An Examination of the Interaction ofThree Variables on the Readability and Appeal of Brochures

(paper written by Laurie Moses)


One hundred forty-three college students and 39 community membersparticipated in the present study to examine the effects of textcolor, background color, and font style on the readability and appealof a brochure for new Nacogdoches residents. The purpose of theresearch was to provide city officials with a summary recommendationfor the most effective text and background color combination and fontstyle. The study was divided into two portions with the 14researchers themselves completing both the objective computer portionand the subjective survey portion. All other participants completedonly the survey part of the research. Researchers hypothesized thatusing a light-colored paper with a dark-colored font would produceoptimal readability and that the use of a serif font would make thetwelve-point font style most readable. Results of the experimentsupported the hypothesis that the serif font styles weresignificantly more readable than the san serif styles. No other maineffects or interactions were significant. Results of the brochuresurvey indicated that the college participants liked the yellowbackground with a Charcoal/Geneva font combination for the headingsand text best while non-college participants liked the same fontcombination on a blue background best. Survey results also indicatedthat participants preferred colored text over black.


The process of designing an appropriate brochure involves theconsideration of several factors that, when used properly, caneffectively present important information to a target audience.Designers and distributors of brochures have employed numerousmethods to make their brochure design stand out among similarpamphlets and also to convey the most important facts in areader-friendly manner. Among these methods are the use of certaintypes of font, text color, and background color. When these factorsare manipulated in the appropriate way, they can create an attractivebrochure that facilitates the readers' understanding of the material.When used improperly, however, certain combinations of these factorscan make the pamphlet difficult to read and unattractive.

Since different combinations of color, text style, and brochurelayout can create drastically different images of the materialpresented in the brochure, it is important to begin the designprocess by selecting these factors according to the needs of theaudience that is most likely to use the brochure. This ensures thatthe brochure will elicit a positive first impression and have thebest chance of being read by those with whom the designer wishes tocommunicate (Kern, 1992). Since researchers in the present study weredesigning a brochure to be distributed to new residents in theNacogdoches area and a majority of these new residents are collegestudents, both objective and subjective experiments on thereadability and preference for color combinations and font styleswere performed on a majority of college students but also includednon-college community members.

The use of color can make a brochure attractive and noticeable,and getting a brochure noticed and selected by a potential reader isthe first step to conveying the information to the target audience.For this reason, brochure creators often choose to use colored text,colored background, or both in their design. According to Silverstein(as cited in Pastoor, 1990), experimental literature indicates thatcolor has an advantage over achromatic displays by providing thesubjective benefit of making the work more pleasant for the reader.Since the goal of a brochure designer is to communicate importantinformation, it is essential to keep the readers' attention by makingreading a more pleasurable experience.

Selection of the appropriate combination of text and backgroundcolor, however, requires careful consideration. Certain colors, likebright reds and greens, elicit a strong afterimage and may not bedesirable for brochures that also include the use of white letters ona dark background, since looking at these colors may temporarilydistort the color of the white lettering (Allan, Siegel, Collins,& MacQueen, 1989). According to Travis, Bowles, Seton, and Peppe(1990), it is also wise to avoid highly saturated color pairs likedeep blues and violets because of chromatic aberration. Tinker andPaterson's (1931) study on the readability of ten differenttext/background color combinations compared with the readability ofblack text on white paper indicated that the black on white yieldedthe fastest reading rate in all comparisons. It is important to notethat the advantage of this pair over color combinations like green onwhite, blue on white, and black on yellow was slight, indicating thatthese combinations were nearly as effective in creating optimalreadability. Scores on notability for different text/backgroundcombinations on the Starch Readership Service survey, however,indicated that the most readable color combinations, particularlyblack on a white or yellow background, received the lowest score fornotability (Moriarty, 1984). People seemed to prefer unusual colorcombinations regardless of their hindering effect on reading speed(Pastoor, 1990).

Studies indicating readers' preference for colored text andbackgrounds have led to new research on ways to preserve thereadability of text while adding the subjective benefit of color. Onestudy on how reading rates were affected by the use of colored textrather than black text indicated that readers can could often usecolor contrast, which refers to differences in chromaticity, just aswell as luminance or brightness differences between the charactersand the background (Legge, Parish, Luebker, and Wurm, 1990). Theseresearchers plotted reading rates versus contrast for both luminanceand color contrasts and found that the two curves had the same shapeand were superimposed when contrast was measured in multiples of thethreshold value. However, Legge et al. also found no additiveadvantage of using both color and luminance contrast together. Inthis case, performance was determined by the form of contrast thatproduced the highest reading rate. Results of such studies indicatedthat using colored text and background with high chromatic contrastbetween the two could provide the benefit of attractiveness to thereader while still maintaining the readability that was permittedwith black text on a white background.

