Almost every week I’m involved in creating a deck (PowerPoint set of slides) of some sort. Sometimes it’s to pitch a new product. Sometimes it’s to give the status of a project to a bunch of internal people. Sometimes it’s to teach. Sometimes it’s to sell. Because I’m regularly cleaning up slides designed by others, it’s not surprising that one of the first things I do is clean up the fonts. Normally, however, I don’t explain why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m sure people think it’s just because I have certain fonts I like better. And that’s partially true. Here’s the inside scoop: I regularly clean up the fonts on a slide deck because I’m trying to mitigate the misleading message that’s been sent by the wrong fonts.
Are there Right Fonts?
Wait. Before we get into that question, lets talk metacognition and choice. Big words but simple concepts. Metacognition is exactly what it sounds like – the thinking about our thinking. Most of the time you and I don’t slow down enough to think about our thinking. So when we make a decision, it’s simply based on our emotional triggers and other factors that we’re not aware of. Sure, after the fact we can talk ourselves into a rational explanation for what we chose, but that’s not the same thing as how we made our initial decision.
So our decision-making, like Jonah Lehrer writes about (see that link right above), isn’t as rational as we’d like to suggest. But what does that have to do with the type we select in a slide deck?
The Research is In!
Well I won’t bore you with all the details but here’s the fascinating thing that researchers have figured out. When we evaluate effort – like how long it might take us to accomplish a set of tasks, like how much work it will be to develop a new habit, like how to learn a new fitness exercise, or make sushi – the font selection can dictate our sense of ease or difficulty. Did you catch that? Two groups of people who were given the same exact instructions in two different fonts were asked to estimate how long a task would take. One group estimated 8 minutes. The other group (with the harder to read font) estimated 15 minutes. That’s almost 100% more – in an estimate of a simple and short task!
People assume that hard to read fonts equal hard to learn (or hard to complete) tasks. In fact, in some cases, a hard to read font (regardless of how beautiful and curvy) led people to make absolutely no decision at all.
You can read the study yourself here, or check out some additional resources listed in the article. It’s fascinating.
Fluency affects Judgement
So when I change the font from pretty but hard to read fonts to clean and simple to read fonts, I’m not doing it because I love Myriad or Helvetica. I’m doing it because Blackletter and Mistral are having a negative impact on your message. When it’s easy to read, then people believe it’s true, it’s pretty, it’s good, and it’s easy to do. And since you never present without having a call to action – wouldn’t it make sense that you want people to feel like that call to action is easy to do?
So there you go. What’s your favorite font?