Typographic Personality (for the fellow type nerds)
An excerpt from "Using Type"
The traditional term atmosphere value, also called feeling tone, is described by Ovink (1938) as “those properties by which [a typeface] excites feelings within the reader”. In his extensive research of the phenomenon, Ovink not only found a collection of qualities like unwieldy or whimsical, he also specified of both book- and display-typefaces, 30 in all, their status with regard to speed (liveliness and excitement), inclination (heartlessness and reserve), pastiness (sensuality and intellectualism), and many other associated properties. Analysis resulted in three general typeface clusters; namely luxury-refinement, economy-precision, and strength. While people are able to attribute characteristics to typefaces, he concludes that the average public will be unable to make the distinction between the atmosphere values of two typefaces which physically resemble each other. Consequently, the typographer “who did not hit upon the specially appropriate type, will not have done actual harm to the transmission of the meaning of the text, but … missed an opportunity to intensify the force of impression of the text in a considerable degree” (Ovink, 1938).
More recently, the term congeniality is often used by both designers and researchers. The term refers to the “correspondence between content and visual form” (Zachrisson, 1965). In other words, congenial typography is the result of the successful use of a typeface, where atmosphere value and the actual content of the words set in that type share meaning. Harmony of form and content is exemplified by a love story printed in a delicate and warm typeface. If the atmosphere value of the type used would be one of rigidity and anger, the effect of that same story on the reader would be gravely disturbed, whether the reader would be consciously aware of this or not.
One problem in congeniality research is the impossibility of generalization. While research has been done using quite a number of typefaces, most studies have been carried out for use with a single application. For example, studying the appropriateness of Bodoni bold for the logotype of a computer company says nothing about the (im)possibility to use it on milk bottles. In an apparent attempt to stress that research can also be organized in another way, Rowe (1982) uses the general termconnotative meaning rather than atmosphere value. She suggests that typeface connotation, preferred product connotation, and connotation of message content can all be assessed separately. This might enable us to use results of one particular study for more than one specific application by matching them with other results.