Short Survey on Gender in Type

I am a RISD graduate student researching how we perceive gender in fonts.

I’m hoping you all can help me by completing a survey. You just have to decide if 20 fonts are ‘Masculine’ or ‘Feminine.’ Easy and short!

The goal is to aggregate impressions. I will credit anyone that includes their name in the form, and I will share the completed work with anyone that includes contact information.

Currently, I imagine this survey will lead to a variety of outputs: a variable font that transitions between masculine and feminine features; a collection of discussions with type designers about gender; an audit of how fonts are used in gendered contexts. The final work might be something like Painting by Numbers by Komar and Melamid (although, you know, less scientific, because I’m just one person without a budget).

Thank you all so much! I really appreciate your help!

Sorry, won’t let me hyperlink because I’m a new user. Hopefully copy & paste will work

Type design is all about context. A typeface I might consider to be feminine, like a cursive script font perhaps, can also mean elegance if used in a masculine men’s cologne or wrist watch advertisement. The sell is the surrounding design and imagery.
Gender is a sliding scale. So is typography. I can see where you might be going in a variable font, but with that you would be designing two fairly distinct types and the blur between the two could present unintended looks unless you are very very careful, or introduce a third intermediate variable - kinda like with a bad gradient color combination. There is no forcing a typeface into one particular gender container or another (with the exception of custom illustrative display fonts, maybe.)
When I get a chance I’ll look at your survey, just out of curiosity.

Thanks, I appreciate the feedback. I agree that context can strongly influence our perception of a font. This is actually my second time running the survey. In the first, I asked for written responses, and I found that cultural association had an effect. That is, if we associate a certain style of typeface with wedding invitations versus networking event invitations. I’m thinking specifically here of Bickham Script, which was perceived as overwhelmingly masculine in my initial survey.

And, in agreement with your point again, this survey can only offer insight of our gender perceptions in our current context (2020, Internet, probably United States, etc.)

All that said, I would expect that if the typeface itself did not have gendered associations than I would receive near random responses (50/50) for each typeface. From my prospective, that result would be valuable and interesting as well.

I just fixed that for you. Welcome to the forum!

I opened your survey, but found myself unable to pick between the two binary choices. As PrintDriver mentioned, there’s a huge gray area between a masculine typeface and a feminine one. Maybe if you let people rank on a scale of one through ten, it would be more appropriate.

Also as PrintDriver said, much depends on context. There are some typeface that might easily be labeled as one or the other, but for those somewhere in the middle, the context really would be a huge determining factor.

In addition, I don’t typically think in terms of gender qualities when it comes to typography. It’s a factor, I suppose, but it’s difficult for me to separate and view those qualities in isolation apart from all the others that make this or that typeface appropriate for a particular purpose.

I’m curious about what you’re working on in your graduate program. The focus of my graduate work a few years ago was typography and its relationship to publication design. It wasn’t at RISD, however, although I did consider it. It’s a great school.

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Thank You!

I think cataloging use cases will be a next step in this research. While people have difficulty completing these surveys, there is overwhelming agreement about which fonts are masculine and which are feminine. With that understand, I can look at a masculine font and see if it is used generally in masculine settings.

My work focuses generally on queerness and transness within graphic design: in what ways can these concepts be expressed within typical graphic design forms? It is a more natural fit than you might think. A lot of queer theory sprung from post-structuralism, a movement rooted in language. Consequently, queer theory focuses on issues of legibility, signification, hierarchy, etc. which overlap fairly directly with typography. “Queer Design” is fairly new and unusual. If anyone is interested, some introductory people might be Paul Soulellis, Nat Pyper, Nicole Killian, and Be Oakley.

I don’t know if that answered your question! Maybe you were asking what kind of work am I outputting?

No, your answer was precisely what I was asking about. Given that you’re a grad student, I assumed the context surrounding the survey was a bit more complex than your survey might indicate. I was wondering what that context might be. I’m not especially familiar with “Queer Design” or its relationship to typography. I’ll need to look into the references you provided. Thanks!

I guess I had never considered design for the LGBTQ+ community to be separate from mainstream, but I guess there could be circumstances where it would be. Not something I’m really familiar with. Being in the “showbiz” industry, I’ve met a lot of people in my travels, but have not encountered anything specifically separated into what you are terming “queer design.” Not even with some of the specifically targeted event shows we do every once in a while. With those, it’s all about color and context and a typeface that works with the event theme.

In fact, I have difficulty using the term “queer design” as it seems, at least as far as I’ve experienced, the term “queer” is usually considered derogatory if said by anyone outside the demographic.

I’ll look into your references as well.

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I think you should have included a few demographic questions in your survey, such as age, gender, cultural background, etc. That way you could get more out of your data, e.g. if the gender of the respondents correlates with their choices. As a male, I know I had a “male bias” when I filled out the survey. Pretty neutral typefaces appeared more male to me, even though I couldn’t say why exactly, and in the end only the more elegant typefaces made it into my “feminine column”.

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There’s another aspect I would find interesting in your study, by the way:

Do the traits of “masculine” and “feminine” typefaces correspond with the (real and/or stereotypical) traits of male and female handwriting? Females are often said to have a more beautiful, as well as more legible handwriting. If you could conduct a separate survey to check which typefaces are perceived to be more beautiful and more legible, you could then analyse if it correlates and what the characteristics are of the typefaces where it does and doesn’t correlate. My hypothesis would be that “beauty” would correlate more than “legibility”. Straying a bit off-topic, but in this context it would also be interesting to see in how far legibility is a prerequisite of beauty in typeface design, and what is “masculine beauty” vs. “feminine beauty” in type design.

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Oh, and another thought just occurred to me. Did you select any typefaces from female designers as well, or are they all from males? Not sure if that would make any difference to the main conclusions of the study, but it would definitely add other dimension to your analysis.

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Kids can’t read or write cursive these days so that concept of “beauty” may be skewed by age too.

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QueerDesign—I think you are asking the wrong audience to answer your questions. Most, if not all, really good designers tend to think using both their left brain and right brain simultaneously. (I have always had the ability to write forwards with my right hand and backwards with my left hand simultaneously.) So, great designers don’t necessarily think in terms of male/female. We approach all design projects with the client’s product in mind, who their target audience is, and design for whichever gender (or both genders) depending upon the desires of the client. Perhaps you should consider presenting your questions to a different audience and perhaps change the questions, not in terms of typefaces only, but in terms of whether they would think a particular design was created for a female or a male audience.

That sounded a little crazy, so I just tried it. Amazingly, it works, but I need to close my eyes to do it. The backward handwriting looks like the scrawls of a kindergartener, but it’s mostly readable when held up to a mirror. This discovery alone makes the day worthwhile. :grinning:


Just-B—Glad I made your day! Mine is much better than a kindergartner, especially when I do cursive writing. So, it proves my point—great designers are “whole brain” thinkers and users. :laughing:

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