Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Effect of Typeface on the Perception of Email

A scholarly paper about the effects of typeface in email ...

"This study investigated the effect that a font has on the reader’s perception of an email. Based on a previous study by Shaikh, Chaparro, and Fox (2006), a sample email message was presented in three fonts (Calibri, Comic Sans, and Gigi). The three chosen fonts represented a high, medium, and low level of congruency for email messages. The least congruent typeface (Gigi) resulted in different perceptions of the email document and its author. However, no significant differences were found between the moderately and highly congruent fonts.


Email is arguably the most common and popular form of computer-mediated communication. The Digital Future Report published this year by the USC Annenberg School for Communication found that 69.7% of all Americans use email for personal and business-related communication. Similarly, eMarketer reports that 147 million people in the United States use email on a daily basis.

While email has pervaded many people’s personal lives, it is an integral part of the typical work day as well. Within business organizations and educational institutions, email is a prevalent form of communication (Dabbish, Kraut, Fussell, & Kiesler, 2005; Tassabehji & Vakola, 2005). Surveys conducted by Dabbish and colleagues indicate that typical university email users send an average of 14 emails per day and read approximately 30 per day. In the business world, email is a daily part of the typical routine and is often at the center of new work practices (Tassabehji & Vakola). Tassebehji and Vakola reported that one-third of their survey respondents viewed email as a crucial part of their job and half believed email assisted them in doing their job better. Additionally, email was credited with improving teamwork, collaboration, and information flow.

While email is viewed as a rapid and productive means of communication, it is also seen as more impersonal and brief (Tassabehji & Vakola, 2005). Since email is commonly used for personal as well as professional communication, it is imperative to understand the ramifications of personal choices when composing emails. Users can either choose to accept the default typeface of the email client or to change the typeface. Typeface is an important part of visual rhetoric – type has the ability to communicate on its own. Typeface selection can set the mood of the document, provide information about the author’s ethos, and reveal areas of importance. This role is commonly known as the aesthetic or semantic role of typeface or the “apparent ‘fitness’ or suitability for different functions, ... which imbue it with the power to evoke in the perceiver certain emotional and cognitive responses” (Bartram, 1982, p. 38). Researchers such as Brumberger (2003) have pointed out that typefaces can have a persona which creates a mood for text. Typefaces can influence the mood of a document in three possible ways: the typeface may reinforce the text and mood; the typefaces may conflict with the message/mood; or there may be no influence resulting in a neutral effect.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of selected typefaces on the perception of the email creator’s ethos and gender. In addition, the perceived personality of the email document was evaluated."    (Continued via SURL - Usability News)    [Usability Resources]


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