28 January 2010

Processing fluency and comprehension

The Psychologist features a review article by Song and Schwartz on how apparently superficial factors, such as the typeface or colour contrast of text, or the pronounceability of names, can influence our perception of the ease or truthfulness of text content, or the potential hazards of unknown substances, the viability of unknown investments or the potential enjoyment of fairground rides (these latter examples remind me of Monty Python on woody and tinny words). I confess to a slight problem with some of this research in that it contrasts Arial (easy to read) with Mistral (difficult to read, but also not designed for and rarely used for continuous text).

Interestingly, errors slipped in to texts which are in typefaces that are easy to read, such as 'How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the ark?' are less likely to be spotted than when the typeface is made more difficult to read. Lack of superficial processing fluency also disrupts more complex processing of meaning. In the glory days of Neville Brody some typographers were convinced that disrupted typography (e.g. misaligning text half-way across the page) enhanced the content they were designing. Were they right? If yes, not in a good way!

Grist to the mill of information design.

[via MindHacks]

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