What do you think about the information in these two boxes?
There was an interesting article in last Sunday’s Boston Globe called Easy = True. It discusses a concept called “Cognitive fluency” which is described as:
A measure of how easy it is to think about something, and it turns out that people prefer things that are easy to think about to those that are hard
At one level, this sounds pretty simplistic. While the overall observation about cognitive fluency may not seem like rocket science, the research findings about how it alters people’s perceptions and behaviors are very useful. Here are some of the insights about cognitive fluency in the article:
- When people read something in a difficult-to-read font, they unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about.
- When a personal questionnaire is presented in a less legible font, people tend to answer it less honestly than if it is written in a more legible one.
- To get people to think carefully and to prevent them from making silly mistakes, make them work to process the question: make the font hard to read, the cadence awkward, and the wording unfamiliar.
- When presenting people with written descriptions of moral transgressions, increasing the contrast between text and background to make it easier to read the description made people more forgiving.
- Psychologists have identified what they call the “beauty-in-averageness” effect – when asked to identify the most attractive example of something, people tend to choose the most prototypical option.
- Auditory cues can shape people’s perception of truth. Phrases that are easier on the ear aren’t just catchy and easy to remember, they also feel inherently truer.
My take: I’ve reviewed 100s of experiences (Web, phone, store, products) for companies and consistently run into problems with less-than-legible content. As a matter of fact, the most failed criterion in Forrester’s Web Site Review is typically our test for text legibility. When I last looked at the data, only 18% of sites had passed that criterion.
The advice I’ve always given is that it makes no sense to create content that your customers can’t read — it slows them down and discourages them from spending time with your company. But this research shows that there are even more consequences — it actually affects their perception about what you are trying to communicate.
This is an important topic for any organization that wants customers to deal with them honestly and to believe what the organization tells them. Hmmm… isn’t that everyone?!?
The bottom line: Text legibility really matters.