The Power of Font Readability

Fonts are powerful ways of creating branding and mood. For example, Times New Roman is often associated with official documents, while Comic Sans is more playful. Computers support many unique font styles, but just because a font can be displayed does not mean it is appropriate to use.

Fonts have the power to influence more than a users’ perception of a brand. In a 2008 study conducted by Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz people were given identically worded instructions for a set of exercises in varying font styles. Some participants saw the instructions in Ariel, considered an easy to read font, while others saw the instructions in a difficult to read font, Brush. The participants were then asked to estimate how long it would take to do the routine and how ‘quick’ it would feel on a seven point scale.

The researchers found that participants estimated that the exercises would take less time and feel quicker when the font was easier to read. This lead to the conclusion that “people misread the ease of processing instructions as bearing on the ease of executing the described behavior.”
These findings demonstrate how font style can have large repercussions for users.

Articles on the Nielsen Norman Group’s website are an example of formatting that does not cause strain on the reader. Articles are presented in an easy to read font with a white background and bolded headers. Since the styling does not necessitate extra reading effort, readers can focus on the material.

Sample Nielsen Norman Group Article Text
Sample Nielsen Norman Group Article Text

Unfortunately, some websites present articles in ways that create reader strain. The recently published Bloomberg Businessweek Global Tech Issue used difficult to read fonts and abrasive color choices.

Bloomberg's Hard to Read Text
Bloomberg’s Hard to Read Text

Although the articles had a unique and slightly futuristic feel, they were unpleasant to stare at for long periods of time. This may have unintentionally lead readers to feel that the articles’ topics were more complicated than they were. Fortunately, Bloomberg included the ability to change the styling of the web page to make it more reader friendly.

– Fonts are powerful tools for more than branding and style
– Fonts can influence how a user understands the content of your website

Article Citation:

Song, Hyunjin, and Schwarz, N. 2008. “If it’s hard to read, it’s hard to do: Processing fluency affects
effort prediction and motivation.” Psychological Science 19: 986-8.

Article by Alex Poole on fonts: link
Full Research Article: link

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