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This is my question that came out of the "Display vs Text" thread restated here to avoid hijacking the other thread.
There have been studies of legibility for signage, CRT, long text. Studies comparing serif to sans serif where one wins for long text and the other for screen or when reversed or for signage. I am curious if anyone is aware of the parameters of studies and can speak to where one kind of reading begins and the other ends. Clearly reading "War and Peace" is in the long text arena. Clearly reading a Stop sign is not. But where is the break point? Is it "The Old Man and the Sea," a simple brochure, a paragraph, an entry in the phone book, or any word longer than 8 characters? Also, how much of a difference is there? If I read "War and Peace" will it take me a day longer if it were set in a Sans instead of a Serif or only an hour? What if I only read 20 pages a night of it? If it all boils down to 10 minutes difference to read "The Old Man and the Sea," then what is the big deal?
I have heard a few people (and only from type savvy people) say reading a Sans really impairs their reading a great deal. Frankly, I don't find any difference in my own reading. The average lay person just reads without making much of a consious judgement.
I wonder how much of it is a self fulfilling prophesy or even something as simple as we like one over the other only for aesthetic reasons and therefore our self-percieved reading ability increases.
My real question or actually theory is that years of legibility/readability studies surely measure something but what? I have never seen a conclusion in a study sufficiently explain the "why" aspect. There are just too many leaps of faith from "Serifs help us read faster" to "how they do it" There was a time when the greatest scientific minds on the Earth were convinced that the world was flat or the Sun traveled about the Earth. Later someone else figured it out and proved them wrong. Is that where we are now with readability/legibility? Will someone prove us all wrong in a few years?