Research about legibility

stw's picture

• sans serif is better than serif
• great counters
• large x-height
• the letter has to be noticeable in the upper half of the x-height
• thickness= 18% of the x-height (like ITC Officina)
• extended width
• identical strokewidth (visual not geometric)
• distinctive ascenders and descenders
• binocular g and a
• long crossbar on f and t
• long r (like Univers 65)
• large punctuation marks
• (large serifs like MT Sabon & ITC Stone)

take care of confusable lettercombinations: (par example)
2z (if oldstylenumbers)
0o (if oldstylenumbers)
!l (solution = make the ! like Times New Roman)
$s (solution = maybe make $ with two bars; dont know if it is allowed?)
rn = m
Iil!1 (solution = I with serifs even in a sans typeface or l with an endstroke)

• make sure the font passes the blurtest


An other theory is that readers read best what they read most. It seems curious that blackletter typestyles, which we find illegible today, were actually preferred over more humanistic designs during the eleventh and fifteenth centuries.

based on these days these fonts are:

Most used fonts in newspapers:
1 Poynter Series
2 Franklin Gothic
3 Helvetica
4 Utopia
5 Times
6 Nimrod
7 Cantury Old Style
8 Interstate
9 Bureau Grotesque
10 Miller

Most selled fonts - Linotype:
1 Frutiger
2 Neue Helvetica
3 Optima
4 Helvetica
5 Myriad
6 Futura
7 DIN 1451
8 Univers
9 Eurostile
10 Avenir

So maybe the most legible font has to be a mishmash of these fonts!?


Do you think something is missing or is wrong!?
Please tell me


hrant's picture

Steven, in these ~10 months that you've been on Typophile,
have you been reading the discussions concerning readability?


stw's picture

Yes, I have read a bit about it here. Sorry, I hope I dont annoy you with this thread!? Its more like a simple summary for myself and want to share it with you!? Im from Germany and sometimes its a bit hard for me to follow your discussions which also sometimes requires a high know how and good knowledge of the technical terms. So if something is totally wrong: please say it. Or if something very important is missing: please say it.

Please be patient with me :(


George Horton's picture

Your rules are mostly appropriate (though not extended width) to, say, signage legibility, rather than to readability - or at least I think that would be the majority opinion round here - just so you know.

hrant's picture

Sorry if I snapped (and certainly don't worry about annoying me). I guess I have a Pavlovian reaction whenever I hear the Emigre mantra, after all this public effort some of us put in to explain how near-sighted it is. On the other hand, something like "sans serif is better than serif" - where is that coming from? Are you perhaps distinguishing between legibility and readability?


Nick Shinn's picture

Research about boybandability:

Boy Member #1
* Drop dead gorgeous, but in a pretty way.

Boy Member #2
* Drop dead gorgeous, but in a rugged way.

Boy Member #3
* Must be goofy looking. Added bonus points for dyed hair.

Boy Member #4
* Plain looks - could be your boy next door

Boy Member #5
* Hot looking, but in a rough and tough way. Added bonus points for scars and/or tattoos.

--Kristina Frazier-Henry

stw's picture

I am a bit cunfused.
So what exactly is the difference between legibility and readability!? In germany you translate both with the same word "lesbarkeit"
I allways thought legibilty is the way the typeface has to look for best reading.
Readability is how the text in itself has to look. For example: textsize, textlength, layout, choice of the typeface etc.


hrant's picture

It depends who you ask (not surprisingly), with some people saying there's no difference* (and that's assuming we smartly ignore those who say none of it matters anyway). What I've found to be most useful is to see: legibility as pertaining to individual letters, usually seen for a long time (meaning seconds), sometimes at a long distance, very small (or very large), etc. - you get the picture; and readability to mean the comfort with which people can read a font for a long time. The two are really quite different - certainly not diametrically opposed, but I like to think of them as two vectors 90 degrees apart.

* These tend to be the same people who don't distinguish between text and display fonts (and as a result can't make good ones of the former kind).


George Horton's picture

Readability is about continued reading, legibility about deciphering individual letters and words. There is a tradeoff between the two. The latter is probably best served by widely-spaced, monoline sans-serifs, for instance, but the former by contrasting seriffed fonts.

