Is it really that important to choose the right font?

I ran into an interesting article by Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz entitled “If it’s easy to read, it’s easy to do, pretty, good, and true.” Both are connected to the Psychology Department at respectively Yale University and the University of Michigan. For years, they are researching the perception of people on written assignments and you understand, to me as a graphic designer their research is really interesting.

Is it really that important to choose the right font?

Simple versus complicated font

Song and Schwarz have shown tutorials to test persons. The accompanying question was: Estimate how complicated the task is and how much time it will cost.

The test persons assumed that the task set in the difficult to read Mistral would cost twice as much time as those set in the easy-to-read Arial.
With this result at hand, as a entrepreneur you can benefit in several ways.

Make it easy for your customer

If you want the visitor of your website to respond to a call to action, put it in an easy-to-read font.
If you are explaining something about a topic that people usually consider to be very complicated, use an easy to read letter.

Refine your expert status

You can of course also put use to the opposite.
If you want to give the impression that the dish on your menu is complicated to make and takes a lot of time to finish, use a complicated font!

Color contrast

Another aspect that looked at Song and Schwarz was truth in combination with color contrast. They showed the statement “Orsono is a city in Chile” to the test persons with the question: Is this true or not?

easy to read

The statement was shown in both a well contrasting color pair and a color pair with very little contrast. The test persons accepted the first example more often as true than the second one. (By the way: the statement is false. It’s Osorno and not Orsono.)

Repetition is the mother of all studies, but has even more effects

We people need familiarity in order to function. We accept unknown issues and new experiences if they are not too far out of our comfort zone.

Song and Schwarz investigated that aspect as well. It was already clear from the other aspects of their research, that simplicity and clarity have a big influence. But they also discovered that repetition increases familiarity. And with that the acceptance.

Something we know of course, because we experience that ourselves on a daily basis by the bombardment of repeated advertising messages.

Worth the effort

On a webpage that I found quite difficult to read (too much text without headlines or white space, little leading), is a pdf link available at the bottom of the article. In there you can also read about other aspects of the research. For instance about the perception of difficult to pronounce names versus easy to pronounce names. Or how the ticker symbolsinfluence people in their decision to invest in that company.

The biggest eye-opener for me – being an apostle of readability – was that a restaurant could use a more difficult to read font to give the cook a very knowledgeable and expert status. That was new to me.

Do you see more applications for easy to read or difficult to read fonts? Let me know in the commentbox.

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