Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Saturday, November 27, 2021

Villainize that Comic Sans all you want, but it may have an educational-retention advantage over prettier typefaces:

[Princeton University] researchers found that, on average, those given the harder-to-read fonts actually recalled 14% more.

They believe that presenting information in a way that is hard to digest means a person has to concentrate more, and this leads to “deeper processing” and then “better retrieval” afterwards. It is an example of the positive effects of what scientists call “disfluency”.

“Disfluency is just a subjective feeling of difficulty associated with any mental task,” explained psychology professor Daniel Oppenheimer, one of the co-authors of the study. “So if something is hard to see or hear, it feels disfluent… We’d found that disfluency led people to think harder about things.

Along with Comic Sans, the other intense-comprehension fonts tested were Bodoni, Haettenschweiler, and Monotype Corsiva. All these were versus the “easy” Arial — admittedly, as generic a baseline font as there is.

The concept makes sense: If you expend more mental energy toward something, you’re likelier to remember it, just due to the effort. The biggest challenge is achieving balance — using a font that’s distinctive enough to stick in memory, but not so stylistically out-there that it’s an indecipherable chore to read.

And while this information delivery method is ideal for receptive learning, it’s not a good idea for other media messaging:

The traditional strategy is to design all of the information you’re presenting in a way that is as clear and easy to read as possible. This makes sense, I think, because most often designers are tasked with delivering information to an audience that is assumed to be at worst hostile and at best indifferent to the message. But this policy may be self-defeating in non-advertising contexts.

So if the message is meant to be rapid-fire and not particularly deep, then clean font design is the way to play it. For deeper mental penetration, the funkier designs work. I’m not sure all advertising needs to adhere to the former; you want the sales pitch to stick, after all. If anything, the “easy” fonts are best applied to video-based delivery, where just getting the exposure counts. Anything meant to be more lasting, like print and archived text, can go with the complex serifs/sans serifs.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/27/2010 05:11pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Creative, Science, Society
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