Here are some rather random notes on what makes for readability: they're hardly the product of research, and may all be nonsense.

Think of pattern not rhythm - i.e. robust and taut white shapes, not stem distance regularity.

Construction of stems, bowls, counters, cross-bars, diagonals, and how they join matters more than detailing.

Limited but clear contrast assists differentiation and adds life, about 3 or 4:1 being ideal.

Differentiation within a small range in many aspects of the design will obliterate a consistent chirography; however chirography provides two (broad and pointed pen) admirable starting points for design, and since real calligraphy is never so geometric as, say, Minion one can learn from it especially once one has internalised the effects of miniaturisation.

Variety matters especially around the top of the x-height.

bpdq bowl-height should be apparently less than o's height.

Vary axes for differentiation, both exterior versus other exterior axes and interior versus exterior axes.

Vary textures for interior and exterior outlines: rigid and angular in one, rounded in the other.

Basic forms may be selectively differentiated by e.g. giving c 16th-century Roman capital serifs, or e a terminal beak, or h a rounder right leg than n.

Text lowercase baseline serifs should be only minimally cupped, if at all. The primary purpose of lowercase serifs is to limit lateral interference: they should be long and strong. Near-equilateral triangles are not good enough.

Perceived blackness flows into stems from intersections and serifs; smooth colour-gradations require the management of intersections. Thus the horizontals of n and m should meet the left stem immediately below the serif.

Distance between stems of n and m should be a touch smaller at the bottom than the top if the characters are not to seem inflated by the open counter at the bottom.

There should be no superfluous neural spiking in reading - the text should be transparent. Difficult letter-combinations, such as gg and ra, may be ligatured.

x-height for 12 point should be about 55% of h-height, and descender length about 55% to 75% of ascender length.

Examples of quasi-Aldine proportions:
----------------16 pt---11 pt---8 pt
Italic Cap------5.5-----6-------6.5
Roman Cap-------6.5-----7-------7.5

In small text, small irregularities, white and black, should be relatively larger.

Both nearest points and stem-distance matter in spacing. At 12 point, optical space between characters should be about three quarters of that within the characters' counters. At 8 point it should be about seven eighths.

William Berkson's picture

Steven, in my post of May 2, in this thread I gave what I think is the standard distinction between 'legibility' and 'readability' in English. It is controversial whether the distinction is really valid.

If you do a search on 'readability' in the typophile search box, you will find more than you want to read on readability!

Here are two of the longer threads:

"Readability and Readerability" and "What makes and italic easier to read?"

hrant's picture

George: I like.

> taut white shapes

Ooooh baby.

> the standard distinction between ‘legibility’ and ‘readability’ in English.

Except we don't use standard English. :-)

Everybody knows that when a type designer talks
only other type designers believe he's even human.


stw's picture

Thank you all for your explanations.
I will absorb it and save it in my vocabulary.

Thank you very much George for sharing your notes. They are quite helpfull for a beginner like me to differ a readable and a less-readable typeface from each other.

But I have one more silly question:
What makes a typeface more readable for a visually impaired reader!?
Do you have to design a textface more "legible" that every single letter could be recognised directly!? (almost the same rules like for signage legibility)

George Horton's picture

I should think so, yes. There was a bit of a scandal over Tiresias, a "research-based" type design project making a TV subtitling font for the visually impaired; I don't know whether there's any better research on this specifically.

redge's picture

What do discussions, definitinal and substantive, about legibility and readability tell me about whether I should set an edition of Moby Dick in Cheltenham, Gill Sans or Eaglefeather?

Is there evidence that the average literate person is having problems understanding the myriad texts in myriad type faces that he or she encounters every day?

Should I be telling my optometrist that my new prescription may be wrong because the typography on the test that he gave me last week may not have been optimal?

Anyone know what type was used for the first edition of Moby Dick? I'm thinking of writing a PhD thesis on whether the novel was panned because the type had the wrong bouma shape.

All in fun...

William Berkson's picture

George, thanks so much for the results of your research in to the Aldine face.

