Readability and reading behaviour in the Future

fonthausen's picture

Hi guys,
I thing this might be a very importent topic for typedesigners now and in the future ( in 2-3 generations most people will probably only read from monitor and displays):

::::::::: How will reading develop?

:::::::::: What are or will be the most influencial factors for this change, if a change happens?

:::::::::: What influences on type will it have?

:::::::::: Will we see more Sansserif or serif type, if so, why?

:::::::::: How much does this depend on the development of technology? (HiRes monitors e.g.)

I would like to hear your opinions, or maybe you have questions yourself.

Jacques

PS: automatically the question arises: how could ultimate redable type look like in the future?

fonthausen's picture

Maybe this is a nice intro (I got the link from http://www.linesandsplines.com/ (thanks Andy!!):

http://www.merlin.ubc.ca/people/JMax/Typo/survival.html

jacques

hrant's picture

Interesting thread/questions.

Maybe the hardest thing to predict is how much future generations will *care* about reading/readability (and that's not saying the current generation cares enough). But for the moment I'll ignore the underlying cultural motivations/obstacles (as interesting as they are to consider) and assume that future generations will [nominally] care enough to implement non-trivial methods:

> How will reading develop?

Reading will be heavily assisted: you will be primarily shown what [you're told to think] you're interested in. Which means more efficiency, but at the cost of exposure to new/unexpected things: narrower but deeper thought. Dangerous.

> What are or will be the most influencial factors for this change, if a change happens?

Media will increasingly be controlled by large corporations, which will assimilate smaller, more liberal entities, subsequently posing on the surface as providing an alternative to those who feel they need an alternative. The small media players which manage to survive will never make a real difference. Until, of course, the Great Revolution.

So, because for the forseeable future reading will be controlled by corporations, we will become less rounded people.

> What influences on type will it have?

A given type design will be more software, less highly designed beziers: a font will be able to adapt its x-height, width, color, etc. automatically depending on the reading conditions. How these conditions are conveyed is another matter.

There will be fewer text faces in actual use.
But just as many display faces.

> Will we see more Sansserif or serif type, if so, why?

Display: Almost no serifs.

Text: We will see more flare-serif and semi-serif designs. I'm not sure why I said that.

> How much does this depend on the development of technology?

Serifs depend on resolution. As we're waiting for enough resolution, more and more people will think (incorrectly) that it's OK to use sans for long texts.

> how could ultimate redable type look like in the future?

Instead of moving your eyes around, you will look directly at a fixed spot on a dynamic medium (like a screen, or "active" paper), and you'll use small movements of your hand/fingers (or maybe small "symbolic" eye movements) to trigger saccades/regressions. You might indicate the size of the saccade/regression through degree of movement, or the system could learn and adapt to your reading ability, and coupled with the bouma-difficulty of the text at hand (meaning its ease of decipherability), will guess how far to saccade/regress. At first you'll go slow, your hand taking a while to do what it needs, but eventually there will be an instantaneous connection between your eyes, brain and hand, enabling you to read much faster and for much longer (thanks to near-total lack of saccades).

hhp

hrant's picture

> http://www.merlin.ubc.ca/people/JMax/Typo/survival.html

I found this article to be narrow-minded and uninspiring.

hhp

fonthausen's picture

Just a thought:
If Open Type and its offspring will open the possibility of dynamic, maybe even intelligent type, might it not be possible that characters and words could melt together, creating a new kind of silhouette/bouma based reading? (I mean a kind of ligaturing which goes beyond the typical combined two, max. three character forms).

Jacques

Text would need less space!

hrant's picture

> characters and words could melt together, creating a new kind of silhouette/bouma based reading?

You're fast. It took me a few months of rolling the concept of boumas around my head before I myself came up with this idea!

Basically:
We should be designing words, not letters.

hhp

fonthausen's picture

> We should be designing words, not letters.

Will that give us similarities with chinese/japanese writting, glyphs and signs?

If so, it could influence our way of reading, speaking and communicating. Because it then will be based on images, not language. That is pretty un-western like!!!!

