Effect of Typeface Complexity on Automatic Whole-Word Reading Processes


  • Myra Thiessen
  • Hannah Keage
  • Indae Hwang
  • Jack Astley
  • Sofie Beier


typeface complexity, font design, Stroop Test, automatic reading, disfluency effect


Visually complex typefaces require more cognitive effort to process, which can impact reading efficiency, and have been associated with disfluency effects. Since our environments may include an increasing range of demand-ing reading scenarios—to which we are expected to respond, sometimes with speed and accuracy—it is important to develop an understanding of how reading proficiency may be affected as a result. With a focus on how automatic reading processes may be affected, this study explores the impact of typeface complexity, determined by stroke length and system-atically measured using perimetric complexity, by using the well-known Stroop Color and Word Test. We show that automatic whole-word reading can be negatively affected by typefaces with extremely complex features, but that moderately complex typefaces have little effect. This suggests that hard-to-read typefaces do impair word reading (i.e., they are disfluent) but that skilled readers are able to tolerate a high degree of complexity. It also highlights the utility of cognitive tests for identifying typefaces that are dif-ficult to read.

Author Biographies

Myra Thiessen

Myra Lecturers in Communication Design in the Department of Design and is a researcher in the Design Health Collab at Monash University. Her research is focused on design for reading with a particular interest in how motivation, context, and environment affect com-prehension and decision making in healthcare settings.

Hannah Keage

Hannah obtained her PhD from Flinders University, in South Australia. She undertook post-doctoral positions at the University of Cambridge between 2007 and 2011, before taking up an academic position at the University of South Australia (UniSA). She is currently an Associate Professor of Psychology at UniSA.

Indae Hwang

Indae is a Melbourne-based interactive artist and designer, researcher and lecturer in the Department of Design at Monash University. His teaching focuses on exploring new ways of embracing and utilising emerging media technologies in the context of User Experience and Interactive Design.

Jack Astley

Jack completed his undergraduate and Honours degree in Psychological Science at the University of Adelaide. He is currently employed as a research assistant for the Cognitive Ageing and Impairment Neurosciences Laboratory at the University of South Australia, in addition to working as Data Analyst at Inventium, a behavioural science consultancy.

Sofie Beier

Graphic designer and professor WSR, Sofie is employed at the Royal Danish Academy, where she is head of Centre for Visibility Design. She is the author of the ‘Type Tricks’ book series and of ‘Reading Letters: designing for legibility’. Her research is focused on improv-ing the reading experience by achieving a better understanding of how different typefaces and letter shapes can influence the way we read.





Journal Article