Type set and treatment are other important factors in creating areadable brochure. Legibility studies have found that treatments likereverse text copy, the use of all caps rather than mixed-caselettering, and surprinting text over patterned backgrounds hinderedperceptual processing of the information presented (Moriarty, 1984).Tinker and Paterson (as cited in Wesson, 1987) found that materialsthat were presented in lowercase were read significantly faster thanmaterials that were presented in all caps and that readers reportedthat lowercase headings were more legible and pleasing. Keller andBreland (as cited in Wesson, 1987) corroborated the finding thatlower case letters were more legible than all caps by measuring thenumber of words that could be correctly reported after a glance at aheadline.

Type size and style are two additional factors of concern whencreating a brochure that can be easily used by all prospectivemembers of the target audience. Although larger font sizes arehelpful for individuals with certain vision problems, the size offont that maximizes readability differs greatly from person to person(Koenig & Ross, 1991). Since most of Nacogdoches' new residentsare college students, and it would probably not be possible toincrease the size of the font enough to make the brochure readablefor the visually impaired while still including all the information,designers of this brochure used a 12-point font for the text.

The present study examined the effects of text color, backgroundcolor, and font style on readability and preference for six brochureswith identical content and organization. Based on previous research,it was hypothesized that the use of a light colored paper such asyellow with black print would produce the highest readability andthat other text colors such as dark green or blue would produce anear optimal readability as well as receive higher subjectivepreference from readers. Research results on the use of serif and sanserif fonts were mixed, but traditionalists reported that san serifwas more difficult to read (Moriarty, 1982). Therefore, it washypothesized that readers would find the twelve-point font size mostreadable in a serif font style such as New York or Times.



Participants included 143 Stephen F. Austin State Universitystudents and 39 non- college-aged community members. The onlyrequirement for participation was having normal orcorrected-to-normal vision. All of the participants completed thesubjective survey portion of the experiment, and the 14 experimenterswho were senior students enrolled in Psychology of Perception as wellas the professor and teaching assistant for the class also completedboth objective and subjective computer portions.

Materials and Design

Computer Experiment: The computer portion of the experimentemployed a 3x2x4 within-subjects, factorial design in which theindependent variables were background color, text color, and fontstyle. Levels of the background color variable included light green(RGB=204, 255, 102), light blue (RGB=204, 255, 255), and light yellow(RGB=255, 255, 102). Text color levels were black (RGB=0,0,0) whichwas used with all three background colors and "other"which includeddark blue (RGB=0,0,102) presented on the light blue and light greenbackgrounds and dark green (RGB=0,85,0) presented on the light yellowbackground. The four levels of font style were New York, Geneva,Charcoal, and Times. All the font styles were presented in 12-pointsize. The median search time in milliseconds for the hidden targetword in each condition served as the dependent variable, and onlycorrect searches were used in calculating the medians.

Experimenters used BC PowerLab to present a 94-word paragraph thatwas taken from the brochure and to measure search times for a targetword within that paragraph. In the objective portion of the computerexperiment, the paragraph was presented in 24 different conditionseach including a different combination of the two text colors, threebackground colors, and four font styles. One of three target words,circle, triangle, or square, was embedded in each presentation of theparagraph. The content of the paragraph was the same as that in theactual brochure except that a three word section that contained atarget word had been removed.

Each of the 24 conditions was presented three times making a totalof 72 trials. The trials were presented in random order. To preventpractice effects, researchers counterbalanced the target words byusing a different one in each of the three presentations of aparticular condition. Researchers further counterbalanced by placingthe target word for a particular condition at different locations inthe passage in each of the three trials of a condition. The placementof target words in the passages was also chosen so that no targetword appeared more than one-third of the time in any location acrossall trials.

Each of the 24 conditions was presented only once in thesubjective portion of the computer experiment. The independentvariables and their levels remained the same; however, the dependentvariable in this portion, was derived from ratings on a five-pointLikert Scale, with a rating of one indicating a strong dislike and arating of five indicating a strong preference. Researchers used theseratings along with the average median search times to examine thecorrelation between the participants' performance on a particularcondition and their preference for that condition.

Brochure Survey: The survey portion of the researchinvolved the presentation of six sample brochures which all containedidentical information about utilities, activities and events,historical sites, and community services offered in the Nacogdochesarea. The brochure was presented on all three paper colors: lightgreen, light blue, and light yellow. Each brochure color waspresented twice. In one presentation, the headings were Charcoal fontwith Times text, and in the other, the headings were in New York fontwith Geneva text. The utilities section of the brochures containingthe New York/Geneva combination was in Arial font in order to fit allof the information into the allotted space. Although the text in allbrochures was black, the headings were colored in one presentation ofeach background color. For the light blue and light greenbackgrounds, the headings were dark blue, and for the yellowbackground, the headings were dark green. Half of the brochurescontained the Charcoal headings in color while the other halfcontained the New York headings in color. The other brochure of aparticular color contained all black headings.

