Chances are you have seen this passage before, it has certainly done the rounds on Facebook, testament to how puzzling we find it. Most of us probably take the power of our brains for granted, after all, it is a high power processor that has always been there and continues to work away in the background.
However, when designing marketing materials for print, it is well worth understanding how our brains process these things. They can impact on the way your audience receives the message and there are a variety of things to consider.
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According to livescience, one explanation as to how the brain is able to read sentences like these is down to context. It works kind of like predicative text, only without the hilarious/embarrassing auto-correct fails. The brain expects certain things to come next when it sees a particular pattern of words or letters.
It isn’t a perfect system so your brain may fill in gaps using subsequent information to add context. In the first passage for example, the brain processes all the letter at once rather than reading each on individually, so the letters are context for each other. With the second example, the letter style shape of the numbers and the context of the word are more important that the individual digit in understanding the word.
The same concept can be applied to the sentence as a whole, whereby a process of prosody allows the brain to accurately predict the end of the sentence. The viewer needs to reach a point where neither syntax nor semantics can influence the process of prediction though.
This could be significant for writing marketing copy because you may need to carefully construct sentences to ensure the meaning is not implicit. With some print marketing, like leaflet drops, many viewers will skim read the text which is more likely to result in the prediction of meaning and could lead to misunderstandings or lost information.
A professional copywriter would be able to assist with this, using front loaded sentences for example, where the key details are at the beginning and the modifying phrases that bring the point to life, follow on from this. For example;
A5 Booklets and A5 brochure printing is a great way to promote your business and build brand awareness.
Promote your business and build brand awareness with A5 booklet and A5 brochure printing.
When creating your print ready artwork, it is not just the words in the text that can effect the perception of your message. The colours you use for the design and copy can also have a significant impact on the way the printed material is received.
You may be aware that we perceive colours due to the light signals that they reflect. Different light wavelengths have different effects on opponent neurons in the brain. The colour red stimulates certain opponent neurons in the retina, but green inhibits the same neurons. So if green and red signals come in simultaneously, you would be unable to see them as they effectively cancel each other out.
The same effect is achieved for a different set of opponent neurons for yellow and blue, they cancel each other out by having the opposite stimulation/suppressing effect. Although these are called ‘forbidden colours’ some experiments using retinal stabilisation have shown that it is possible to see the combination of these colours under optimum conditions, although they are hard to describe.
There are other colour combinations that you should avoid as they are very difficult to read, like red and blue. Strong contrasting colours play havoc on the brain, making things dance on the page and tiring our eyes. This would not compel a viewer to continue reading your leaflet or direct mail.
If you are hiring a professional designer or agency to produce your artwork for print, it is highly likely they will consider these factors. But if you are doing the design yourself, try these two key proof reading tricks.
Firstly, read the text backwards, so start at the last word and work back through the sentence. This stops your brain from skipping over the duplicated words or typos as it reads what it thinks your saying. Secondly, get as many other people not involved in the process to read the text as well. They will not predict the writing in the same way as the person who wrote it in the first place. They may also make suggestions on how they received the message overall and comment on the colours and ease of reading, so be prepared for constructive criticism.