For centuries typefaces were only designed for very specific uses, primarily for books. As a result of this, typefaces have not evolved significantly over the last 100 years or so. The Monotype and MIT AgeLab scientific teams today measure their results with millisecond accuracy. The ever-present screens of mobile phones, watches and traffic signs force us to look at typeface usage through various perspectives, where instead of quietly reading texts by candlelight, we devour information in very short moments of time.
Fun “case in points” were used to illustrate the complexity of research into text cognition. Have you ever tried to name the days of the week in alphabetical order? It’s not easy; the brain is naturally programmed for their chronological sorting. Another fun fact is that a blue coloured text is perceived by people as being more trustworthy than if it were written in yellow. Doing this type of research must be more than fun—another scientific team for example discovered that texting on a mobile phone while driving is three times more dangerous than driving drunk. The worst case scenario would then be driving drunk, simultaneously texting your wife that you’ll be late but on the way home. Neither of the above is recommended, but if you do all of them at once, scientists have confirmed the combination is deadly.
All of these fun facts cannot hide the sombre truth. For years designers have laboured to find the most legible and most universal typeface, and are somewhat out of luck. A character’s shape influences legibility less than we tend to think. It is the tweaked-out typeface that gets the short end of the stick in the battle for legibility against factors such as natural daylight, mobile phone display intensity, or font size and colour. It is similar to attempts of finding the easiest typeface for dyslexic people to read. Instead of a complicated search for new shapes, it turned out that not typesetting the text like a pig was enough—the dyslexia was gone.
Frutiger vs. Eurostile
In the end, even scientific research cannot confirm a long-assumed fact that Frutiger is more legible than Eurostile; depending on the typesetting, the results can be just the opposite.
Even though the results can often be seen as expected, it is only scientifically confirmed facts that can be regarded as truth, something that both clients and font submitters will listen to. Because, like Nadine says: “Glance is the new currency of the age today.”
Written by: Radek Sidun