Monday, September 19, 2011

What Educators Can Learn from Madison Avenue -Bad Design Kills

Jonah Lehrer recently wrote about the educational benefits of "ugly fonts", but though the research is a good, it's not really the case that they're ugly. What they are is novel. And novelty is usually a good thing when you have something you want remembered.

In this Princeton study, 18-40 year old test subjects were allowed to read short descriptions of aliens either in a "disfluent font" like Comic Sans or Bodoni (top right) or a "fluent font" like Arial (bottom right).

After a 15 minute delay, participants were able to recall 14% more information if it was presented in the disfluent.

Now Madison Avenue and even the US government have known for some time that font shape, size, and color make a difference in terms of what one notices and remembers, Isn't it time for teachers to catch on, especially if they want their students to remember better?

A future study of course should be with younger students and we would hope dyslexics. Many dyslexics and people working with dyslexic students have noticed that font and color can affect both readability and memorability for text.


Young children learning to read are often confronted with early readers with homogeneously looking words in chubby fonts like the one above from Starfall. If the words are closer together, it may be almost unreadable.

Not ever child has problems, but in our experience, those with limited visual spans do - so much in fact that they may see an increase in their reading abilities if switched to different fonts or even more challenging early readers in which word length vary. If these kids are older late readers who have a strong listened vocabulary, then they may quickly progress with books like Geronimo Stilton (above) that have fairly challenging vocabulary, but visual cues and elaborated fonts to aid the decoding process.

Hopefully the publishers of educational curriculum will catch up to all this. Visual perception principles are not just for wonky science aficionados. They're what we need for the classroom.



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