Which fonts to choose to encourage action

Which fonts to choose to encourage action

As a magazine publisher - for over 25 years - I've seen first hand the negative impact fancy fonts can have on a person's inclination to read... or not.

There is a growing body of research into the world of typography from a psychological standpoint. Following is a wrap up of findings:

1. If It’s Hard to Read, It’s Hard to Do

Research:  A study by Hyunjin Song and Norbert Schwarz published in Psychological Sciences explains that if people find reading and absorbing instructions difficult they are likely to assume that the behaviour thye're being asked to perform will be as difficult.

The participants (average age 20.9 years old) reported that the behavior would take more time, would feel less fluent and natural, and would require more skill, and hence were less willing to engage in it when the instructions were printed in a difficult-to-read font.

On the other hand a study published in the journal of Tourism Management found when a proposed tour offers relaxation/rest, then easy-to-read font increases preference for the tour (i.e., willingness to pay); but when a tour offers adventure/excitement, a difficult-to-read font increases preference for it.

Action: Consider the outcome you desire and match the font to the situation. Numerous studies have indicated that high perceived effort is a major impediment to behaviour change so, make your font as easy to read as possible if immediate action is your objective.

2. Font Difficulty

Research: A study in the journal of Cognition in 2011 reported that font formatting affects readability. Surprisingly, harder-to-read fonts resulted in better information retention compared to easier-to-read fonts for the children aged 15-18.

Further morem Halin reported in Envonmental Psychology that difficult-to-read fonts can actually shield readers from background noise and improve focus. Conversely, easy-to-read fonts are more prone to distraction in noisy environments.

How to apply: For educational materials and specifically for younger peole, opt for slightly harder-to-read fonts to boost content retention and to help those prone to distraction to maintain better focus.

3. Font Size

Research: Participants in a study by Price, McElroy, & Martin reported in th journal Neuropsychology, Development, and Cognition in 2016 predicted better recall for larger fonts regardless of style. Bold fonts led to higher recall compared to regular or italic styles, with younger adults displaying superior memory and confidence in their learning.

And in a paper published in Metacognition and Learning in 2022, Chang and Brainerd found from their meta-analysis found a small-to-moderate effect of font size on Judgements of Learning (the assessment a person makes about how well they have learned information). They also found a small but significant effect of font size on memory.

How to apply: Use larger font sizes and bold fonts for better recall.

4. Need for speed

Research: This is a hotly contested area. There are as many research findings that serif fonts increase reading time and sans-serif fonts speed up reading, as there are that claim no difference.

However, a study by researches at Adobe and University of Central Florida suggests that in fact there is an opportunity to augment reading speed for individual adult readers by providing different font choices.

How to apply: While it isn't realistic to provide choice for printed matter, the option for font style and size on websites is an option worth considering.

5. Emotion & personality

Research: A study by Juni & Gross in the Journal of Marketing Research found satirial readings in Times new Roman were percieved as more funny and angry than in when presented in Arial font.

While Brumberger reported in the journal of Technical Communication that readers consistently ascribe particular personality attributes to particular typefaces and text passages. And these fonts can be separated into clear categories according to their personas.

How to apply: Match the font to the emotion you want to elcit but keep in mind that people have expectations based on the personality of the font.


These studies highlight how font features influence cognition, memory, and emotional responses.

While this research offers valuable insights, it is important to keep in mind that this is an area of study in its relative infancy. Far more research is needed before any of these findings can be relied on.

Why not carry out your own studies? Try A/B testing to identify which font(s) work best for your objectives.

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