Ideology and typography

arina s.'s picture

Between the two world wars the typography of the Romanian newspapers followed the general development and the use of serif typefaces for the body type. The concern for the typography of the newspaper was rather conservatory and worked a lot with the same kind of typography used for the fiction literature.

After the communist take over the typography of the newspapers followed the standards imposed by the propagandistic concerns, which followed the rule to use only sans serif s for the body type.

The serif typefaces of the newspapers were gathered and melted down as a demonstrative act of rupture with the bourgeois words and an entrance in to a new era of revolutionary thinking.

Can anyone share similar experience or even thaughts about this topic?

I'am preparing to start my PhD studies in compared typography with the following topic: Is legibility a matter of habit or of typeface design? Depends legibility of a text on reading habits and how much is the typeface design shaping our cognition process/experience of the content of a text.

Can anyone refere to previous research in this area? Greatfull for thaughts, ideas and litterature or web references.

Feel free to mail me directly to arina.stoenescu@sh.se.

franzheidl's picture

hello arina,

first of all, after what communist take over where were the newspapers set in sans body type? And where was serif metal type being melted down, in what scale? I for one have never heard of that…
I having spent parts of my childhood and youth in former Eastern Germany, cannot remember a newspaper of that time with it's body being set in sans, i also have held a few issues of Pravda in my hands, and these were set in serif cyrillic completely…

i think that "the communists" - if you refer to the soviet union that is – were busy enough getting people in the vast rural regions of the soviet union to read at all, i.e. fight illiteracy, than being concerned with sans/serif issues.
Even more, under Stalins reign there was a clear tendency against modernism (as in the Russian Avantgarde of the 20s) towards neo-classical, almost reactionary forms in design, architecture, etc. As is perfectly examplified by the history of the Palace of the Soviets in Moscow. Under Stalins leadership a bombastic neoclassicism was established, especially in architecture. Most of the comminist leaders in the last century showed a scaringly bourgeois taste with a bit of megalomania thrown in…

William Berkson's picture

>Is legibility a matter of habit or of typeface design? Depends legibility of a text on reading habits and how much is the typeface design shaping our cognition process/experience of the content of a text.

If you search on the word 'bouma' or 'readability' you will get many, many discussions of the questions you ask, including the current thread:

http://typophile.com/node/14373

arina s.'s picture

hello franz,

I'am refering to the communist takeover in romania in 1943.
the newspapers i'am thinking about was the two major daily newespaper in Romania durin the communist era, Romania Libera and Informatia. I grew up in communist Romania (left the country 1987) and all my experience of newspapers, including childrenmagazine Cutezatorii was that those publications were using sansserifs.

even Ceausescu the latest and the last communist leader of the country developed a clear tendency towards neo-classical style in architecture, a most eclectic one, but still in the propaganda publications and esspecialy in newspapers the typography of body type was sans serif.

”And where was serif metal type being melted down, in what scale? I for one have never heard of that…”
I know that from a bookbinder working at a print house in Bucharest but I have to admit that I need to make a survey in order to find out in what scale metal type was melted down.

So nothing like this occured in East Germany, how about the typography of propaganda signes and posters?

dezcom's picture

Arina,
I saw your post on AtypI andwas going to suggest that you post here as well but I see you have done it :-)

ChrisL

arina s.'s picture

yes, thanks to the discussion on AtypI I discovered this very useful typography forum.
communication at work.
!a

franzheidl's picture

arina,
please accept my apologies, after reading your post again i realized that you are referring to Romania, i missed this when reading it first, sorry about that. Nonetheless i have never heard that Romania was apparently going any seperate way regarding the introduction of sans to newspapers. Have you got any material to show? Would be interesting as i can imagine a newspaper from post war europe all set in sans would have looked very avantgarde and ahead of it's time.

arina s.'s picture

fortunately i have some samples of sans serif newsapers, one issue from the children/pioneer magazine Cutezatorii (The Braves) from 1982 and one issue from Romania Libera (The Free Romania) from the beginning of 1990's, short after the Revolution and before they change the design to the actual one.

though, I have to scan it and I will do that as soon as I get back to work where I have the samples.

my reflections are:
1.) since one grow up in a sans serif dominated typographical environment is the habbit of reading sans serif influence the perception of legibility of a text/type

2.) are we prefering serif type in print because of the old tradition of reading printed matters with serifs

3.) has the habit (i.e. the habit of redaing sans serif in print and sans serif on screen) a greater, stronger influence upon what we experience as good typography, apropriated to the content or to the media

the phenomena of using sansserif in romanian newspappers and my own experience of a typografical environment where the lettersahpe prevailled was the starting point in trying to find out what kind of read behaviour the screen typography will develop in time.

