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2th May 2022 by Anja Fuchs

How does text design influence comprehensibility?

New study brings important insights into the design of texts

Whether it’s a newspaper article, a contract or a menu: When texts are translated according to the rules of “Easy Language”, they all look the same in the end. But not only the content, but also the design follows clear rules. A new study now answers the question of whether text design contributes to comprehensibility.

Text design is the field of activity surrounding the structuring and design of a text. The study was conducted by Sabina Sieghart. The design researcher investigated the question of how macrotypography influences the comprehensibility of a text.

Macrotypography is the overall visual impression of a text. This includes, for example:

  • Font
  • Font size
  • Paragraphs
  • Headings
  • Alignment
  • Use of images, tables or graphic elements such as lines, boxes, etc. 
  • Arrangement of elements on the page

This creates a different look for different types of text: A novel differs in content and appearance from a menu. The same applies to letters of application, recipes, mails or newspaper articles.

Does a uniform text design for texts in "plain language" contribute to comprehensibility?

Light language” is a specific form of easily understandable language. You can find more detailed information on the terms here.

With “plain language” there are clear guidelines that strongly harmonise and standardise the design of the various texts. Thus, a contract is no longer visually different from a social media post.

Here you can see 3 examples of uniform text design:

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To find out how this affects comprehensibility, the study explores 3 questions:

  1. Does the target group for “Easy Language” use typographic features to understand a text?
  2. Can the target group for “Easy Language” recognise different types of text?
  3. Which layout supports text comprehension better: “Easy Language” or conventional layout?

38 people took part in the study. They all cannot read well and belong to the target group for “Easy Language”.

Result: Prior graphic knowledge helps with text comprehension

The exciting result of the study: The uniform design of “plain language” texts does not contribute to comprehensibility. The participants in the studies used their previous graphic knowledge to read texts. The design of the texts gives readers the opportunity to draw conclusions about the content.

Texts in “Easy Language” lack this additional graphic information. It is more difficult to classify the text. 

“The target group with reading difficulties needs an optimal design for their reading materials. The study clearly shows that test sheets that were available in two design variants were each better recognised in the conventional design.”

Sabina Sieghart, Design researcher

Portraitfoto von Designforscherin Sabina Sieghart - Studie zu Textgestaltung und Verständlichkeit

Text design: This is how capito does it!

The fact that texts in easy-to-understand language have a certain appearance is neither surprising nor a bad thing. Unlike conventional texts in “Easy Language”, however, we attach great importance to consciously allowing differences to exist in texts. The fact that an easy-to-understand legal text is visibly different from an invitation to an event in easy language is something we want.

We want the sender, purpose and aim of a text to be quickly understood. Differences in design contribute significantly to this. 

The fact that precisely these differences increase comprehensibility has now been proven for the first time by the study.

Are you surprised by the results of the study? How do you handle the design of easy-to-understand information? Share your experiences in the comments!

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