Are Some Fonts More Believable Than Others?

Are Some Fonts More Believable Than Others?

Are some fonts more believable than others? A curious experiment by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris suggests as much. After polling approximately 45,000 unsuspecting readers on, Morris discovered that subjects were more likely to believe a statement when it was written in Baskerville than when it was written in Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica, Trebuchet, or Comic Sans. Baskerville: truth’s favorite typeface?

Let’s look at how Morris got here: A frequent contributor to the New York Times’s Opinionator blog, Morris encouraged readers to peruse a passage from The Beginning of Infinity, by physicist David Deutsch, on the unlikelihood that Earth will be destroyed by an asteroid. Then, he asked them to take a survey on whether they thought Deutsch’s statement was true, and how confident they felt in that conclusion. “Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?” the post’s headline read.

But the poll was a cover—a ruse to get at the real question, how does typography influence our perception of truth? Morris tapped animator Benjamin Berman to develop a program that altered the typeface of the Deutsch passage, such that it appeared to each reader in one of the six randomly assigned typefaces mentioned above. Cornell psychology professor David Dunning helped design the test.

The results: For every 1,000 respondents, almost five more people agreed with Deutsch’s statement when it was written in Baskerville than they did when it was written in Helvetica. That might not seem terribly impressive, but Dunning assures us that this so-called Baskerville Effect is indeed statistically significant:

It’s small, but it’s about a 1% to 2% difference — 1.5% to be exact, which may seem small but to me is rather large. You are collecting these data in an uncontrolled environment (who knows, for example just how each person’s computer is rendering each font, how large the font is, is it on an iPad or iPhone, laptop or desktop), are their kids breaking furniture in the background, etc. So to see any difference is impressive. Many online marketers would kill for a 2% advantage either in more clicks or more clicks leading to sales.

What makes Baskerville so convincing? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the typeface has, as Morris wonders, a sort of “religious pull” that tugs at something fundamental within us. Or maybe we’re just trained to accept some typefaces as more authoritative than others; perhaps Baskerville was the favored typeface of our childhood textbooks. Whatever the answer, Morris worries about the power of type’s invisible hand:

Truth is not typeface dependent, but a typeface can subtly influence us to believe that a sentence is true. Could it swing an election? Induce us to buy a new dinette set? Change some of our most deeply held and cherished beliefs? Indeed, we may be at the mercy of typefaces in ways that we are only dimly beginning to recognize. An effect — subtle, almost indiscernible, but irrefutably there. (“Mommy, Mommy, the typeface made me do it.”)

It’d be fascinating for researchers to repeat the experiment on a larger scale, enlisting all the major fonts scattered around media today. Who knows how Baskerville would compare with Verdana or Times New Roman? It’s time we get to know our fonts better. Baskerville, stentorian and soberminded Baskerville, is a grave-faced TV anchor reading the news. Comic Sans is our gossipy idiot cousin. Morris has zeroed in on something we all implicitly knew: Typefaces have personality.

City Museum

City Museum

Description from This Is Colossal

A 10-Story Former Shoe Factory Transformed into the Ultimate Urban Playground by  – written by Christopher Jobson on June 2, 2015










Housed in the former home of the 10-story International Shoe Company, the sprawling 600,000 square-foot City Museum in St. Louis is quite possibly the ultimate urban playground ever constructed. The museum is the brainchild of artist and sculptor Bob Cassilly who opened the space in 1997 after years of renovation and construction. Although Cassilly passed away in 2011, the museum is perpetually under construction as new features are added or improved thanks to a ragtag group of 20 artists known affectionately as the Cassilly Crew.

So what can you find at the City Museum? How about a sky-high jungle gym making use of two repurposed airplanes, two towering 10-story slides and numerous multi-floor slides, a rooftop Ferris wheel and a cantilevered school bus that juts out from the roof, subterranean caves, a pipe organ, hundreds of feet of tunnels that traverse from floor to floor, an aquarium, ball pits, a shoe lace factory, a circus arts facility, restaurants, and even a bar… because why not? All the materials used to build the museum including salvaged bridges, old chimneys, construction cranes, and miles of tile are sourced locally, making the entire endeavor a massive recycling project.

