Friend of IBD Steve Dimse sent us a simple email titled “Score one for Comic Sans!” The only content of the message was a hyperlink. The exclamation point made me suspicious, but I love spam (junk email and canned meat) so I clicked on the link. Steve let the link do the talking.
Let’s face it: Paul and I are hacks who have lured you to this website with false promises of providing insight into interpretive design. But if there is one thing that you can count on with IBD, it is Paul’s position on Comic Sans and my position on Papyrus (that and the fact that Lisa Brochu positions herself a far away from us as possible). That’s where comments about us being hacks, one-trick ponies, and broken records come from our wives.
Steve’s email echoes that sentiment with his exclamation point (maybe I’m just being overly sensitive) and the use of research (which should be saved for serious blogs). Since Steve didn’t explain the link, I was forced to read it instead of just looking at the pictures. The post from Jonah Lehrer is on the Frontal Cortex on Wired magazine’s website. Titled “The Educational Benefit of Ugly Fonts,” it had me at The.
The first concept that Lehrer presents is that research has proven that the more effort that someone has to put into learning, the more likely they are to remember it. In fact if you add rather than remove obstacles to learning, more is learned for a longer time. There’s new research in cognition from a collection of Princeton psychologists, Connor Diemand-Yauman, Daniel M. Oppenheimer, and Erikka B. Vaughan, who write about disfluency, which is defined by the authors as making the educational material harder to learn. Here’s what they said:
There is strong theoretical justification to believe that disﬂuency could lead to improved retention and classroom performance. Disﬂuency has been shown to lead people to process information more deeply, more abstractly, more carefully, and yield better comprehension, all of which are critical to effective learning.
Perhaps Paul and I owe you an apology for what we have been writing for years (and for that embarrassing incident in Las Vegas) but removing as many obstacles as possible in order to improve communication of interpretive messages is our story and we are sticking to it.
Here’s the interesting part (I know you have been waiting for this moment over the last two years): In the second portion of the study the researchers took standard instructional pieces (worksheets, handouts, PowerPoint presentations) and presented them to students in two formats. One was presented in Helvetica and Arial (IBD approved) and the second format was presented in Monotype Corsiva, Comic Sans Italicized, and Haettenshweiler (as is Comic Sans was not enough, but italicized, really). Okay, now here’s the interesting part, those students that used the materials in the second group (with Comic Sans Italicized) scored significantly higher.
This study demonstrated that student retention of material across a wide range of subjects (science and humanities classes) and difficulty levels (regular, Honors and Advanced Placement) can be signiﬁcantly improved in naturalistic settings by presenting reading material in a format that is slightly harder to read. The potential for improving educational practices through cognitive interventions is immense. If a simple change of font can signiﬁcantly increase student performance, one can only imagine the number of beneﬁcial cognitive interventions waiting to be discovered. Fluency demonstrates how we have the potential to make big improvements in the performance of our students and education system as a whole.
How does can this be applied to interpretation? Don’t go all Haettenshweiler on you new exhibit project. We want our visitors to read and retain our themes but they have to be appealing to read in the first place. We also have to remember their motivations and their non-captive status, unlike the captive students. We are expected to know our audiences and adapt to meet their needs while still getting our messages across to them. Keeping the message clean, clear, and concise will improve your change of success.
And is it just me or does it seem strange that Wired magazine is still printed?