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Are we really that influenced by typography? Type specialist Sarah Hyndman seems to think so! And it looks like she made converts out of our students following her visit to #shillolon. We had the unique opportunity of being part of Sarah’s ongoing psychological research for Oxford University, and through a series of sensory experiments we all learned a little bit more about both typography and ourselves.

Kate Allen, one of our current #shillolon students, takes us through her experience of an afternoon with Sarah Hyndman.

The best experiments involve jellybeans, a lesson Sarah Hyndman was about to reveal. We were privileged to be a part of Sarah’s type tasting experiment, tasting chocolate, jellybeans and smelling fragrances while looking at different fonts to see if they affected our experiences. Our results will become part of the data for the Cross-modal Research Laboratory at Oxford University who are studying how different senses interact.

If you don’t believe that you can experience fonts beyond just seeing the text, think again.

Sarah introduced is to a game of Typography Karaoke which showed us how we can ‘hear’ fonts. When you read a font in bold you know it’s loud, and when you read a hello with a lot of o’s you can’t help but make that “ooooh” sound—so try to imagine a class full of people saying “helloooo”—yeah, it was pretty fun. This insight is both instinctive and learnt. The way we perceive fonts is of course, influenced by branding and these learnt associations mean there can be cultural differences, so our classmates in Australia and the USA might have had different experiences if they’d been lucky enough to have a lecture with Sarah. 

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As Sarah says, “Design is an instinctive process”, we make decisions as designers based on what looks and feels right. However design decisions, like our senses have also been influenced by tradition and trends, we can’t help but reference what we see around us. Sarah thinks this is part of a designer’s true power, we can recognise this and use it to challenge convention—who says all caps is more masculine?

Sarah highlighted the disappointing reality that typography holds very strong gender stereotypes with associations being ingrained in society. It’s up to us as the next generation of designers to challenge these associations. 

Fonts that have been especially designed for phones and tablets, we haven’t formed deep associations with these yet but who knows what emotions and senses they will invoke in the future. Will there be a time where we feel nostalgic for San Francisco, Apple’s IOS9 font? Who knows. The future of psychology and typography is an exciting one and I for one am intrigued to see where it takes us as designers. 

Big thanks to Sarah for coming in and involving us in her research. Sarah’s recent book, “Why Type Matters’ has just hit the shelves, it’s a powerhouse of curiosity with enlightenment on every page. Buy a copy over here or follow Sarah on Twitter for regular updates. 

Thanks to Kate Allen for sharing her perceptions of Sarah’s visit. When she’s not practicing the pen tool or catching up on the latest Walking Dead episode, Kate can be found sharing hilarious gifs and media tips on Twitter