A "sans serif" type has no little feet (or "arms") sticking out. Therefore there are fewer clues to the eyes -- it has to be read a little slower. Sans serif fonts often thus appear "uglier" to us. But there is a story there and a reason to use a clumsy font anyway. Read on (the article below is itself using "Comic Sans Serif" font):
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Ugly Font May Improve Learning
By Madeleine Genner and Darren Osborne
ABC News, May 30, 2011
Inspired by comic strips and hated by font designers, new research suggests Comic Sans may help people remember what they read.
Comic Sans was released by Microsoft in 1994, as a font that looked friendly and childlike but most importantly did not look 'techie'.
But the font does not enjoy overwhelming support. A few years ago there was an internet campaign to have it banned, and there are forums where designers and typographers whinge about the font's awkward weighting and haphazard kerning.
US researchers from Princeton University and Indiana University decided to test what affect 'difficult to read' fonts such as Comic Sans have on learning and retention.
They recruited 28 volunteers to complete a task that involved remembering a set of features for three fictional characters.
One group received the list in 16-point Arial font, while the other two groups received lists printed using 12-point Comic Sans MS or 12-point Bodoni MT.
Connor Diemand-Yauman, lead author of the study published in the journal Cognition, says the results showed Comic Sans has its advantages.
"The study in our paper found that in a very controlled laboratory setting we could improve our subject's memory of certain facts by having them read information that was written in a font that was slightly more difficult to read," he told ABC Radio National.
"Participants remembered the information significantly better if it was in a font that was harder to read. We were real excited by this finding."
In the second part of their study, Mr Diemand-Yauman and colleagues moved their experiment into the classroom.
"For the second study all we did was take the reading material of students from six different classes, over 220 students, and we just changed the fonts to make it a little more difficult to read," Mr Diemand-Yauman said.
Students were randomly assigned to a disfluent group and given reading material in a hard-to-read font such as Comic Sans or Monotype Corsiva, or to a control group.
"Students [in the disfluent group] significantly remembered the information better because it felt slightly more difficult," Mr Diemand-Yauman said.
Challenging our visual cortex
Jonah Lehrer is a neuroscience writer and a contributing editor to Wired Magazine. He fears that e-readers, with their crisp fonts and clear display, could make our brains lazy.
"I do worry that it will become so easy for the brain to read on an e-reader that we may actually start to see a decrease in what we remember and take away from a book," Mr Lehrer told ABC Radio National.
"This is all just speculation, but what really interests me is this surprising link between the difficulty of reading and what we actually remember from it."
But according to Mr Lehrer our brains are likely to adapt in order to deal with the new technology, we just do not know how that will happen.
"It's important to remember that a good third of our visual cortex ... is devoted to literacy, reading. This 5000-year-old cultural invention has usurped a huge chunk of the brain," he said.
"One of the trade-offs of this is that people who can read are a little worse at 'quote-unquote' reading the natural world and remembering objects such as plants and animals, because so much of our visual vortex is devoted to letters, syllables, and words."
Mr Lehrer suggests using cognitive psychology studies such as Mr Diemand-Yauman's to improve our learning.
"Maybe we should read every book on an e-reader in Comic Sans," he said.
"Little things like that could help us do a better job of dealing with the inevitable tradeoffs."