Fascinating, and of course all debatable!

Steven, you should know that the state of research on readablity and legibility is not yet that strong. There are a lot of claims made for various type faces, but when you look into them, they do not actually have a solid research result behind them.

William Berkson's picture

>we don’t use standard English.

True, the distinction between legibility and readablity is only used by people interested in type--and not all of them. I suspect that it came into existence in the 1930s, and I am guessing was introduced Stanley Morrison or Beatrice Warde. I would actually be interested to know the history of the distinction.

George Horton's picture

Bill, stress the quasi in quasi-Aldine ;). It's the best MM scaling I could think of that gives useful proportions, compromising between Aldus' and Griffo's (and indeed Jenson's, for the 16 point) practice.

redge's picture

"...the distiction between legibility and readability is used only by people interested in type - and not all of them."

One of the things that I like about Bringhurst's book is that he treats the issue of choosing type principally as a design issue, and he is quite clear about his design considerations (which one may or may not accept).

The words "legibility" and "readability" don't even appear in his index.

There may be an argument for this kind of research as pure research, but as applied research it strikes me (with apologies to Luigi Pirandello) as research in search of a problem, and a non-existent problem at that.

I guess that I'd like to think that after a few millenia of writing, people would have figured out how to write in a way that is legible and readable. Indeed, I was under the impression, when I was in grade school, that that is what my teachers were attempting to instill when we spent all that time learning to write.

The trickier question, and the one that Bringhurst focuses on, properly in my view, is what type to choose for a modern edition of Moby Dick.


George Horton's picture

But as Bringhurst recognises, the best text type designers rethink their letters from the inside out, in structural rather than merely ornamental terms, at the levels of glyph-component, word and textblock; and the features which make for readability often follow from those same structural considerations that determine much of a good text type's character.

hrant's picture

The relevance of readability comes not from asking a layman if he can read the word "dog" in a given font; it comes from the very real -if extremely hard to measure- fatigue a reader feels after hours immersed in a text, where things like setting a book in a sans will get you (even though you might have no idea why). This is what separates the mimics from the men so to speak (no sexism intended) in text face design.

> The words “legibility” and “readability” don’t even appear in his index.

Also, he is a poet.
Treat RB's book (or really any book) as gospel, and you will get nowhere.

Choosing a culturally valid font for Moby Dick is exactly
only half the problem. And the superficial, easy half at that.


redge's picture

"...the best text type designers rethink their letters from the inside out, in structural rather than merely ornamental terms..."

My personal view is that structure is nesessary, but that ornament and other attributes of style differentiate between what is necessary and what is aesthetically pleasing.

Not everyone would agree with one or both of the foregoing statements.

This is getting a long way from the original post. I just think that it is useful, if one wants to learn about and use type, to focus first on broader issues than legibility and readability. Why? Because I think that as a practical matter there are a lot of legible, readable type faces and there is more to be learned by paying attention to the aesthetic differences between them in relation to what one wants to communicate.

hrant's picture

> focus first on broader issues than legibility and readability.

I prefer to focus on both facets, from day one until the end.
Even though I find aesthetic issues quite boring. This is in
fact the problem with designers who demote functionality:
they can't get themselves to pay attention to something they
find boring. Generally, they're too artsy to care about what
users really need (even if they never realize that). In contrast,
I find that designers who enjoy functionality often have a more
self-disciplined, humble philosophy.

But it's OK, we need you guys too. :-)
Even if you fail to see that you in turn need us.

> there is more to be learned by paying attention to the aesthetic differences

For a layman reading 9 pt text immersively, this is quite implausible.
Your stance is confined to display typography.


enne_son's picture

I think terms like readability and legibility have an uncertain or unstable existence in the typographical domain because, while they seem to evoke relevant considerations, they have never been fully specified in perceptual processing terms. A more native use of the terms exist outside type: a sample of writing is legible or it is illegible; texts are readable or unreadable (in discourse-analytic terms).

