Optical center

froo's picture

I know three methods for determining the optical center of a figure (on the vertical axis):

1) given by Harold Evans (after V. Steer) in Newspaper Design (1973);
2) proposed by Albert A. Sutton in Design and Makeup of the Newspaper (1948);
3) "just trust your eye".

Each of them gives, let's say, quite different results. Common to these methods is that the optical center lies slightly above the geometric center of the figure (I don't mention my students claim the optical center is located right in the middle).

The question is:
do you know other methods, formulas or have links to similar issues which would help to clarify or form an opinion on the matter?

russellm's picture

"Trusting your eye" is really as many methods as there are people using it.

the first two methods sound as idiosyncratic and arbitrary as the last. (... I say without knowing anything about them)

Your students are obviously referring to the optical middle. :o)

my method isn't really very helpful: "It doesn't have to be right. I has to look right."

William Berkson's picture

I haven't heard of an "optical center" other than on the horizontal axis, for spacing purposes. That was championed by David Kindersley. I think there is something to his idea, but he never really nailed it down to a formula that worked consistently.

Vertically, when you divide a space vertically such as e or E, the visually equal division is somewhat above the geometrical center. But I suspect that that apparently equal division will vary with the design of the rest of the figure. So, eg the crossbar of the H and A will be in different places. So there isn't one single number for a "vertical center."

blank's picture

I find the geometric center and then trust my eye to work out where the optical center is. It gets a lot easier after the first five hundred times you do it.

JamesT's picture

It really depends on the distribution of weight in the character, in my opinion. Optical center of the /e/ would be different from the optical center of the z with a stroke through it.

froo's picture

Let's scope on the simplest example, because we all are aware of slight differences caused by interaction of more complicated shapes, like letters.
I am not interested in optical centering itself - it's not my life's goal - but lastly I am really curious of what causes we need to place something that "has to be in the middle" at least a tad ABOVE. Is it related to - I don't know - neurophysiology (like anticipating an event, eg falling object)?
The Evans' rule seems to be linked with the golden ratio; it creates strong diagonals feeling, while Sutton is probably more an "optical tricker".
Maybe the relation among the four examples is rather culture- or design-driven thing?

riccard0's picture

Maybe I'm not young, healthy, and surely not nice enough, but the last example feels unbalanced to me. Obviously it depends on context and application, but I probably would go with something inbetween yours and the last one.

froo's picture

So you are the second youngest, nicest and healthiest.

PS: Indeed, I should put the square two pixels lower.

William Berkson's picture

I agree with Riccardo, but the important thing in designing a typeface is to make the divisions work *in conjunction with other letters*. All of these could work, depending on the design. I'm sure you can find the cross bar on the H at all of these levels in good fonts. That's why the vertical alignment always is a matter of the eye, looking at, and deciding on, the whole design.

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