Presentation Visual Aids: Some Fonts Are More Believable Than Others

It’s been a while since I’ve written much about designing visual aids. I’m more of a writer than a designer, but I’m completely intrigued by the impact that visual tweaks can have on the success of your presentation.

Fonts are especially interesting because they’re something most of us don’t even think about–the vast majority of people simply accept the defaults in Word, PowerPoint, Keynote, or whatever program they’re using. But fonts can have unexpected influence on how your presentations are received. In an earlier post I pointed out a study that surprisingly seemed to show that readers retained more information when it was presented to them in a font that was difficult to read.

Now there’s another experiment (I love these things, can you tell?) that suggests certain fonts are seen as more credible than others. Documentarian and generally interesting guy Errol Morris created a sneaky survey to see if changing the typeface of an article altered how believable it was to readers. And it turned out that it did.

After polling approximately 45,000 unsuspecting readers on, Morris discovered that subjects were more likely to believe a statement when it was written in Baskerville than when it was written in Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica, Trebuchet, or Comic Sans. Baskerville: truth’s favorite typeface?

It’s probably no surprise that Comic Sans wasn’t taken as seriously as some of the other fonts, but who knew that Baskerville conveyed such authority?

The lesson here isn’t that you should only use Baskerville from now on. But you should put some thought into all of the design choices you make and the impact they might have on your audience. It’s not just the words you use that matter–fonts, colors and images all make a difference as well.

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