However, understanding the perceptual processing impact of manipulating typeform microvariables might be applicable if the notational devices that make up our writing systems are "constrained by the propensities and limitations of the human hand and eye." (Bringurst)

And perhaps more important than aesthetic differences--which is less of a concern to Bringhurtst than cultural differences--are gestural-atmospheric differences.

redge's picture


When I use the phrase "aesthetic differences", I mean it as a shorthand phrase that includes artistic, cultural, historic and contextual considerations of the kind that Bringhurst discusses, especially in chapter six of his book.

John Hudson's picture

Although the feeling of fatigue may be subjective and individually variable, eye fatigue is associated with specific muscle activity around the eye, which can be quite precisely measured with the correct tools. So fatigue, or rather the physiological activity that results in fatigue, is actually one of the easier things to measure.

But are you retreating to a position of fatigue reduction, Hrant? In the past you have posited possible improvements in speed and accuracy.

redge's picture


Are you suggesting that this business about legibility and readability is ultimately about Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics :)?

hrant's picture

John, I feel those all boil down to the same thing (and this seems to be one thing Kevin and I agree on). Helping saccades get longer translates to less fatigue in the long run. Because in the end, it very rarely matters how fast you read something, what matters is, is the reader discouraged enough (via fatigue) to not finish the piece; is a usability threshold crossed. That said, the reason to concentrate on something like saccade length is that it's so much more direct and measurable.


Nick Shinn's picture

For the typographer, optimizing readability doesn't just depend on the choice of typeface, but on other variables such as size, leading, line length, paper stock, page size, layout hierarchy, margin size, amount of text, and who's doing the reading.
Changing any one of these variables affects the others.

In the real world, one is faced with deciding between typeface A which looks better at 9.5/13, and typeface B which looks better at 9/14. Unless laboratory testing develops an index of readability for all the typographic variables, it's of no practical use in any but the most banal typographic projects.

For standard formats on standard equipment, such as templates in Microsoft Word, running on Vista with ClearType fonts, reading research has no doubt been useful in font development. But if people generally want some research-proven rules to follow about what typefaces are best for original layouts and design, that's not possible.

hrant's picture

> For the typographer, optimizing readability
> doesn’t just depend on the choice of typeface

1) That goes without saying.
2) For the text face designer, it's extremely significant.

> it’s of no practical use

On the contrary. It can help Redge decide against considering Gill Sans for a book, it can reduce the chances of people using negative tracking to save space, and all kinds of other nice things.

> if people generally want

Well, people want all kinds of dumb things. But a lot of smart people feel they need some degree (not absolute) help from empiricism, because they're mature enough to realize they're not omniscient artistes.


William Berkson's picture

>eye fatigue ...can be quite precisely measured with the correct tools. So fatigue actually one of the easier things to measure.

I think there are other important dimensions of reading comfort. There is brain fatigue as well as eye fatigue. I think you might be able to test this by seeing after what time readers' comprehension falls off. I suspect that this would not just be the measurable eye strain.

As I remember, Kevin Larson was reported here has having tested people's ability to use concepts they read, and found lay-out mattered. I think the same thing would prove true with type face, though perhaps longer reader periods would be necessary to show the difference.

Nick, that lay-out factors are equally or more important than type face does not contradict the claim that there are important differences in readability of typefaces, especially at text sizes.

I think if even redge had to read a long book in 10 pt Helvetica or old-style italic, and had the same book set in 10 pt Sabon or Minion, he would be mighty tempted to switch to the book set in these real text faces.

John Hudson's picture

As I remember, Kevin Larson was reported here has having tested people’s ability to use concepts they read, and found lay-out mattered.

Not quite. This relates to Kevin's presentation in Helsinki. It does not have to do with ability to make use of concepts in what has been read, but in the ability of the mind to solve puzzle-like tasks after enlivening mental activity. The basic observation had been established in experiments in which subjects were given tasks to perform after a drily delivered lecture and a humourous video. Consistently, subjects performed the tasks better after the humourous video. Kevin's tests found subjects performed tasks better after reading a well typeset document than after reading a poorly typeset document. The tasks are not related to the content of the reading.

William Berkson's picture

>The tasks are not related to the content of the reading.