I'am aware that I need more structure in those thaughts and I welcome any comments on that.

arina s.'s picture

William
The recommended thread is very interesting but I don't understand the word ‘bouma’.
Sorry for my poor english.

>If you search on the word ‘bouma’ or ‘readability’ you will get many, many discussions of the questions you ask, including the current thread:
http://typophile.com/node/14373

William Berkson's picture

'Bouma' is a word invented by reading researchers, named after the researcher with that last name. It means the 'word seen as a whole' rather than by identification of individual letters, followed by assembly into words.

What is the precise meaning of 'Bouma' seems to vary with the person using the word. Hrant Papazian and Peter Enneson, as well as research psychologist Kevin Larson have essays on this in TYPO Magazine, 13th issue.

They have also posted extensively on this. If you click on Peter's name here--he posts mainly on this issue--and use the 'tracker' you will get a lot of his posts.

John Hudson's picture

‘Bouma’ is a word invented by reading researchers, named after the researcher with that last name. It means the ‘word seen as a whole’ rather than by identification of individual letters, followed by assembly into words.

That is a little misleading. The actual term employed by some by cognitive pyschologists is 'bouma shape'. But your description gives the impression that these psychologists, and perhaps Bouma himself, believe word recognition to be centered on recognition of such shapes, 'rather than by identification of individual letters', and this is not the case. Rightly or wrongly, the majority of cognitive psychologists seem to embrace the parallel letter recognition model.

Nick Shinn's picture

Gerard Unger told the tale (in his presentation at ATypI Vancouver) of a Dutch newspaper that set everything in Helvetica -- a decision of the publisher, not the government.

John Hudson's picture

Arina, the Nazi ideological shift from blackletter to roman (antiqua) types during the Second World War may be the closest parallel to the Romanian ideological shift from serif to sans serif, although type was more likely to have been melted down to make bullets than for purely ideological reasons.

In communist North Korea, the use of traditional Chinese characters alongside Korean hangul script has been officially discouraged, with the result that most North Koreans cannot read publications from South Korea, where both scripts continue to be used in tandem. The reasons for this are ideological and nationalist, and also practical because it makes it easier to control what people read. Most of the North Korean publications I have seen are set in gothic ('sans serif', low contrast, geometric) hangul types, but I don't know if this is ideologically encouraged or simply an aesthetic preference.

William Berkson's picture

>That is a little misleading.

I didn't mean to prejudge the issue. Some of the older researchers in reading, as I understand from Peter Enneson, did believe that "bouma shape" is important to word recognition. Now, as you say, the parallel letter view is generally accepted. Peter argues that this acceptance is a result of the 'bouma shape' view not being sufficiently developed. I think the issue is undecided, if Peter's richer view of 'bouma shape' is understood here. I used to lean toward the parallel processing view. Now I think that it is likely that some direct recognition of whole patterns is going on, as Peter has argued. This is not least because of our astounding ability to recognize human faces. Type faces aren't called that for nothing!

dstype's picture

I must say that we can't mistook legibility with readability. These are to separate things.
Anyway, I truly believe that legibility it's a matter of habit, and the habit is directly dependent certain contemporary approaches.
I don't know if they melt down the old lead types, but the idea of renouncing to certain kinds of typefaces is quit ancient.
Take a look at the book "The alphabetic labyrinth" by Johanna Drucker, edited by Thames and Hudson, and you'll see that the catholic church renounced to the
roman capitals because they represented the roman oppression, and just when the emperor Constantin declared the conversion of Rome
to the catholicism, the roman capitals were then accepted by the church (mixed with the uncials and half uncials that were developed since).
This is a common issue. In the bauhaus happened almost the same.

This is an interesting matter for a PhD. I developed a few concepts in my master graduation, and if you're interested we can discuss a little more
on this issue.

arina s.'s picture

The Nazi ideological shift occured to me as I was thinking of similar ideological influences on visual communication, but I was not aware about what Dino Santos mentioned that the catholic church renounced to the roman capitals. What happened at bauhaus has though not to do with political ideology, rather with the schools esthetic principles...

