Monday, January 24, 2011

Bad News for Writers and Designers

An article that appeared on last week suggests that unattractive typefaces may help people better understand and remember what they read: "Hideous fonts may boost reading comprehension." The generally reviled Comic Sans is one of the hideous fonts mentioned. A little unique-to-Hudson historic footnote: Comic Sans was the font used on the website of the Hudson Valley Environmental/Economic Coalition (HVEEC), the "astroturf" organization that advocated for the cement plant during the battle over SLC's proposed "Greenport Project." 

The font used for The Gossips of Rivertown is Georgia. We're counting on our readers' well-developed comprehension skills to overcome the use of what we think is an attractive and easily read typeface. 

1 comment:

  1. It's not such bad news, really, in that the article cited is really rather misleading.

    The author of that Salon article admits she doesn't know anything about "fonts" (she means typefaces). And it shows.

    What might seem slightly more memorable for someone trapped watching PowerPoint slides -- the example she uses -- is not likely to have the same effect when reading a longer article, let alone a book. To ignore the context in which one "reads" type (the length, medium, setting, etc.) is to toss aside the most rudimentary tenets of design.

    Moreover, what the study she cites indicates is not so much that ugly type is retained better, but that unusual or difficult type forces readers to focus harder (assuming the reader is trapped and can't choose to stop reading, a big if). But there are tons of unusual type options which are not ugly, but would have a similar effect. But again, we're talking about straightened circumstances and simplistic formats ("worksheets" and presentations).

    If this site had two identical incarnations -- but one in Comic Sans, one in Georgia -- over time one would find that more people returned to the latter, because few would *choose* to read more than a headline in cartoon type.

    Another obvious flaw in the argument is the notion that "stickiness" in design would solely be a factor of type. Readability and retention are also dependent on the complex interaction of layout, color, pullquotes, captions, footnotes, sidebars, charts, icons, graphics, photography, illustration, leading, swashes, bleeds, screen resolution, paperstock, and so much more. To assist a reader in retention, serious designers take all such factors into consideration. Miller's piece reflects little of that.

    Unfortunately, graphic design is one of the least-understood creative pursuits. People with great taste in art, music, architecture, fashion, et al. often are completely clueless about (and even unaware of) type and graphics.

    For example, I'm constantly stunned to see stylish films whose titles and credits are set by someone who clearly has never had any training in typesetting, or thought independently about the astonishing power of type design. On a local level, one need only look at the flyers, sites and signage of some otherwise sophisticated businesses or organizations to see this problem in action. Designers spend a lot of the day gawking at or averting their eyes from Type Crimes in public, much as a chef will try even more than most to avoid eating mediocre meals. The old saw about the making of sausage applies.

    --Sam P.