Jacques

ricardo's picture

If we want to have good readability the solution is have a good legibility in each letter to creat good apperence for the reader ( form, space, unity betten letters to creat words) without visual noise or interferences but it's depend of the principal function of that type. And when we want to use one letter only for a trademark?

> Words are composed by lettes so we designing letters to compose words or not.

To continue the first idea of Jacques, how far is gonna be the globalization of the world to transform all languages in one? How many country's and cultures will survive to all this big and historical transformations of language?

Ricardo

hrant's picture

> Will that give us similarities with chinese/japanese writting, glyphs and signs?

That's an interesting way of looking at it. But the difference is that Latin (or any alphabetic system) has the advantage of being decomposable: you can "compile and vocalize" any new/unknown word and possibly know what it means if you've heard it before; in a logography (like Chinese) you have to basically learn the glyph as it stands. The often ignored beauty of Chinese is that it's the only way to have one written language for the many spoken languages in the huge, multi-faceted society that is China. You realize this when you watch a Chinese TV show, and start wondering why it's subtitled in Chinese too... I used to work in a small company with employees from Mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and they had to talk English to one another - but they would *read* the same script fine!

Then there's syllabaries, like the Kana component(s) of Japanese, and although there's a lot less syllables to learn (than complete logographs in Chinese), and although syllabic writing has the didactic advantage of being very close to actual speech, it still doesn't enjoy the abstraction of alphabetic systems.

And *then* there's the rare bird that is Hangul (Korean), which is an alphabetic syllabary (it encodes syllables, but the component alphabetics are visible and decomposable "inside"), so it enjoys the best of both worlds. And what's the most amazing thing about Hangul? It's an entirely man-made writing system (invented about 500 years ago).

> it then will be based on images, not language.

But I'd say that [immersive] reading (in any system) is basically image-based anyway.

> the solution is have a good legibility in each letter

But in immersive (high-speed) reading the details of a letter are a lot less important than some of its "global" features (like ascenders/descenders).

> how far is gonna be the globalization of the world to transform all languages in one?

That's a very interesting -and equally worrisome- question. I just hope that more people start seeing cultural imperialism for the dangers it poses.

hhp

fonthausen's picture

i just thought of a problem:
>> If, theoreticly, something like charactermelting might happen, what will then happen in the eastern european countries for example? They are also using latin signs, but combined with a lot of accents! It might become difficult to assign optically accents to forms/glyphs, resulting from the melting of characters.

I tried to compare the charactermelting to chinese signs and glyphs. Maybe we could also compare, to a certain degree, the arabic written languages.

> how far is gonna be the globalization of the world to transform all languages in one?

That will probably depends if it will influence handwritting and the development of language (e.g esperanto).
And even if character will melt together, each will still have to be typed and therefore will it influence the reading, not the languages. The melting will be done by software. That is to say, if al this won't end up in a kind of *steno* ( the short language secretary use to shorten down dicted text).

Jacques

hrant's picture

> charactermelting

Just to check: I assume you mean when letters combine to compose a readable bouma (word shape)?

> It might become difficult to assign optically accents to forms/glyphs, resulting from the melting of characters.

You lost me - what exactly is the problem?

> arabic

Arabic is an interesting case. It has the distinct advantage of having different shapes for a letter depending on where they are in a word. When typeset properly -avoiding large gaps in words that contain "non-followable" (?) letters, like the "daal"- the boumas are wonderful. It's harder to learn, but easier to read immersively.

> That will probably depends if it will influence handwritting

I think handwriting has almost no relevance now (in terms of the evolution of scripts), and in the next generations it will become much like a funny hobby - like somebody today who does woodcarving: "Oh, that's so cute!"

> each will still have to be typed

Why?

> The melting will be done by software

How, exactly?

hhp

fonthausen's picture

> charactermelting
>>Just to check: I assume you mean when letters combine to compose a readable bouma (word shape)?
>>> Maybe that is not the right expression, but what could the right expression be? Word shape, logographic typesetting, fluent type, textlogo???