The North Corean phenomena is also remarcable, would be really interesting to find out whether the choice of sans serifs had to do with a revolutionary perception of the shapes or not.

...interesting matter for a PhD. I developed a few concepts in my master graduation, and if you’re interested we can discuss a little more on this issue.

Dino, please feel free to mail me directly your concepts from your master graduation.

...I truly believe that legibility it’s a matter of habit, and the habit is directly dependent certain contemporary approaches.

I wrilly agree and hope that the intense and increasing use of screen typography in the last ten years can guide us in to some new understanding in the use of typography in different media.

But then more than five hundred years of printed typography seems difficult to compare to very young field of screen typography.

John Hudson's picture

I must say that we can’t mistook legibility with readability. These are to separate things.

This is a common assumption among typographers, reflected in our use of terminology, but it may be begging the question. If the parallel letter recognition model is accurate, then there is little distinction between legibility and readability, at least at the level of type design. At the last Thessaloniki conference, I asked Kevin Larson and Mary Dyson how they, as psychologists, used the terminology. Kevin said he made no distinction between legibility and readability, although tended to use the former term, and Mary said she thought of readability as a document design and language issue, not a type design issue.

Although we often claim there is an important difference between legibility and readability, the consequence of this is simply that typographers have largely stopped using the term legibility. We only talk about readability, because we think that legibility refers to something that isn't very important.

William Berkson's picture

In 'Types of Typefaces' Ben Lieberman defined:

"'Legibility' is based on the ease with which one letter can be told from the other. 'Readability' is the ease with which the eye can absorb the message and move along the line."

If we take these definitions, which I think pretty well capture the distinction as used by typographers for quite a while, then I have no doubt there is a difference between the two. Partly it is, as you say Mary Dyson said, a matter of document design. If one uses excessive measure, small type, and zero leading, it is easy to produce a pretty unreadable but quite legible document, by the above definitions.

I also think, though, that it is a matter of type design, and not only of how type is used. Most people find high contrast faces such as Bodoni at small sizes hard to read, even though they are perfectly legible. Similarly, italics, which are just as legible as roman are I believe even tested to read more slowly. Also all the 'optical size' adjustments on the Adobe fonts have this function of enhancing readability. The larger optical sizes are perfectly legible at small sizes, they are just not as readable.

Current widespread practice in type design will tell you that legibility is a requirement for readability, but it is not sufficient. If reading science hasn't yet caught up with the advantages of the well estabished practice of optical sizing, for example, then it needs to work on it. Because they are not working on it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

The distinction is not question begging because it reflects people's experience across a huge range of people and cultures. The distinction between display and text type, the greater readability of roman over italic, the hundreds of years practice of optical sizing, all these are facts. The task of science is to explain observations, not dismiss them.

enne_son's picture

"Some of the older researchers in reading, as I understand from Peter Enneson, did believe that “bouma shape” is important to word recognition. Now, as you say, the parallel letter view is generally accepted. Peter argues that this acceptance is a result of the ‘bouma shape’ view not being sufficiently developed."

The first appearance of the term 'bouma shape' in the psychological literature on reading is in 1983 and is to be attributed to Insup Taylor and M. Martin Taylor. Insup Taylor was part of the Division of Life Sciences at the University of Toronto, and M. Martin Taylor was at the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine in Downsview, Ontario, just outside Toronto.

Early researchers in reading identified 'whole words,' 'word forms,' 'total word forms,' or 'word configurations' as being the 'units of perception' in reading.

In testing this 'holistic' approach researchers relied on a concept of 'word shape' that defined word shape as 'outer contour'or 'envelope structure.' Another definition defined word shape as the raw pattern of neutral, ascending and descending characters. In these formalizations 'dog,' 'beg,' and 'leg' have identical word shapes.

When 'word form,' 'total word form,' or 'configuration' are formalized in this way as a basis for empirical testing, it becomes clear that, as one researcher put it: "word shape is not in good shape for the race to the lexicon."

I tried to argue that the rejection of the 'holistic' approach, and the concomitant ascendence of the view that letters are the 'unit of preception' in reading, was premature because it based empirical testing on a poor formalization of 'word shape,' and that Insup and M. Martin Taylor's use of Herman Bouma's letter-confusion data to define something they called a word's 'bouma shape' might provide the basis for a richer notion of 'word shape.'

