Readability Is Overrated – Fool Your Brain With Fonts

Published: April 24, 2018

by Justin Difazzio

In one of our Friday morning creative meetings, the OC crew learned something pretty amazing about fonts and the human brain. A public school in Ohio changed the fonts of worksheets and presentation materials to harder-to-read fonts, trading in Times New Roman and Arial for script fonts and italics. When compared to classes where the fonts were kept the same, these classes scored significantly higher on their subsequent tests. Logic would seem to say that the opposite would be true, but the research found that when your brain has to work harder to take in the information presented, retention rates are much higher.

Why is this?

Our brains work on two types of thinking. Type one is intuitive and make snap judgments, mostly to keep us safe. Type two is analytical, slower, and more useful for problem solving. Cognitive strain (like the strain we feel trying to read a more difficult type face) kicks our brain from type one to type two, therefore processing that information more deeply.

So how can this work to your advantage? Got a project you want to proofread or a test to study for? Replace those common, twelve-point fonts with something that’s much harder to read. Errors become much easier to detect, and facts become stickier when you’re doing more work to process the text.

Being who we are, though, we wanted to dig a little deeper and see how we could use this information to help us help you. Further research on this phenomenon shows that labels and ads for products and services printed in harder-to-read fonts are actually less trustworthy to the human brain than standard fonts. So while it might help people remember information better, a font that induces cognitive strain may not be the best choice for your new logo or advertising content.

We’re interested to see what else this line of research can tell us about how people interact with media. If you’d like to see the video that enlightened us (and do three pretty neat puzzles), check it out below: