MA Studies > Editorial design > Editorial design alumnus > Frosti Gnarr Gunnarson

Frosti Gnarr Gunnarson

The perception of typography

What I set out to answer in my final MA thesis is whether there is a connection between certain aspects of typography and neurological response, whether the perception of typography is a sensory effect rather than a cognitive one or based on memory associations. I want to see if there is actually a reason for calling a typeface happy, sad, romantic or scary.

I was working at the advertisement agency Ó! in Reykjavík, Iceland when I was told by my art director that a typeface I had chosen (Baskerville) was too feminine for the computer retailers that the advertisement was for. This did not strike me as peculiar at first because I felt the same way but had just been trying to give the ad less of a “techno” feeling.

But why did we both see Baskerville as a feminine typeface? Was it purely our learnt connotations between it and its history? Or is the way baskerville’s forms (characters) are drawn that made us perceive it in a certain way and then translate that into thought and words about it? Baskerville was originally drawn by John Baskerville as an attempt at improving the types of William Caslon. It´s contrast between thick and thin lines, it´s cursive serifs and it´s upper case Q make this typeface an icon of elegance and dignity. This I know, but do I also sense it?

In neuro-scientific research there have been substantial developments in only the past 20 years. With technology moving at great speed, the certainty and accuracy that now is involved is a completely different ballpark than to how it was not too far back. The neurological response to basic colors, forms and sounds have all been documented with exciting results. Books and papers have been published that show the brains responses to music,  happiness , sports and just about any other factor in human existence.

I am very positive towards my research and get more and more excited with each new discovery into the wonders of the mind, it´s capabilities and it´s handicaps. If I get even halfway to my hoped results, I think my findings will be extraordinary and a gamechanger in the world of typography.