The order in which the brochures were presented to participantswas random and varied across the researchers. Each surveyor, however,used the same presentation order for all his participants.Participants used a five-point Likert Scale to rate the readability,ink color, paper color, font style of the text, font style ofheadings, and ease in location of information for each brochure.Participants also answered a short summary questionnaire concerningtheir overall impression of the organization and informationpresented in the brochure. See Appendix A for a list of questionsfrom the brochure survey.


Computer Experiment:: Participants in the computer portionof the experiment were told to find one of the target words in eachpresentation of the passage from the brochure. The participant wasthen instructed to click the mouse on the shape at the bottom of thescreen that corresponded to that target word. Then, by pressing the"return" key, the participant would move on to the next presentationof the passage. Participants completed three practice trials beforebeginning the experiment. After finishing all 72 experimental trials,participants received one example of each condition and were asked torate that condition on a five-point Likert scale. The computerportion of the experiment took approximately 30-45 minutes tocomplete.

Brochure Survey: Participants in the survey portion of theexperiment were presented with each of the six numbered brochures andasked to respond to the different qualities of the brochure by ratingthem on a five-point Likert scale. After examining all six brochures,participants were asked to answer four additional questionsconcerning their overall preferences for certain brochures and torate the overall organization and content of the brochure.


Computer Experiment:: Researchers calculated the mediansearch time for each subject (N=13) for each condition and used thesevalues in the subsequent analysis of variance. Only correct trialswere used for the purpose of calculating the median scores.Researchers found a significant main effect for font style(F(3,39)=3.3,p=.03) with the following mean reaction times in secondsfor the Times, Charcoal, New York, and Geneva fonts, respectively:7.854, 8.218, 6.808, and 7.607. [See Figure 1 for the mean reactiontimes for each of the 24 conditions.]

Main effects for background color and text color as well as theinteractions were non-significant. Although subjects rated conditionsthat resulted in shorter search times more favorably, the overallcorrelation between reaction time and subject rating was also notsignificant (r = -.233,p=.423).

Brochure Survey: The first part of the brochure containedquestions for all six brochures individually. For each brochure,ratings from the 5-point Likert scales for all six survey questionswere tallied according to participant groups which were defined ascollege (N=143) or non-college (N=39) and by whether or not theparticipants received the headings in color print. The totals foreach group were then weighted and averaged to determine the meanratings for each survey question. [See Table 1 for the mean Likertratings for each question for each of the six brochures by each groupof participants.]

The second part of the brochure survey contained four questionswhich asked participants to make comparisons across the sixbrochures. Two of these questions required the participants torespond by selecting one of the six brochures, and the other two wereanswered using Likert scales. College and non-college participantsdiffered in both their selection of the most attention-catchingbrochure and their choice of a favorite brochure. On both of thesequestions, the college participants selected the yellow brochure withthe Charcoal/Geneva font combination while the non-collegeparticipants selected the blue brochure with the same fontcombination. [See Figure 2a-d for the graphical summary of theparticipants' responses to these four questions.]

The last question of the survey also contained an open-ended partregarding the reason for the participants' individual preferences forthe different brochures. Participants who answered this portion ofthe fourth question (N=154) indicated a slight preference for the useof colored ink, both blue and green, over black, with a higherpercentage of the participants responding to this part reporting apreference for colored ink. The percentages of participants whoindicated liking black and colored text were 9% and 25%,respectively.


The results of this study corroborated previous research findingswhich indicated that a serif font style was most readable (Moriarty,1982) and supported the researchers' hypothesis that presenting textin a serif style like New York or Times would aid in creating abrochure that new Nacogdoches residents would find useful and easy toread. The slight preference for colored text over black text wasexpected given previous research conclusions by Pastoor (1990) whichindicated that readers often prefer novelties like colored text evenwhen these treatments inhibit readability. The non-significance ofthe correlation between search times and subject rating corroboratedMoriarty's (1984) finding that indicated that people did not alwaysfavor the most readable presentation of text. It is interesting tonote that in this study, the brochures most selected as favorites byboth the college and non-college survey participants containedCharcoal headings which produced the slowest mean search time in thecomputer experiment. Also, within both the college and non-collegegroups, the brochure most often selected as being the mostattention-catching was also most often selected as the favoritebrochure. This finding further supports the idea that readers preferreading material that catches their eye. Additionally, the findingthat the text and background color combinations did not significantlyinhibit readability was not surprising given that researchers chosecolors with high chromatic contrast, and previous research by Leggeet al. (1990) indicated that this form of contrast was just aseffective as luminance contrast in producing an optimal reading rate.