> It might become difficult to assign optically accents to forms/glyphs, resulting from the melting of characters.

>> When characters have none or minimal white spacing, accents might overlap the next descender or ascender for example. This could happen as well in a word shape based type.


> each will still have to be typed
>>> we were talking about readabilty. Not about the act of writting or typing. Unless in the future spoken language will be record 100% and converted into text, or maybe even thoughts being translated into digital information. There will have to be a way to put te information in computers. So actually we could now talk about the future of the keyboard, but that is a whole different chapter, or not!?

> The melting will be done by software
>>How, exactly?
If the keyboard and writting pad will stay a while, the text will still have to be typed, written (even if there will be word recognizing software, like on your mobile phone). The software I am talking about, will probably be similar to ATM, or the Open Type software. Which will *intelligently* produced the word shapes on your display.

Jacques

hrant's picture

> what could the right expression be?

I use "bouma", which is a simplification of "Bouma-shape"*, in honor of [retired] Dutch psychologist Herman Bouma, the only person to really analyze word shapes to any interesting depth.

* Apparently coined by either Saenger or Taylor, nobody seems to know, not even Bouma himself...

> accents might overlap the next descender or ascender

I guess that's another reason why a good text face has a small x-height (pretty close to 55% of ascender, with descender being 50-75% of ascenders minus x).

> will *intelligently* produced the word shapes on your display.

But where will this intelligence come from? The programmer, or the type designer?

hhp

fonthausen's picture

> But where will this intelligence come from? The programmer, or the type designer?

You got me there. That is why I put *intelligently* in brackets, because it actually isn't the right term.
Of course, the type designer should tell the way things happen. (welcome in typo'topia!) Which means that the type designer should think of all possibilities, if possible, and then programm the stuff himself or he should let it programm.

Programming??? You probably know or heard about all the things Open Type should make possible, but it still will have to be programmed, and the glyphs will have to be all designed and drawn. So at the end, the designer should, like I said before, think of all possibilities an problems.

Alternativ Idea> If the offspring of Open type will have increased possibilities such as GX type had for example, or MM, fonts could become semi-intelligent (Mmmh....), maybe predictable is the better expression, in the future. If so, type design might not be the design of glyphs whih work well together anymore (to put it very crude), but as noted before, the design of words, maybe even texts. Which means a type designer will have to think in an extra dimension: Bouma. (Note: today and in the past designer also worked with the bouma principle. But instead of building the words out of quantified units, characters, in the theory we are speaking of now, the quantum units will be part of a puzzle, of which the pieces won't be interchangeable. Woven together. (>> we could call this the choas theory of type, hihihihi> Splines with predictable behaviour which function as carriers to glyphs. (As if you put a metal glyph on a piece of metal, and bend this piece of metal to make the glyph fit into whatever...)

Jacques

fonthausen's picture

We have been talking now a lot about this bouma effect, but this is only one idea. Maybe someone would like to make a different prediction about readability and type in the future?

Jacques

Christian Robertson's picture

5{ng note: while there are hiragana and katakana keyboards, most japanese typing is done with romanji. The computer then swaps the roman characters for the japanese sylables. I would envision english word-glyphs to work in much the same way.

cr

hrant's picture

> I would envision english word-glyphs to work in much the same way.

I guess you mean phonetically? Great idea - that would actually greatly reduce the English spelling mess too (with some smart software).

hhp

fonthausen's picture

> if al this won't end up in a kind of *steno* ( the short language secretary use to shorten down dicted text).
Maybe a steno-like keyboard would help here.

Or a common keyboard, aided by software like the one on your mobile phone

Christian Robertson's picture

Not phonetically. I just meant that the word glyphs would glum together after they were typed, much like ligatures do now. The Pseudo-phonetic spellings in english actually adds a lot to readability. What's more, the evolutionary model that drives our writing would never move that way, especially with the influence of foreign and commercial words.

hrant's picture

> I just meant that the word glyphs would glum together after they were type much like ligatures do now.

Oh, OK.
BTW, OpenType makes this possible *now*.

