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How grunge fonts are born.

Fonts and learning are an interesting subject. There’s an old typography rule that anyone over the age of 70 is more comfortable reading serifed fonts. The thinking behind it is that when this generation learned to read sans serif fonts weren’t that widely used. For younger generations, we stumbled through “See Spot run.” in both serifed and san serif fonts. We’re fine with whatever letterforms are on the page. (Note: The Caslon foundry produced the first sans serif font for Etruscan languages in 1745. Maybe it’s time to throw caution to the wind, and let this rule go?)

Today fonts are still categorized as serif or sans serif — along with eroded, distressed, distorted, destroyed, nuked and run over by a truck. Like many designers, I hoard these fonts for the day someone approaches me and requests a print ad that’s completely unreadable. So who would have thought my grunge fonts might see the light of day thanks to scientists at Princeton University!

These type-loving scientists conducted an experiment to test if making things hard to read hinders or enhances learning. You can read about the details of the experiment here. It turns out that difficult-to-read fonts make for better learning. The moral of this story? The next time a designer turns to you and says “Don’t make me get out my grunge fonts.” — beware. You just might learn something.

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