Thanks for explaining it. That's interesting also. Is it because the well type-set text and humorous video are less fatiguing? Did he have any theory about it?

redge's picture

"I think even if redge had to read a long book in 10pt Helvetica..."

Actually, I didn't say a single thing that suggests that I would do that.

In fact, I said a few days ago in another thread that I was adamant about using serif for the book that I'm working on despite suggestions from participants in this forum that I look at sans serif types.

The Straw Man makes a great character in The Wizard of Oz, but a very poor basis for an argument.


William Berkson's picture

>There may be an argument for this kind of research [on readability] as pure research, but as applied research it strikes me (with apologies to Luigi Pirandello) as research in search of a problem, and a non-existent problem at that.

>I just think that it is useful, if one wants to learn about and use type, to focus first on broader issues than legibility and readability. Why? Because I think that as a practical matter there are a lot of legible, readable type faces and there is more to be learned by paying attention to the aesthetic differences between them in relation to what one wants to communicate.

My example was to show that it is quite important practically how readable a typeface is--something I thought, perhaps mistakenly, you rejected in the above quotations.

A person designing a typeface intended for text should, I think, be extremely concerned about its readability. Otherwise it is going to be a bad text face. For the text type designer it should not be a 'non-existent problem'.

And similarly when a graphic designer sets extended text, he or she should be concerned that the typeface and the layout together are readable. And this involves looking at both the qualities of the typeface and the layout, both of which will contribute to readability or detract from it. It is not a trivial problem to produce readable text, I think, particularly when the designer also needs to be addressing the production and aesthetic demands of a text to be printed.

Aesthetics are interesting and important, but it seems to me readability is also at least equally worth focusing on for extended text. This you seemed explicitly to deny. Did I misread you?

redge's picture

Actually, I agree with everything that you are saying. If I wanted to quibble, I'd say only that aesthetics and readability, except where there is a deliberate decision to divorce the two, are co-incident.

I agree that a beginning designer needs to learn about what is legible and readable, although I'd also like to think that that is not a difficult thing to learn.

I also have no problem if someone wants to say that there is a holy grail of legibility and readability that, once observed, will leave the last few millenia in the dust.

That said, I don't believe that the holy grail, if there is one, will be found by studying bouma shape.

On the other hand, I do believe that there are developments in type that reflect cultural changes (New York subway grafitti is an obvious example), and that become art (the kind of thing that people like Basquiat did with subway art).

I guess that I just figure that I'll leave the search for holy grail, if it conceived as an empirical exercise, to someone else, especially since there is so much beauty (not to mention legibility and readability) in what we already have.


William Berkson's picture

>there is a holy grail of legibility and readability that, once observed, will leave the last few millenia in the dust.

Ok, now it's my turn. Where did I say or imply that?

It isn't a 'straw man', but it ain't me :)

redge's picture

My point was that I agree with you. I don't think that you have said anything that is controversial.

My comment is a reaction to some of the things said in this thread and in some of the threads that are linked.

I should add that I've edited my last post a bit, which may or may not clarify things and/or get me into more hot water :)

redge's picture


I hope that there is a Cuban or Cuban expatriat who will respond to the thread in the design forum on revolutionary Cuba.

THAT is an interesting subject.

Any comments yourself?

hrant's picture

Redge, in this thread, you asked: "What do discussions, definitinal and substantive, about legibility and readability tell me about whether I should set an edition of Moby Dick in Cheltenham, Gill Sans or Eaglefeather?" People have been discussing the unsuitability of sans fonts (such as Gill, and Helvetica) for setting long texts for ages, including on Typophile for 6 years. Many of us have done at least a fair job explaining why/that serifs help reading; certainly a much better job than the self-serving hackneyed droning of the Emigre mantra, or the cloying cultural over-valuation of poets.

> aesthetics and readability, except where there is a
> deliberate decision to divorce the two, are co-incident.

Life isn't so one-dimensional.

> that is not a difficult thing to learn.

On the contrary, it's so difficult that even over
a century after Javal's discovery we're fumbling.

Holy Grail? No such thing. More like a taming of selfish artistry,
in order to help users, not humor one's own ego, or accomodate one's
intellectual lethargy.


