Do funky fonts actually help you remember?

In 1999, two graphic designers from Indianapolis raised a stir when they tried to discourage the use of Comic Sans MS, the silly-looking font designed by Vincent Connare and modeled after the text in American comic books. The designers observed that a font is the orthographic (written) equivalent of one’s tone of voice, and that Comic Sans was essentially like a squeaky-helium voice but in text.

Flash forward to 2011 and a recent study from Princeton University that suggests ‘funky fonts’ such as the aforementioned typeface as well as Bodini MT may in fact boost learning and long-term retention of information.

(What’s the origin of  “funk” and “funky?” Find out, here.)

The study presented information about three fictitious alien species to 28 volunteers. The text consisted of a strange alien name along with seven individual characteristics for all three alien species. Some of the volunteers received lists that were typed in an easy-to-read font such as Arial, while others received lists that were typed in a hard-to-read font such as Comic Sans MS or Bodini MT. Each volunteer was allotted 90 seconds to memorize which characteristic matched which species. Those who read from the hard-to-read lists got 86.5 percent of the questions right.

Another study involved 222 high school students who, over the course of several weeks, received assessment tests in both hard-to-read fonts and the traditional easy-to-read fonts. The students who learned with the ‘funky fonts’ scored higher.

Conventional wisdom tells us that the easier it is to learn something, the easier it will be to remember. Both studies, suggest that disfluency, an interruption of the smooth flow of speech, actually enhances the learning process. How can this be? In a nutshell – it is the increased level of difficulty that makes information stick.

A related phenomenon is when you can comprehend the meaning of words in a sentence even when the interior letters of each word are scrambled. Learn what this ability is called and how it works, here.

Are there words or concepts related to how you understand meaning that you would like us to explore? Let us know, and we’ll do our best.