Using Typography to Hack Your Brain

The psychology of deliberately making a font hard to read

Sarah Hyndman
Modus
Published in
7 min readMar 23, 2019

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Photo: Carol Yepes/Getty Images

AA central intention of design today is to reduce cognitive load, the amount of effort the brain needs to understand something, so that communication and comprehension are quick and easy. So it was a bit surprising when a typeface specifically designed to be hard to read recently made headlines in the design world. Why would anyone purposefully make a font difficult to read, you might ask, when developments in printing technology and type design have strived for centuries to make words more, not less readable?

The quest for legibility

Lots of research has focused on legibility. In the 1960s Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir tested road signs by placing them on a car that was then driven toward a test audience, who then noted at which point the different text styles and sizes could be read. The result was the creation of a new, highly readable British road and motorway signage system, which subsequently became a role model for modern road signage all over the world.

More recently, MIT and type foundry Monotype collaborated to improve the design and typography of interfaces we read with a “quick glance”—things like our smartphones, smartwatches, and car displays. They used much more sophisticated…

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Sarah Hyndman
Modus
Writer for

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