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I read that serif letters are more easily recognizable when you look at them, and because I am working on project linked to the memory, I was wondering if the fact that they are more easily recognizable makes easier to remember a word written in a serif font.

Are there any studies ?

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about psychology rather than UX and would probably better on Cognitive Sciences Stack – Andrew Leach Feb 28 '14 at 18:24
  • Actually, the question is contradictory. If serif letters are more easily recognised, why would a sans-serif font be more easily remembered? Which way round are you asking? – Andrew Leach Feb 28 '14 at 18:35
  • @AndrewLeach Oh I'm so sorry ! I meant "easier to remember a word written in a serif font ?" ! – Trevör Feb 28 '14 at 18:57
  • I would suggest that they are not more memorable if they are indeed easier to read. The psychological evidence suggests that the harder people have to work when encoding memory, the better that memory is retained. – Peter Feb 28 '14 at 19:21
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    Comic Sans is the most memorable font, due to its hideousness. </joke> – Evil Closet Monkey Feb 28 '14 at 19:43
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There is no memory or differences in readability between Serif and Sans-Serif font. While many studies have shown some difference, they are generally methodologically flawed.

Alex Poole conducted a study on Which Are More Legible: Serif or Sans Serif Typefaces?. His conclusion:

What initially seemed a neat dichotomous question of serif versus sans serif has resulted in a body of research consisting of weak claims and counter-claims, and study after study with findings of “no difference”. Is it the case that more than one hundred years of research has been marred by repeated methodological flaws, or are serifs simply a typographical “red herring”?

It is of course possible that serifs or the lack of them have an effect on legibility, but it is very likely that they are so peripheral to the reading process that this effect is not even worth measuring ( Lund, 1999 ).

Indeed, a greater difference in legibility can easily be found within members of the same type family than between a serif and a sans serif typeface. ( Tinker, 1963 , Zachrisson, 1965 ). There are also other factors such as x-height, counter size, letter spacing and stroke width which are more significant for legibility than the presence or absence of serifs. Poulton, 1972 ; Reynolds, 1979 )

Finally, we should accept that most reasonably designed typefaces in mainstream use will be equally legible, and that it makes much more sense to argue in favour of serif or sans serif typefaces on aesthetic grounds than on the question of legibility. ( Bernard, 2001 ; Tinker, 1963 )

Additionally, to say you should use one typeface for headers and another for body text is completely opinion based. There is no evidence that one type of font should be used for either - serifs do not provide any guidance to the eye! From Alex Poole's study, again:

Serifs are used to guide the horizontal “flow” of the eyes; The lack of serifs is said to contribute to a vertical stress in sans serifs, which is supposed to compete with the horizontal flow of reading ( De Lange et al., 1993 )

These are the most common claims when trying to make a case for the utility of serifs. However, serifs cannot in any way be said to “guide the eye”. In 1878 Professor Emile Javal of the University of Paris established that the eyes did not move along a line of text in one smooth sweep but in a series of quick jerks which he called saccadic movements ( Spencer, 1968, p. 13 ; Rayner & Pollatsek, 1989, pp. 113-123 ). Unfortunately many graphic designers and typographers continue to use this rationale for the existence of serifs, due to a lack of communication and cooperation with the research community.

What you should be looking for is a font, serif or not, that has been designed for legibility. If you are dealing with text on the computer, finding a font that is focused towards computer display legibility would be preferred. For example Microsofts Segoe UI font (I use this simply as an example, not a specific suggestion - especially if we are talking web).

  • Thank you for your answer, I read this article blog.dictionary.com/comic-sans-font about a study that tells that students easily remembered complex fonts than more legible fonts, but do you think that it's really because they are more complex to read ? Or is it because theirs characters are more differentiable ? In that case, isn't a serif font more differentiable than a sans-serif font ? – Trevör Mar 1 '14 at 10:57
  • In fact as you said, a serif font isn't harder to read, but I think that they might have easily remembered more because it is easier to differentiate the letters of a serif font (btw what do you think about this ? Is it really easier to differentiate them ?). – Trevör Mar 1 '14 at 11:06
  • Indeed @Peter mentions this phenomenon in the comments under your question. While "funky fonts" may increase short-term memory, due to more "mental power" needed to read them, I've not read anything that makes the claim that long-term memory is effected (for good or bad). You could easily compare a serif "funky font" to a sans-serif "funky font" to test something similar. But straight up "serif vs. sans-serif" has not show evidence of any differences. – Evil Closet Monkey Mar 2 '14 at 20:56
  • IIRC isn't it the case that serif is usually more readable on low-resolution computer screens whilst sans is more readable on paper? (or is that backwards?) Certainly I've read a bit of research on this. However this research is a bit outdated these days with monitors being much clearer. – the other one Apr 8 '16 at 11:17
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I did my Science Fair project on this topic and I found that the group of students that memorized setennces using serif fonts performed better than the sans-serif group

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Maybe an off-topic answer, but:

Use sans serif for headings and UI text (such as on buttons, check boxes, menus, labels, etc.)

Use serif for body text. Serifs make it easier on the eyes to flow from one letter to the next, and users will need this if what they're reading is long. This is why nearly all publications use a serif font for the main text.

  • Thank you for your advise, I'll ask that in the cognitive science forum too ! Hope that they'l don't class that as off topic... – Trevör Feb 28 '14 at 18:58
  • On the contrary, I find sans-serif easier for longer reading. Nearly every internet page having a sizable amount of content uses sans-serif for body text, including this site. Links/resources to support your statement about serifs would help me understand better. – SNag Feb 28 '14 at 19:14
  • Why should I use these specific families for one type of element over another? Also, why would using two different families on a page to begin with be beneficial? – Evil Closet Monkey Feb 28 '14 at 19:21
  • "Serifs make it easier on the eyes to flow from letter to the next" is also false. Source: In 1878 Professor Emile Javal of the University of Paris established that the eyes did not move along a line of text in one smooth sweep but in a series of quick jerks which he called saccadic movements ( Spencer, 1968, p. 13 ; Rayner & Pollatsek, 1989, pp. 113-123 ). – Evil Closet Monkey Feb 28 '14 at 19:22

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