Do ligatures improve readability?

ebensorkin's picture

Do ligatures improve readability? When I ask this I am thinking of ff fl fi etc rather than st or ct the later being a little distracting I think. I ask this because I had been thinking as an article of faith you might say that certain ligatures ( assuming a ligature design that is not showy or attention getting ) simply did make better word forms and hence generally speaking better & more pleasant immersive reading.

But think about it again I realize that all I have is my gut for this.

What do you guys think?

BTW: Here are some threads & links with related info/ideas. They don't actually deal withis question directly but they are ligature related.

Ligatures in OpenType: Discretionary vs. Standard
Usage of Ligatures in Corporate Font and Business Letters?
OT Ligatures > calt or liga?
Ligatures

https://listserv.heanet.ie/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind9604&L=typo-l&T=0&P=3048

NigellaL's picture

Hi Enneson,

You've lost me. This just sounds like a load of rubbish so can you translate your message into English please? Nick Shin is the only one here who is making any real sense or maybe it's just that I like pretty pictures! That border is sumptuous!!! :-)

ebensorkin's picture

Come on Nigella. If we talk about 'serifs' are you going to ding us for using that fancy language too? Maybe Peter could wrote longer more complicated statements to make it easier for us all to get to - but maybe we can learn a bit of his jargon too. And look how nice he was explaining what he meant. Are you going to go to that much trouble to help educate us?

enne_son's picture

Actually Eben, I think Nigella's reply makes me think I still have a ways to go in making plain to a general audience my frames of reference. Looking back I see I could have done and need to do more.

Immersion in numerous studies of word recognition convince me of the need for sharper terms of reference. Without that immersion it might be hard to see the need for them. And besides, I could be wrong. My own sense of my terms is that they open up novel, physiologically grounded ways of thinking through action at the micro-typographical level.

I trust Nigella's reply doesn't signal an intolerence to relating the perceptual and neuromechanical processes underlying reading to typographical practices.

NigellaL's picture

Dear Eben,

Come on Nigella. If we talk about ‘serifs’ are you going to ding us for using that fancy language too?

Don't be cheeky. You know full well that he uses a lot of big words. I'd ask you to explain them to me but perhaps you don't want to let on that you don't understand all of it either? Everyone knows what serifs are but the discrimination affordance quotients and criterial features lose me and i dare say many others. Enneson, thank you for understanding. I don't mean to ruin your fun, it's just that I haven't studied psychology or neuromechanic processes (whatever that is) so your terminology trips me up. I get the feeling it's all beyond me anyway and I should leave readability to the experts!

dberlow's picture

"Do ligatures improve readability?"
So, then there are legibility, readability and usability. Do footnotes improve readability? Do page numbers improve readability? Italics don't but we use them to "improve" usability by distinguishing emphatic statements or those outside of the main language of a text. At some point, the convenient things, like ligatures, logotypes, numeral variety, style variations and the many other tricks that well-used type one can bring to the table are not as readable as something else might be, but their usability outweighs their faults.

If seen the worst of this by the way, from some of "the best typographers in the world" not long ago in a published sample of OT features where every single instance of c^t and s^t were ligated in the accompanying text. I wanted to barf, but I eventually got myself to gently point out that, usually these types of ligatures are set repeatedly only in big text, like ad use, or in pull quotes. Otherwise, use should be "intelligently" sprinkled into text to help the reader off, e.g. as the signal that an end of a ppg. is nigh.

enne_son's picture

Does this help (as a pre-amble to what I wrote earlier)?

The visual wordform is the totality of stems, counters, ascenders, descenders, bowls and between-letter shapes in their visual relationship or pattern. (I refer to sensitivities to how these elements combine as optical-grammatical attunements)

There are two ways of looking at word recognition in reading. The one says the visual system moves directly from what I have described just now in terms of pattern to the sense or meaning of the word. I call the perceptual process involved in this: visual wordform resolution, and claim it has a neuromechanical component which makes it, all things considered, advantageous. The other says, no the visual system streams stem / bowl / counter / ascender / descender information according to the letters they comprise and from there resolves the identity of the word before linking to meaning. I claim this has a neuromechanical component which makes it, all things considered, counter-indicated.

Then I say visual wordform resolution is a learned mechanism, involving perceptual learning of the pattern, which develops in learning to read. Because the visual wordform resolution process requires a dependance on stems, etc. in their pattern and not the streaming of letter-part information according to letters ('slot-processing'), a 'respnse bias' of the visual system to that (first) kind of processing, when confronted with word-separated text, develops. (The problems encountered by 'word-blind' (dyslexic) persons demonstrate the consequences of the falure of my 'learned mechanism' to develop.)

enne_son's picture

Let me put what I am anxious to communicate this way and put the shoe of incomprehensibility on the other foot:

Ligatures, where they are necessary to avoid holes and crashes when type is rhythmically spaced enhance the ease of visual wordform resolution. I've tried to detail what this means and how this might work.

If you prefer to say: ligatures improve readability because they speed up recognition and this is shown by the fact that texts with ligatures are read faster, go ahead. But how much is actually being said? When I ask how this works and why this is so, the term readability doesn't help me to an explanation, and the term recogntion doesn't isolate finely enough where in the process the advantage is acheived. To dig deeper--to be more informative--I need to expand my repertoire of terms and extend my knowledge of the percptual and cognitive mechanics. The risk of digging deeper, expanding the repertoire of terms, extending knowledge into 'subatomic' areas, is the perception of making relatively straightforward things seem more complex than necessary.