The grid is the underwear of the book

The grid is the underwear of the book

Legendary New York book designer Massimo Vignelli describes his process when laying out a publication in this movie by design consultancy Pentagram.
Vignelli explains how he begins a book design by laying paper over a simple grid for positioning images and text, which can’t be seen in the finished article. “The grid is the underwear of the book,” he says. “You wear it but it’s not to be exposed.”

He lists different layout options made possible by his grid system, including several pictures per page, one full page image and one smaller opposite, or double-page photos for the “wow” effect.

Vignelli sketches the images by hand when mocking up the layout as he believes it’s faster for him than using a computer.
He compares the design process to making a movie. “The scale and the pacing of the images makes the book, it’s just like a film,” he says. “The scriptwriter is the author of the book, and I’m the director and cinematographer.”
The film was designed by Michael Bierut of Pentagram for paper manufacturer Mohawk’s What Will You Make Today? campaign. It features the publication Richard Meier, Architect: Vol. 3 released in 1999.

Design Tip: Never Use Black

Design Tip: Never Use Black

design tip: Don’t use black

One of the most important color tricks I’ve ever learned was to avoid using the color black in my work. The problem is, we see dark things and assume they are black things. When, in reality, it’s very hard to find something that is pure black. Roads aren’t black. Your office chair isn’t black. The sidebar in Sparrow isn’t black. Words on web pages aren’t black.

Shadows aren’t black.

An excellent example can be seen in Wayne Thiebaud’s work. Wayne Thiebaud is an American painter known for colorful works depicting commonplace objects, like cakes and pastries. Thiebaud is a perfect example of shadows not being black. His shadows are some of the most saturated parts of his paintings. Now you might be thinking, “Yeah, but those are paintings. They’re not real.” Well, how real do you think our interfaces are to Thiebaud?

Take a blue light the bulb and shine it on  a pure-white ball from her cabinet full of pure-white things (that she kept for figure drawing exercises) and placed it on a pure-white pedestal, under the light. And sure enough, when she turned on the blue light, the shadow cast by the ball was an orange tint, not black.


The darkest part of that image? It’s not #000000. It’s #130f30. (That’s 19% brightness and 69% saturation!)

Black overpowers everything else.

When you put pure black next to a set of meticulously picked colors, the black overpowers everything else. It stands out because it’s not natural. All of the “black” everyday objects around you have some amount of light bouncing off of them, which means they aren’t black, they’re dark gray. And that light probably has a tint to it, so they’re not even dark gray, they’re colored-dark gray.

Lots of the apps we use on a daily basis have blacks that aren’t really blacks, but dark grays. Twitter’s sidebar, Sublime Text 2‘s sidebar if you have Soda Dark installed (which you should!), new Photoshop’s background, the calendar widget. Even Twitter Bootstrap. They all use colors close to black, but slightly muted so they don’t overpower the rest of the elements on the screen.


Here’s a bit of a contrived example… Dribbble has a pretty awesome feature that lets you search for shots by color. If you search for shots with pure black and shots with “real black” which ones feel better? Not the ones with pure black in them.

It’s not only about the brightness (or value) of the color either…

Saturation is just as important.

You can do even better than staying away from pure #000000 black too. Whenever you’re working with grays, add a bit of color to them and they will feel less dull. The amount of color you can add is proportional to how dark the color is. The black from my Path photo had 69%! saturation, whereas a light-gray might only need 3%.

I’ve used that as a general guide when making the color palette for Segment. I mix a small amount of yellow-orange into our grays. Saturation starts at 2% for our lightest gray and steadily increases until it’s at 22% for the darkest gray, forming an arc across the Photoshop color picker.

But don’t take my word for it again—let’s look at Facebook. Why does the Facebook Mobile interface feel so nice? Because all of those grays are pumped full of Facebook Blue.

It’s been a long time coming.

Bottom line is: when you find #000000 in your color picker, ask yourself if you really want pure black. You’re probably better off with something more natural. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try staying away from the left edge of the color picker altogether.