Several factors may have affected the results of the studyincluding the match between the colors used in the computerexperiment and those used in the survey portion of the research.Background colors for the computer part were subjectively matched tothe paper colors of the six sample brochures and, therefore, were notperfect physical matches for the brochures that the surveyparticipants used to rate their preferences for color choices, colorcombinations, and readability. Additionally, previous researchhasindicated that it takes longer to read information and locatesimple facts from a computer screen than from a printed page(McGoldrick, Martin, Bergering, & Symons, 1992). This factor mayhave resulted in a longer search time for the target word thansubjects would have needed if the experiment had been performed usingprinted pages. However, McGoldrick et al. (1992) also found thatsubjects' reading rate improved rather rapidly and reached normalreading speed after only about 12 trials. This rapid improvementcombined with the random presentation of the passages to thedifferent computer participants and the number of trials of eachcondition should have counterbalanced any effect caused by readingfrom the computer screen. A final factor that may have affected theexperimental portion of the research was the use of college studentsas participants. College students may have more computer experiencethan the general public and, therefore, be faster at both locatingthe target word and using the mouse to mark the corresponding symbol.

Based on previous research findings and the results of the currentstudy, it is recommended that the city of Nacogdoches create abrochure that combines any one of the three paper colors with blacktext and colored headings to ensure readability as well as providenovelty and appeal. The font for the brochure should be a serif stylesuch as New York or Times, and the text should be printed in atwelve-point size in order to make it readable for most members ofthe target audience. As a courtesy gesture, the city might alsoconsider making the information available to new residents who arevisually impaired by producing a limited number of the brochures in alarge print version.


Allan, L.G., Shepard, S., Collins, J.C., & MacQueen, G.M.(1989). Color aftereffect contingent on text, Perception andPsychophysics, 46(2), 105-113.

Kern, G. (1992). Brochure design and copy writing: Techniques forcreating effective promotional literature. Expo Magazine.January/February. (Retrieved 8 March 1999).

Koenig, A.J. & Ross, D.B. (1991). A procedure to evaluate therelative effectiveness of reading in large and regular print. Journalof Visual Impairment and Blindness, 85(5), 198-204.

Legge, G.E., Parish, D.H., Luebker, A., & Wurm, L.H. (1990).Psychophysics of reading: XI. Comparing color contrast and luminancecontrast. Journal of the Optical Society of America, 7(10),2002-2010.

McGoldrick, J.A., Martin, J., Bergering, A.J., & Symons, S.(1992). Locating discreet information in text: Effects of computerpresentation and menu formatting. Journal of Reading Behavior, 24(1),1-20.

Moriarty, S.E. (1982). Trends in advertising typography.Journalism Quarterly, 59, 290- 94.

Moriarty, S.E. (1984). Novelty vs. practicality in advertisingtypography. Journalism Quarterly, 59, 188-90.

Pastoor, S. (1990). Legibility and subjective preference for colorcombinations in text. Human Factors, 32(2), 157-71. Tinker, M.A.& Paterson, D.G. (1931). Studies of typographical factorsinfluencing speed of reading: VII. Variations in color of print andbackground. Journal of Applied Psychology, 15, 471-79.

Travis, D.S., Bowles, S., Seton, J., & Peppe, R. (1990).Reading from color displays: A Psychophysical Model. Human Factors,32(2), 147-156.

Wesson, D.A. & Stewart, E. (1987). Gender and relationship ofheads in magazine ads. Journalism Quarterly, 64, 189-93.

Appendix A

The following questions were asked independently for each of thesix brochures. Participants responded using a five-point Likert scalewith one indicating very difficult for the first and third questionsand five indicating very easy. Participants used the same scale forall parts of question two except that on this question one indicatedvery little while five indicated very much.

1. How easy would it be to locate information in this brochure?

2. How well do you like the following:

a) ink color

b) paper color

c) text font/type style

d) headings font/type style

3. How readable did you find the text?


Participants were asked to consider all six brochures whenanswering the following questions. For the first and fourth questionsof this portion of the survey, participants selected one of the sixbrochures. For questions two and three, ratings were recorded usingthe Likert scale. On question two a rating of one indicated toolittle information and a rating of five indicated too muchinformation. For the third question, a response of one meant poorlyorganized while a response of five meant well organized.

1. If you saw one of these brochures on a rack in the store, whichwould be most likely to catch your attention?

2. How would you rate the amount of information presented in thebrochures?

3. Did you think the content was presented in an organizedfashion?

4. Which of the brochures do you like best and why?

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