Letter Choice: The UX of Uppercase and Lowercase

Recently Target made a huge decision.

And I’m not talking about their admirable stance on transgender bathroom use.

They decided to change all of the letters in TARGET to lowercase.

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Notice the lowercase consistency in the “we’re hiring!”

In the picture above, you can see the lowercase version as well as the original lowercase version on the storefront windows.

In a similar, drastic change, Chobani, the yogurt maker, decided to change their wordmark. What used to be a geometric sans-serif in all uppercase became a custom serif typeface with only the first letter capitalized (like regular English!).

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Left side — Original, Right side — New

These decisions demonstrate a trend toward a deeper consideration of the UX of wordmarks — and more interestingly, a willingness to make a change to something that used to be considered relatively immutable.

Even companies like JCPenney have attempted this change, although it’s not enough of a change to prevent them from closing multiple stores in 2018.

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Not a huge JCPenney fan but I do prefer the lowercase!

Typographic Web Design has a terrific article discussing the UX of letter choice.

The basic idea, in relation to uppercase letters, is that they feel:

important, powerful, reliable, and enduring. The letters are big and demanding.

Whereas lowercase letters are:

informal and tend to feel friendly. Variations in form, rounded shapes, and no initial capital letter give lowercase words a common, conversational feeling.

Add to this the variability of sans-serif vs. serif, italics, bold and other stylizations, and we have a relatively complex equation when deciding upon the use of capitalization.

The Texting Effect

According to a 2014 Gallup Poll, “sending and receiving text messages is the most prevalent form of communication for American adults under 50.”

This is an important development because it means that a large portion of our communication is done via text. As in, the words we send, are text. And text has capitalization choices. Not only that, but capitalization choices are one of the quickest ways to infer tone when communicating via text.

The tone of all caps has changed. 50 years ago, all caps were used to lend importance to a word, to give it weight and ensure that it was seen. Today, all caps is often considered yelling.

You’re acutely aware of this if you’ve ever gotten a text from a parent saying, “WE’RE ON OUR WAY. LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOU.” For them, this may be a way to show excitement, but if you asked a teenager to read the text box, I promise you they’d scream it!

The Effect on Body Text

My primary examples were well-established companies with drastic changes in their wordmarks, but this is a phenomenon that is much more apparent in the body text of websites all over.

A company that has been doing all lower-case from the beginning is Wagamama. Wagamama is a British restaurant chain that specializes in Japanese fusion and is well-known for their ramen and their fun name!

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Notice all lowercase

Reading this body text invokes certain feelings. It’s very relaxed and informal. I don’t question whether I need to dress up to get food here.

I also don’t expect a Michelin star experience and setting a tone that is true to your brand is important because it builds trust with your user.

After speaking with a former manager of a Wagamama here in the states, I learned that this branding goes beyond just their digital presence. Managers were trained to write their emails in all lowercase is well to maintain brand identity.

My Portfolio’s Attempt at all Lowercase

During my first draft of my portfolio, I had used all lowercase for body text. However, there were deliverables that had used conventional capitalization. After doing some user testing on my portfolio, I got a lot of negative feedback about this mix. I even had one tester write, “Using all lowercase is incorrect. The first letter in a sentence should be capitalized.” I found this pretty humorous, that they assumed I didn’t actually know the rule. However, I believe that in order to successfully use all lowercase letters as part of your brand, you must be very consistent.

Summary

The important takeaway from this is that capitalization decisions shouldn’t be made lightly. When researching the benefits of all uppercase, all lowercase or mixed, make sure to do user testing.

A lot of antiquated material exists out that will tell you all caps will make your company look strong when your user might just think you’re yelling at them.

Hey peeps, I love creating this content and your claps really inspire me to keep writing! Feedback and topics you’d like to see covered are welcome too!

I’m a Product Designer at Grubhub working on the LevelUp Team to create branded apps for restaurants.

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