By Anne Kostick, Partner, Foxpath IND
Not for the first time, The Science Times has rocked my world. In his April 19 article, Benedict Carey discusses, among other things, new research that says that people retain information better when the font is difficult to read.
In a recent study called, appropriately, “Fortune favors the BOLD (and the Italicized),” researchers concluded that information presented in hard-to-read fonts was remembered better than information in easier-to-read fonts. Mr. Carey probably didn’t realize what a bolt of lightning that might be for producers of digital books.
Everything we believed was right, isn’t. All this time we’ve focused on the great digital-book feature of adjusting the font size of text (and as a reader with typical presbyopia, I enjoy enlarging the font size until the number of characters per line reaches a ridiculous minimum).
New research has upended our assumptions: it now appears that font size has no relevance to “ease of learning” (which I equate with “ease of reading”)—it can be as tiny as a bedbug, for all your brain cares—but UNfAmILIArITy oF FOnT makes things more learnable.
You read me right. Throw out all you know about readable fonts, be they Swiss or Metropolitan Transit Authority. Should text be white-on-black, or the other way around? It doesn’t matter.
In the early days of the Macintosh computer, we all suffered from an ailment we called MacBlab, where every document or communication contained at least five different fonts or styles, just because it was SO easy! Then we developed self-control, took the Swiss Design oath of allegiance and cultivated consistency, spareness and restraint.
Not only were we wrong about the usefulness of this approach, we were in the majority—according to another research study , most people are way off about how much they’ve actually learned from a study session.
If only we’d published our works in different fonts and STYLES, especially ones considered diFFiculT, we might have produced books (especially textbooks and other educational products) that really stuck with the sTudenT.
Here’s permission and a new opportunity for e-books: If you want your readers to retain what they read, to truly learn from their face-time with your product, make it more difficult (not easier; get me?) to read the text. Find interesting FoNTs and mix them up. Don’t worry that you’re not a trained book designer. Feel good about yourself, knowing that you’re helping your readers learn and remember. And take a couple of ibuprofen tabs for that headache.
NOTE: DBW has launched an Editorial Forum on LinkedIn, a sub-group for editors and others working in trade publishing to discuss standards, workflow, best practices, and the general Qs that most print people feel when confronted with terms like “workflow.” The Forum is moderated by Anne Kostick and David B. Schlosser. Anne’s weekly column, Digital Reading, discusses the field of User Experience and explores what it offers to trade publishers.
Anne Kostick is a partner in Foxpath IND, a digital-print-web consulting and services company specializing in the transition to and from traditional content development, management and publishing. She is also the editor in chief of Dulcinea Media, an online publisher in the educational market, and is the current president of Women’s Media Group.