typefaces can have a playfulness to the content, while serifed typefaces give off the sense of a more traditional and formal feel. The New York Times conducted a study that found people whose statements were in a serif typeface were perceived as more believable.

What reads as more believable to you?

This concept isn’t alien to us at all. The way we speak is similar to the emotive role of a typeface. When asking a question: “What was the score?” to a statement: “That’s my spot.” Our voices change to give the listener more context to better understand what we are trying to communicate to them. Typefaces do the same thing, except visually.

I hope this sheds a little light on the job of a typeface. If you see any text, look a bit deeper and see what it’s trying to say to you or don’t ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

All 250 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯s at once.
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