In 2010, I looked at a Princeton study that found using harder-to-read fonts actually improved memory retention. Recently, writer Alan Jacobs at The Atlantic has considered that same study (via the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman) in light of what it might mean for e-readers.
Jacobs writes that he prefers the slow, click-intensive method of annotating common to e-ink readers rather than the “easy” method with tablets, because he is better able to remember what he annotates through e-ink readers’ more difficult process.
E-books are in their infancy now: there’s little textual design to speak of, typography is often terrible, illustrations are limited, errors are shockingly frequent. They’ll get much better. But it would be cool if, when they improve, readers were given means of introducing a bit of cognitive friction when that would make the reading experience a stronger one. Sort of like cranking up the speed and increasing the incline on an elliptical trainer.
Most e-ink readers seem to be locked into one font, unlike tablet- or smartphone-based readers that usually offer plenty of font-changing options. But even on the readers that have the options, I’ll admit I’ve never really considered intentionally making books harder to read so I remember them better. And it should have crossed my mind when I wrote the post about the original study—or when I ran across the post from a neuroscience blogger who suggested that easy-to-read e-readers might interfere with remembering what we read.
Anyway, I still find it amazing to consider that there could actually be a useful purpose for Comic Sans.