We all wish we could be judged by the content of our products rather than the superficial characteristics that may surround it. But, certainly, appearances DO matter. That’s why I always do a face palm when I’m reading one of my posts 1 and I see a spelling or some other form of error 2 because I know that I’ve just undermined whatever brilliant point I was trying to make by looking like a total n00b. I may very well have been unable to convince someone because sloppy written appearance may be interpreted as sloppy thinking.
But enough about me 3.
Errol Morris, writing in the NY Times did a fantastic experiment to test if the font one uses can have an effect on the credibility of what is written. Prompted by a commenter who remarked that his grades seemed to vary depending on the font he used, Morris devised an experiment which made his blog readers his unwitting test subjects 4. With a test group of 45,000 persons (!), and a bunch of fancy pants statistical work courtesy of a couple of pointy headed academics, he was able to determine that Baskerville is the font which provides the biggest bump up in credibility. How much of a bump?
I’d call it a 1.5% advantage, in that that’s how much higher agreement is with it relative to the average of the other fonts. That advantage may seem small, but if that was a bump up in sales figures, many online companies would kill for it. The fact that font matters at all is a wonderment.
The least ‘persuasive’ font? Comic Sans. No surprise there. I used to work with a guy who used Comic Sans every chance he got. I think he did so either a) to subversively demonstrate how much of a joke he considered our workplace and/or b) because nobody else liked it.
Why not take a little break before finishing up the post? Here’s a 4 minute music video homage to Comic Sans.
So, how can we use this knowledge? Well, look, it’s probably not going to have a dramatic impact on your personal or professional life but all else being equal, if you could get a 1.5% edge by just clicking a button, why not? How about changing your resume. Jobs are certainly tough to come by and competition can be fierce. Using a font that gets you an extra second or two of review may be what puts you in the ‘keeper’ pile.
For intelligence analysis, I’d obviously suggest considering using Baskerville. Analysts have observed for years that their products don’t seem to have an impact on decision making and perhaps they should take every bit of advantage they can scrabble for. This all goes double if you’re writing something that’s likely to grate against the status quo or preconceived notions5. You’ll be at a serious disadvantage anyway so reclaiming even a small portion of that a could be helpful.
So, Baskerville it is. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to see if WordPress has a font add-on.
- Does the fact that I read my own posts make me a narcissist? I’ve been looking at myself in the mirror all day and I see no signs of it… ↩
- For which I both apologize and, in all honesty, tell you probably won’t change. Your acceptance of my many writing flaws is one reason why I dig you all so much. Rock on. ↩
- At least until the next paragraph ↩
- A note to our dear readers. We would never consider using you as test subjects in any sort of experiment. Well, except maybe if we ever got the Lava Gun ™ up and running or if we thought there was a chance it could lead to us dominating the world. But other than that, we promise never to conduct any sort of experiments on you. Of course, that’s probably exactly what Errol Morris would have said to. ↩
- If only Galileo had Baskerville! ↩