How Netflix Taps Into Font Psychology to Tell a Story and Find Its Audience


Netflix knows that its ever-expanding subscriber base is made up of countless personalities and preferences, and its library of original content reflects that. There are comedies, dramas, sci-fi epics, mysteries, and action romps all just a click away—but with so many different shows to choose from, these series need a unique look to hook an audience right from the main menu.

Whether you realize it or not, one of Netflix’s main tools to grab your attention is its choice of font. Just take a look through Netflix’s original programming menu and you’ll see dozens of different fonts used for their shows, each one designed to give you a specific feel that’s consistent with the series's tone.

Sara McGuire, editor for the data visualization website Venngage, broke down the streaming giant’s use of eclectic fonts and how they influence the psychology of a viewer as they browse through the menus. She first listed the four categories of fonts: Decorative (quirky, fun); Headline (bold, dramatic); Modern (forward-thinking, efficient); and Handwritten (personal, playful). Then she explained that a font could either be Serif or Sans Serif style—the former utilizes embellishments on the end of letters while the latter is more minimalist and less formal.

McGuire says “design plays a big role in how we perceive the value of a product,” and that extends to how these fonts remain faithful to what you'll experience when watching each show. 

The Crown, for example, has a font that McGuire describes as a Headline with a Serif style, which gives it a “traditional and respectable” feel, much like the Royal Family itself. Meanwhile, Luke Cage has a decorative font, serving as a callback to the bold, in-your-face lettering found on a comic book cover. And if you watched the show, you’ll know the font’s granite lettering is a perfect fit for the bulletproof superhero from Harlem.

Then there are some that are a bit more obvious, like GLOW’s decorative neon font establishing an ‘80s setting, Altered Carbon’s futuristic lettering, or Ozark’s signature Z masquerading as a money sign. While these fonts do give a feel for the show, they're more upfront with the information they're looking to convey. 

To get a better sense of what McGuire is going for, try to imagine a series like Chef's Table or Master of None using the rigid font of The Crown or Medici: Masters of Florence. For people basing their opinion solely on the menu picture and font, they would likely have a completely different set of expectations for the series.

Along with posters, trailers, and all the other promotional material, fonts are just one tool Netflix uses to get its content noticed. As McGuire points out, the streaming giant has a firm understanding of a font’s power and its ability to give people a feel for a new series. Next time you're browsing Netflix's selection, take an extra moment to examine the fonts used for each option—it might help you find your next favorite show.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

Michael Putland/Getty Images
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

Dave Hogan/Getty Images

By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

Michael Putland/Getty Images

Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in 2019's Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.