The Harvard Business Review ran an article this month** about a study that shows that in educational environments, textbooks where the text is written in an uncommon font, especially a hard-to-read font, are providing better retention of the material than textbooks written in traditional fonts. The theory is that these fonts make the reader work harder, and in so doing, the reader remembers the material more. Perhaps the effort that we take in comprehending something is positively correlated with ability to remember that information. This makes sense.
Now let’s just take this to what you might be guessing is my logical, although potentially quite fallable, follow-on idea: maybe maps that are hard to read, that are so awful that they make the map reader really study them just to get some basic understanding out of them, increase the map reader’s ability to remember their content?
Now, the fear with this idea, and with the textbook study as well, is that if something is hard to read, a casual audience may just skip it completely rather than try to decipher it. This would be especially true when the material is not something that the reader, or map reader, is expecting to be tested on.
However, we might want to experiment with some variables in map design to see if it holds true. Cartography thesis anyone? The obvious variables to test would be maps with garish colors, or hard to distinguish colors; hard to read fonts on the labels; or confusing line work that overlaps and intersects. Hey, maybe there’s a use for this map afterall!
*I’m not seriously suggesting you make bad maps, people! It’s just an idea for further exploration.
**Hard-To-Read Fonts Promote Better Recall, Harvard Business Review