Curiosity does’t kill cats

A ‘simple’ brain fart about the link between familiar fonts and studying

Every day we are doing our thing and for the most of us it’s becoming a routine that repeats itself day after day after day. We get so familiar with what we do that we start to take it all for granted. Up to the point that we don’t even notice it at all anymore. From that point on it’s all just auto-pilot driving us. It all just whooshes past and it’s just another insignificant decoration to our day.

Up to here everything goes perfectly fine until a minor hiccup just messes us up completely. The municipal roadworks starts tearing up the road you’re always taking to work. Which makes you take a detour and it’ll take you an additional 5 minutes to get to your office. * hiccup *
Or you just left home one minute later than usual and the traffic light you usually cross, green when you would pass in time, is now red and you have to wait another 3 minutes before you can continue your usual commute to the office. *hiccup*

When something like this happens it wakes us up from our usual habits. It makes us pay more attention to our surroundings and only then we can see that cute, little pigeon eating a rained down piece of chicken that’s left from the market from the day before. Normally we would’ve never noticed it because we would’ve been too caught up in our routine. But now, because something happened that’s different from our routine, we did see it and we were amazed.

Different fonts have varying ‘moods’ too

That same philosophy can be applied to studying by reading books. When we’re reading a book or article that’s printed in a font that’s familiar to us, say Arial or Times New Roman, we tend to take the contents of that book for granted. We just read over all the details without actually absorbing the information it contains, thus still learning nothing. By changing the font the book uses to something different, but slightly similar, it actually triggers us to focus more. Since we think we know the font, but actually we don’t. So we want to focus our brain and train our attention to read it, because it looks unfamiliar, yet strangely familiar to us. As a result we’re actually able to absorb what we’ve read and learn the material easier like we’re supposed to for that final exam we’re taking soon.

For example, when I’m reading a newspaper I read an article once and most of the time I can’t even remember what I’ve read without having to read it again for two or sometimes even three times. It’s just because the newspaper that I’m reading is using the same font for years. The advantage of reading a newspaper article that is printed in the same font for years is that they’re looking familiar. We can read all the articles fast enough before finishing breakfast, or on the train before having to transfer. Just enough to get the topic the article is about without having to actually absorb or remember the whole story. These fonts the newspaper uses allow us to read fast and briefly the news we want to know, fast and within the time we have at that moment.

Actually it’s a very interesting fact that such a small (dis)similarity in fonts can still influence our reading experience that much. Can you imagine the logo of Coca-Cola in a serif font instead of a handwritten font? What would the impact of that have been if they never went for a handwritten logo? Or what if Nike went with a serif font as well? Would they still get the same ‘speedy’ imago as they have now?
I think all typography we see and use ourselves today and yesterday have a reason.

Just think about this next time you are reading the newspaper, watching a movie, or even writing an essay on your own computer using your own favourite text editor with your own favourite font. Every detail of all the things we do or see on a daily basis have a bigger impact on your life that you might think.