I was thinking that you type what a word sounds like, and the software spells for you.

> The Pseudo-phonetic spellings in english actually adds a lot to readability.

1. I don't see how (but maybe).
2. It certainly does *not* help legibility, and especially not learning.

> the evolutionary model that drives our writing would never move that way, especially with the influence of foreign and commercial words.

?
How does Spanish manage?

"Evolution" in writing is largely exagerated. There's a lot more conscious decision-making going on than many care to admit.

hhp

Christian Robertson's picture

English orthography helps readabiltity in the following way: Instead of one posible combination of characters for any given sound, there are many. For example, "night" is more easily distinguished from "mite" than mit from nit. It does make it harder to learn, though.

As for evolution: of course there are concious decisions made, but there are so many by so many different people, that the results tend to be very organic. The characteristics of change in writing are very similar to other complex network, one of which is biological evolution. Obviously there are differences, but the point in this case is that certain things have to happen for a sign to be adopted into a community. In korea there was a central figure that dictated a new writing system. In our capitolist society there are big descision makers, (bill gates could probably do a lot to change writing if he had a mind to) but even there, changes have to bleed into the community. It parallels evolution in that different signs compete for use. Writing signs that are used more prolifically tend to enter into a positive feedback loop that spreads them throughout the system, much in the same way that animals that are more fit then create more offspring until they fill their niche. A good example of this evolution is the advent of typing signs like :-) Obviously someone somewhere thought of the smiley, but something had do happen for it to seep into the communal conscience.

The real questions then are, what are the characteristics that make one way of writing more fit than another? There are political, social, economic, aesthetic, and physical considerations (and I'm sure a lot more).

About spanish: there is an academy in Spain that makes rules for everything. In my opinion, they are loosing credibility-- why should their only be one right way to do things, and who are they do decide? My prediction is that spanish along with english will become more diverse in its spellings as they adopt words from other places, and as commercial creative spellings become more common. Even spellings of Spanish names are being changed (to be cool? I don't know why). It is common, for example to substitute th for t. (thalia, liseth) even though it is still pronounced the same way.

hrant's picture

You make a good argument.

> changes have to bleed into the community.

Totally agreed.
Many reform efforts have failed because they were too top-down.

> what are the characteristics that make one way of writing more fit than another?

Yes, that's a very interesting question. And what I like most about it is that it doesn't resign to a fatalistic view of a course of evolution that can't be affected by humans.

There are ways to improve writing, even if it usually seems like such an uphill battle.

> there is an academy in Spain that makes rules for everything.

But there's something else. Unlike English, Spanish has a precedent for "correct" spelling, so when importing/creating a word there's every reason and motivation to keep things logical. One could say that the Academy isn't laughed out of existence because Spanish pronunciation/spelling is already highly sensical as it currently stands. English is already such a mess that the notion of such an Academy is just plain funny, and people have little motivation to maintain/promote good orthography.

BTW, proper names could be seen as an generally acceptable exception.

hhp

rs_donsata's picture


::::::::: How will reading develop?

In many ways, reading will be displaced by the information technology if we think that information is the main motivation for reading, any way reading will be indispensable for aproaching to specific information, education or the literary pleasure.


:::::::::: What are or will be the most influencial factors for this change, if a change happens?

The information technology if whe think that information is the main motivation for people to read.



:::::::::: What influences on type will it have?

I think that there will not be such kind of change, at least not so radical and not soon, because of the simple fact that human eyes can

capthaddock's picture

Whew, so much has been said here, it's almost not worth saying more. But I'll try.

Reading in the future: that implies, of course, that people will be reading at all. How many novels does a teenager in the Western world (or specifically, America and Britain) today read per week, compared to, say, 100 years ago?

If the trend continues, the future of Western literature could conceivably be reduced to academic journals for the elite and indecipherable instant messaging by hordes of illiterate graduates.

One the other hand, the latter part of the century may well be dominated by the cultural contributions of 1.x billion Chinese, once their civilization becomes fully industrialized.