BTW, editing is for the fearful.


hrant's picture

> THAT is an interesting subject.

Boring as hell to me.
But I would be an idiot to ignore its relevance.


redge's picture

Hi hrant,

Thanks so much for explaning to me that I shouldn't set Moby Dick in Gill Sans. Until you came to my rescue, I was on the verge of making a big mistake.

How about if I set it in Eaglefeather? That way I could make an oblique reference to the close relationship between Herman Melville and Frank Lloyd Wright, which everyone knows about seein' as how Wright had a copy of Moby Dick in his library. Besides, they were both Americans.

If you don't like that idea, how about Cheltenham? I hear that it is even better than Times Roman. I also hear that the New York Times has recently decided to use Cheltenham, and New York isn't all that far from where Moby Dick starts off, although I'll admit that there aren't a lot of big white/albino killer whales in the Hudson River.

How much would it cost me to hire you to do some empirical research to figure out this problem, especially figuring out the most legible/readable type? I'm especially concerned because when Moby Dick got published, it was a good deal less successful than the Da Vinci Code, and I figure that you might be able to explain why Dan Brown's book is a hit and Melville's book was a bust.

Yours in anticipation, and with an open chequebook,


PS. I agree that Cuba is boring, but as you point out it is relevant. Hemmingway's old man, unlike Melville's guy, managed to catch his fish. You can see what I am up against, trying to publish a book about a fisherman who can't catch worth a damn.

hrant's picture

So, when you finally break down and reply to me directly (it didn't take much for your covert resolve* to wilt) you resort to tired Anglo humor to avoid actually making sense. I've seen this so many times, it's become utterly, predictably boring. Be forewarned however, when the humor fails even more clearly than the feeble attempts at logic, the next stage is often a frothing rage. But please, instead of cutting your ear off, go paint something. And keep it confined to your bedroom.

* Using the word lightly.

> I was on the verge of making a big mistake.

No, the mistake is in your distant past.
And the further it falls back, the harder
it will be to see and correct.

> you might be able to explain

No, I can't explain the behavior of masses
of peons, and I don't care to. I'm not into
fashion - my idea of culture is different.

BTW, Cuba isn't boring at all. But ignoring the needs of regular Cuban citizens in favor of masturbating about some semi-hallucinatory cultural insight into its past is not only boring, but vapid.

If you want to really understand type, get over your lack of interest in
functionality, and learn about how humans work. Otherwise you'll be
stuck in the dumb buxom-blonde world of display typography.


It's always the same with artistes butting into threads about functionality
simply to tell people to stop talking about it. Note that the other way around
almost never happens. Why? Maturity, objectivity, doubt. All anathema to painting pretty pictures.


Nick Shinn's picture

Nick, that lay-out factors are equally or more important than type face does not contradict the claim that there are important differences in readability of typefaces, especially at text sizes.

Perhaps there are, but they can't be meaningfully measured as there are too many variables. With one set of fixed parameters, it may be possible to say that subject A preferred one typeface over another, when set at a certain point size, leading, line length etc, for text of a particular length, on a particular subject. But it's impossible in practice to vary all the parameters against one another to create a "readability index" for typefaces.

crossgrove's picture


At the risk of seeming like an arteest, Don't you think there is a limit to how much we can discuss readability without additional work at developing typefaces specifically geared toward reading comfort, and also without mechanisms for testing them (and other, existing typefaces)? In other words, whenever someone asks about readability, there is a lot of discussion, but the final collection of data is always so impoverished. I have my theories, as well, but I can't spend time explaining them, if there are no prospects for new experiments that test the theories. I'd rather work on the experiments. What is the ideal testing environment? Can we propose some controls and methods to appropriate scientists?

Nick Shinn's picture

Note that the other way around almost never happens.

Except when someone mentions Mrs Eves or Bodoni as a text face, and Hrant starts spouting his you-don't-know-readability mantra.

hrant's picture

Yes, I do think there's a limit. When we collectively
come close enough to it, I'll stop yakking, I promise. :-)

> I have my theories

Good. And lacking "proof" of them might limit how far you'd dare to apply your theories, but that can't stop you from applying them somehow. Otherwise you'd be guilty of hypocricy. Different people have different thresholds of crossing from assumption into action; the important thing is to care.

