What I Learned
It’s long been consensus among designers and advertising people that the easier to read an ad is the more people will read that ad (if it catches their attention because the ad person was wise enough to let the designer do their job unfettered). We were taught by our professors and mentors that we should never detract from the legibility of the message. A recent article by The Economist cites material that challenges this commonly-held maxim.
Uh, Oh, New Information
Studies by Princeton University psychologist Daniel Oppenheimer used 28 volunteers, aged 18 to 40, to review material about fictional alien species and then tested them on the material presented. Those who read the material in Bodoni or Comic Sans, harder to read fonts than the control font Arial, retained more of the material. You can read the article by The Economist to learn more in-depth information about the types of material asked of the volunteers. (Why didn't they use Helvetica instead of Arial?)
This raises some questions for me because as a designer my primary mission is to make knowledge more accessible through visual means such as color, form, visual rhythm, and, of course, font selections.
For starters, what was the demographic of the volunteers to this test? If the volunteers were all science fiction fans, the test might not be indicative as the truest and bravest of science fictions thrive on retaining and showing off their knowledge about these things. (Can anyone say fanboy?) If the test group had some artists or designers in the group, then the results could be skewed a little more as these types (this includes me) are already geared for seeing the material as they look past presentation anyway. But, if the demographic was better balanced than these, or had none of them, then the results merit the argument that designers, artists and advertising types recheck their presuppositions about legibility and reading ease.
The immediate upshot that comes to my mind is that now designers would have even greater flexibility in choosing typefaces and fonts for their projects. The spirit of the letters would be released to an ever greater freedom for making impressions upon the designer for the message's final visual manifestation.
Of course, now the designers can have more fun in the projects or face greater challenges in arguing against the clients’ use of horrible fonts such as Arial, Papyrus, or Comic Sans.
Photo from Quenya101