If Open Type and its offspring will open the possibility of dynamic, maybe even intelligent type, might it not be possible that characters and words could melt together, creating a new kind of silhouette/bouma based reading? (I mean a kind of ligaturing which goes beyond the typical combined two, max. three character forms).

I've recently thought it would be interesting to see typefaces where the shape of each letter depends on the context of the word and surrounding letters, for total efficiency, readability, and gestalt contrast.

Interesting discussion on "word glyphs". I've also heard a theory that whenever a language is faced with multiple-glyph forms for words, and single glyphs, the single glyph ultimately wins out (the contention being that logographic languages are innately preferable). Examples: people prefer & to "and"; or @ to "at"; or the number 2 to "to" and "too". Could our whole language be transformed in such a manner?

Cultural imperialism: much may depend on whether a certain Western power opts for a few more centuries of colonizing and policing the world, politically and culturally; or whether the hundreds of still-unique cultures around the world stand their ground and take advantage of their diversity.

Paul

danger's picture

I'll throw in a few musings to this thread even though it seems to have died down.

What timeframe are you asking about?

As for next year, I think we'll continue to see more "club kid" fonts and a healthy slew of old traditional text faces as well.

If we're talking 10 years out, we might get to see the coming of the much hearalded movable print (small, flexible screens for newspapers, magazines, packaging). My feeling is the first of these products will be of fairly low resolution so we'll see more of the screen-loving fonts like the ones we're all looking at right now.

:::::::::: What are or will be the most influencial factors for this change, if a change happens?

Technology and Globalization (American cultural imperialism).

:::::::::: Will we see more Sansserif or serif type, if so, why?

If we're talking the short therm (10 years), I believe that we will be seeing sans serif faces increasing a their market share but all of the text faces will continue to lose share to display type if for no other reason that it's easier to design without a detailed understanding of letterforms. We are at the explosion of type design, I don't see any reason why it should slow down in the near future.

:::::::::: How much does this depend on the development of technology? (HiRes monitors e.g.)

High resolution monitors shouldn't change the type designs themselves as much as it should increase the appreciation of the designs. Most of us design primarily for print and the ability to display our print outlines accurately on the screen would be a wonderful bonus. Even Zuzana Licko's Base series (designed to look good on a screen and on paper) has a superb outline. I would love to see it on a high resolution screen.

>>Interesting discussion on "word glyphs". I've also heard a theory that whenever a language is faced with multiple-glyph forms for words, and single glyphs, the single glyph ultimately wins out (the contention being that logographic languages are innately preferable). Examples: people prefer & to "and"; or @ to "at"; or the number 2 to "to" and "too". Could our whole language be transformed in such a manner?

Eric Gill in his "An Essay on Typography" argued that the ampersand should not be relegated to corporate logotypes (Johnson&Johnson) & he used it in the place of "and" throughout the work. However, I find that many people read it not as "and" but instead as " 'n ", which is also a shortening.

As for the coming death of reading: Symbols will always have to be deciphered so that messages can be communicated without the presence of sound. We read the "Do Not Enter" roadway sign no matter where we are in the world, but we still read it by shape and color just as we read the letter "J". So what if teenagers don't read anymore (J.K. Rowling would laugh at that by the way), they write much more than any previous generation. Does it matter if it's "I will C U @ 2 by the gym"? Remember, legibility is a matter of familiarity and so is readability. I can't read the all-cap blackletter that's popular among American teen-aged car enthusiasts, but you can bet they can.

Perhaps that's the future of typography for ya: Blackletter. Lots and lots of blackletter. If so, I need better glasses.

Graham

anonymous's picture

Hrant:

I would agree.

Robert Bringhurst has much more to offer on the subject, of course, in his book, "The Elements of Typographic Style."

(http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0881791326/inktomi-bkasin-20/103-2474988-0468653)

Highly recommended, for those who have not yet discovered this excellent reference.

Also useful: "A History of Graphic Design" by Philip B. Meggs

(http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0471291986/ref=pd_sxp_elt_l1/103-2474988-0468653)

David

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