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Disfluency and Ethics

Difficult fonts make for better learning, researchers say. But is that really a good thing?

I was just designing something with a collaborator, and we came upon this debate: is it really “better” to make a flier harder to read in order to improve retention?

You’ve probably seen Princeton’s recent study, which suggests that easy-to-read fonts actually make the content more difficult to remember than harder-to-read fonts. The idea is that when reading simple fonts, our brains oversimplify, we start to gloss over things, and we lose concentration. Are you still with me? So if we’re reading a passage written in a font that’s harder to decipher, the task feels more difficult (called disfluency) and we think harder about what we’re doing.

This has interesting implications for designers and raises some questions about ethics. Back to the debate: by creating the flier, we’re trying to do something good for the brand (have people remember the text, which is an announcement of a call for work) and trying to do something good for the user (help them remember the content of the flier). But in order to make it easier to remember, is it really ethical if you intentionally make the flier less user friendly? Or, do you go the Arial or Helvetica route, make it more boring, but more user friendly, while potentially less memorable?

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AndreaApr 25, 2011

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