Nick Shinn's picture

Similarly, italics, which are just as legible as roman are I believe even tested to read more slowly.

Speaking of ideology, scientists and engineers have theirs, which tends to be skewed by who's paying the bills.
The reading research being done at Microsoft is in the service of ergonomic engineering, so it's hardly surprising that one of the axioms is : fast = good.

William Berkson's picture

>fast = good

Certainly reading speed is one valid measure of readability. Another would be comprehension in a given time. Another would be fatigue--meaning not only eye strain, but also just feeling tired of reading. I think there is a 'brain weariness' as well as an 'eye weariness'.

By comparison, legibility tests would be eg. how quickly a letter is identified, and how easily it is confused with another letter. Because legibility and readabily would be tested in different ways, they are certainly different conceptually. To what extent legibility contributes to readibility or even subsumes it is a matter for testing. To assume that they are identical, given the clear difference conceptually and operationally, would indeed be question begging--not the idea that they are different.

enne_son's picture

I tend to think of legibility as a simple matter of discrimination affordance. Are the letters designed in such a way that we can readily make out their identities, or the identities of the words they make up? Are the letters designed in such a way that we can readily tell them apart? Mostly discussions about legibility have to do with thresholds. A highly legible type affords disrimination at larger distances, smaller sizes, lower contrasts, compromised illumination, against higher levels of background noise, with greater blur.

In discussions about whether the letters in a font combine well to promote rapid automatic visual wordform resolution, efficient saccade planning, a pleasant, perceptually effortless reading experience exacting low attentional resources, I tend to use readability. What we are used to plays a role, but there are also 'harder' determinants like spacing and formal familiality or fit which play a role.

However the epistemological status of concepts like legibility and readibility is such that the matters they evoke resist formalization and quantification.

Nick Shinn's picture

resist formalization and quantification.

Words to live by.

William Berkson's picture

>Words to live by.

Not if you are a reading scientist. Then I think trying to capture readability formally, and test quantitatively what makes for it are important challenges. Of course they will 'resist'--progress in science is not easy--but human ingenuity will eventually meet the challenge, I'm sure. (I am not talking of the aesthetics here, but of speed and comfort in reading.)

Nick Shinn's picture


From "Designing for People" by Henry Dreyfuss, 1955.
This approach originated with making a better tank for G.I. Joe.

arina s.'s picture

Thank you for share your insights in legibility and readability.

I hope that I can get back with a compilation of the discussion and include some of the posed questions in a larger framework dealing with this topic.

I've got over two interesting titels about legibility and typography:
A Psychological study of Typography by Sir Cyril Burt with an introduction by Stanley Morison and Legibility of Printed Text by Bror Zachrisson.

Has anyone suggestions about litterature dealing with legibility on screen text?

I love this statement William: The task of science is to explain observations, not dismiss them.

dezcom's picture

Arina,
I thought you might find the following article appropriate to your thesis: "Our Changing Visual Environment" by Maureen MacKenzie-Taylor

Here is a long quote to whet your appetite:

"...Our research is showing that people read and understand best what they are most used to (MacKenzie, 1992:54-56).

"In contrast, the earlier legibility studies suggested that legibility was somehow biologically determined. It was inferred that because of the way our eyes are constructed, and the ways in which people read with jumping eye movements, that serifed text is easier to read because those little finishing strokes to letters aid the eye’s progression from letter to letter, and improve reader’s differentiation of word shapes.

"In contrast to this earlier research, our recent testing of documents shows that in the 1990s there is no difference per se in ease and speed of reading and consequent understanding between serif and sanserif letterforms. What our results suggest is that legibility is culturally learned and sub-culturally developed."

______
The whole article is available at:

http://communication.org.au/cria_publications/publication_id_21_58423880...

Hope this helps.

ChrisL

arina s.'s picture

…legibility is culturally learned and sub-culturally developed. (MacKenzie, 1998)

Thanks Chris, that is my point too in the other track about the Romanian newspapers using sans serifs...

…and the hypothesis about (communist) ideology trying to use typography to communicate to the masses in a certain way remains to be demonstrate.

…and the epistemological aspect of legibility and readability remained also to be clarified.

Lot of work to do!

dezcom's picture

Arina,

Good luck to you on this! We would love to see a copy of your final paper. Perhaps you might post a pdf at some point when you are all finished?

ChrisL

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