As for the issue of What Is A Good Test, that's exactly what needs to be figured out. I have heard some good ideas, including on Typophile by people like Peter E, but since actual practice in the field is so, so far from any ideal, this is actually an area where frankly I am hopeful of being paid to put some serious concrete thought into it by somebody or other eventually. What can I say, I'm an optimist. Now, I'm not the only person who can pull this off - but there certainly aren't many of us. So I'm saving myself so to speak. :-)


typotheticals's picture

My eyes are bad, and getting worse, so my view of legibility would be anything 12 points and over. Not constructive I am afraid, but it does have something to do with the question

hrant's picture

Nick, I'm not the only person who thinks Mrs Eaves* and/or Bodoni are flawed as text faces. Think of Robin Kinross for the former, and G W Ovink for the latter. You've been told this before, by people besides me, but somehow you manage to forget it. I understand, it's simply too inconvenient.

* BTW, if you think poor spacing has no effect on reading: please stop droning on about the Divinity of Even Color; and you might actually be in agreement with Kevin on something!

But anyway, I was actually talking about something else: how discussions of culture and aesthetics don't seem to get interrupted with "Don't you talk about that!" tantrums.


Nick Shinn's picture

Nick, I’m not the only person who thinks Mrs Eaves* and/or Bodoni are flawed as text faces.

Their merit as text faces is not at issue: rather, your bitching about readability threads being hijacked by designers is, and saying it rarely goes the other way, when in fact you are always going on about your readability theories at the slightest opportunity. But of course, change the subject, a convenient distraction.

BTW, I don't know where you get the idea I think those faces are good for text. I've never used or recommended Mrs Eaves. I've tried all the Bodonis -- they're difficult to work with, but some versions are suitable for some text uses.


Perhaps the reason some designers and typographers are antipathetic to readability research is because they feel threatened by it. If one has spent many years acquiring a refined sensibility, and non-practitioners seek to quantify that in a banal manner, there's reason enough for hostility, protecting your turf. Especially when a company like Microsoft is involved -- your favourite bugbear, middle aged Anglo creatives, are all too familiar with the way hard-earned skills have been replaced by automated software.

What does the future hold in store? Already MS is touting the scientifically-proven readability benefits of its ClearType faces in marketing language, so who needs a typographer to spec a typeface when the engineer can tell the client what works best?

hrant's picture

> you are always going on about your readability theories

But critically, not to the point of excluding the other half, is the point. Presenting opinions is one thing, trying to prevent others from doing so quite another. And it has seemed to me that those who prefer to focus more on aesthetics have a lesser tolerance of the other half than the other way around.

> they feel threatened by it.

Exactly. Weak.

> your favourite bugbear, middle aged Anglo creatives

Almost: remove "creatives" (such a dumb term anyway, as if they have the monopoly on creativity just because they've put themselves -or more often ended up- in a position of painting pretty pictures), and add "males". And it's not my imagination: the proportion of hostility towards me coming from that narrow demographic is extremely telling.

> hard-earned skills

Oh, but of course, the dumb, boring technical people have acquired their insights with no effort. Ask yourself: why do they seem to feel less threatened by flaming primadonna artists posing as designers who want to throw empiricism -not to mention plain old analysis- out the window without a second thought?

> who needs a typographer to spec a typeface

I wouldn't call the type of person you're talking about a "typographer", or even a designer of any sort. What you're talking about is a person primarily interested in expressing himself. Boring, and pretty useless. But luckily for them, there will always be people who fawn over the behavior and output of others, just like the masses of peons adulating celebrities. "Ooooh, your fonts are so pretttty! I don't care what kind of person you really are, just sleep with me... I'll even pay you!"


hrant's picture

The subvisible subtlety and power of the text face cannot be
appreciated and certainly not leveraged by mere aesthetics alone.
To contrast it with the display face, I allude to this singular quote:

"The poster is to art what rape is to love."
- A M Cassandre


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