Published on February 11, 2011

The Right Type?

As recent posts may have suggested, we’ve been thinking a lot about fonts lately here in the Stockdale Martin office.

Having last month read and thoroughly enjoyed Simon Garfield’s Just My Type, we this week stumbled across a report published late last year that extolled the benefits of a more complicated typeface*.

The study, conducted by researchers based at Princeton University, looked at the effects of font style on learning and recall. Students were given portions of text written in “harder to read” styles like Comic Sans MS or Bodoni MT. After 15 minutes, they were asked to repeat what they could remember of what they’d read- and were able to demonstrate 14% greater recall than a second group of students who had read the same text in a more straightforward font (Arial), despite finding the “hard to read” fonts difficult to understand. This result, the researchers argue, suggests a link between how well we are able to remember the information we encounter in our daily lives and the style in which this information is presented to us.


Does changing the look of text change the way we understand it?

They attribute this to something called disfluency, which they define as “the subjective experience of difficulty associated with cognitive operations”- or in layman’s terms, difficulty understanding an image, text or experience that (perhaps) should be familiar or easily understood. This disfluency, they claim, can lead to a deeper kind of understanding when it is overcome. That is, when those experiencing disfluency finally understand what they are seeing or experiencing, they understand it all the better for having struggled to get there- and more than this, they remember it afterwards. In the case of the Princeton study, the students who were forced to look closer at their texts ultimately learned better, because they really had to concentrate to understand it.

As a marketing agency, we draw on similar techniques when creating work for our clients. Getting the size, shape and feel of a typeface right is vital when putting together any material designed to be read by other people- the most important thing, after all, is getting the reader to look twice, to engage with what’s written, so that they can take in the message we’re trying to convey. An unconventional font, like an unexpected colour combination, can be just the thing to grab their attention- and ensure that they remember what they’ve seen long after they’ve forgotten exactly how they saw it.

As our design studio grows, we look forward to further exploring the symbiotic relationship between style and content in our work- and to sharing some of what we’ve learned here, on our blog!

*a brief synopsis of the Princeton study is available here

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