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Read all about it: Simpler fonts make simpler tasks

November 2, 2008 |  6:00 am

The harder something is, the less we want to do it. That goes for most of us, anyway, not those super gung-ho types.

SushiBut the perception of how difficult a task is could be influenced by a number of things. Researchers found that the more difficult instructions are to read, the more that task is perceived as challenging.

Researchers at the University of Michigan worked with 20 students who were given the same instructions for an exercise routine printed in two different fonts. One was in Arial, an easy to read sans-serif font, and the other in Brush, a script font. They were asked to guess how long the routine would take, and were given a seven-point scale to rate the following: how quick it would feel, if it would flow naturally, drag on and feel boring, and how likely they were to incorporate it into their daily routine.

Although they remembered details equally from both sets of instructions, the participants viewed the exercise as written in the Arial font as feeling quicker than instructions in the other font. They were also much more likely to make it part of their daily routine. As for time, they thought the exercise in Arial would take 8 minutes, but in the Brush font, 15.

Identical instructions were also given for making sushi to 27 men and women, in both easy and difficult-to-read fonts. They perceived the recipe in the plainer font as taking less time to make and were more inclined to prepare it than the same recipe in the other font. The findings were published in the October issue of the journal Psychological Science.

So graphic designers, take note: Instructions should be written in plain English — and in a plain font, too.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi / Bloomberg News