It's not for everyone.

enne_son's picture

try this: does ligaturiztion help by making one character out of two and decreasing the number of parts that have to be identified (while increasing the number of forms the perceptual system needs to learn), or does it help by insuring all the components of the word image--protruding and not protuding; white and black--that are important to identification have their proper visual weight and don't crowd each other?

dezcom's picture

"...or does it help by insuring all the components of the word image—protruding and not protuding; white and black—that are important to identification have their proper visual weight and don’t crowd each other?"

Intuition tells me this might be closer to the truth.

ChrisL

ebensorkin's picture

you don’t want to let on that you don’t understand all of it either?

If you would take the time ( slow down now... ) you would see that I asked him what he meant. Hence I am obviously admitting I had no clue what he meant. AND showing that I wanted to know.

Looking back I see I could have done and need to do more.

The more you can do to make your ideas accesible the better. On the other hand as you pointed out to me, sometime jargon is needed. Where the balance is to be struck is not obvious. But as I said, if you can make the text less dense for us, please do.

the convenient things
I love your thesis in general but I have a hard time thinking of ligatures as convenient. Conventional in an old school sense maybe. Contrivances to suggest class or to give color or style to text. But not somehow 'convenient'. Maybe you mean convenient for style...

Otherwise, use should be “intelligently” sprinkled into text to help the reader off, e.g. as the signal that an end of a ppg. is nigh.
fi & fl too?

Does this help..
It does help me some, but I would like to check my understanding of it with you in a little while.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Eben said: ...but I have a hard time thinking of ligatures as convenient.

I would guess that a well designed ligature, ergo one that doesn't call attention to itself, neither improves reading nor does it hinder reading. So it really does become a typographic nicety. Do you think this is a valid statement?

ebensorkin's picture

Yes, I think that it seems to be the consensus point of view anyway. With the provizo that some faces do need them to look their best and some faces don't depending on the design specifics. So it's isn't just a question of designing them well - it's a question of if they are needed in a design. Actually, putting it that way makes some of Mattew Carter said to me at Typecon about contextual alteration of letterforms make that little bit of extra sense. I still don't know if he is correct but it suggests a path that his thinking might have taken. Cool.

enne_son's picture

Concensus? I'm not in.
In my opinion it's a typographical nicety with a real functional (in reading) perceptual processing benefit.

Miss Tiffany's picture

By typographic nicety I wasn't trying to turn ligatures into decoration only. I was simply trying to clarify my thoughts. I'm pro ligature, but I'm anti-poorly designed-ligature.

ebensorkin's picture

I’m not in.

Actually let me restate this idea I had to see if you can be on board with it instead.

- Some fonts' readbility is enhanced by the presence of well designed ligatures. These fonts posses built in rhythmic and notaic problems with certain letter combinations that are best solved by the use of certain ligatures.

- Some fon't don't require or benefit from ligatures because their design is such that the problems that ligatures address are no longer present.

What do you think Peter?

What I wonder having written that is if the variety of forms in designes that need ligatures is readability enhancing.... But that would & should be a new thread.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Eben, so, for instance, the example which Christopher posted of Utopia fits into the "Needs ligatures to read better." Am I following?

ebensorkin's picture

In general yes, although his text is better I think than his visual example at making that point so it's maybe not the one I would use in a textbook. Will's example may be a better one.

Will devotes most of his time on the page this comes from to showing why he doesn't like them. And shows some examples of ligatures that de deems unhelpful.
http://www.will-harris.com/ligatures.htm
Which is hardly surprising when you have a title like 'Ligature Shmigature'. ;-)

As I said before, I think he makes some great points but I haven't been convinced that he's got a corner on the topic.

Nick's points and examples seem especially useful too me too.

dezcom's picture

The problem always comes when we try to put a one-solution-fits-all notion on anything. It may be more valuable to examine why ligatures work better in some situations than others. You can frame this in a readability only issue to reduce variables. I also very much like the notion of "usability" David mentioned above. When do principles other than readability take a greater roll to increase the chances of the printed piece meeting the author/designer's objectives? Receiving a wedding invitation from a friend may be an instance. This kind of thing is so subjective it may be impossible to test. Nevertheless, it is valid and how design work is really done.

ChrisL

hrant's picture

The problem always comes when people refuse to learn anything new.

hhp

Erik Fleischer's picture

This kind of thing is so subjective it may be impossible to test. Nevertheless, it is valid and how design work is really done.

Aha! My point exactly (well, one of them, anyway). There may be better and worse design, but not in a completely objective sense.

I also very much like the notion of “usability” David mentioned above.

Usability is indeed an interesting topic: as with readability, in my opinion one simply cannot talk about usability without talking about culture and education. Of the myriad variables that affect usability, many have to do with traditions and habits. People learn to use things -- from kitchen knives to computer interfaces -- and not every person in every culture grows accustomed to using the same things in the same manner.

Take a kitchen knife, for instance: most chefs will give high usability ratings to heavy knives with large blades; my wife (who is not a chef) only likes small knives, and her preference has nothing to do with having small hands or not being able to lift a large knife. It's just that she never learned how to properly "operate" a chef's knife, so to speak.

Someone who can appreciate the refinement of a good ligature will find it aesthetically pleasing in Chris's wedding invitation; someone who's never seen one before may find it strange, especially if the text is large and the ligature is clearly visible.

I have great respect for Peter Enneson, but am not yet convinced that the perceptual processing benefit ligatures may bring to someone is independent from that person's education and culture. Enneson's suggestion that we go deeper and consider not readability as a whole but the different "sub-atomic" factors that define readability sounds to me a little like discussing how a certain substance can help a brain-dead person because it causes the person's heart to beat. (I am, however, completely open to the possibility that I haven't studied this subject enough to be able to question Enneson properly.)

paul d hunt's picture

So, then there are legibility, readability and usability.
...and readerability.
when Eben asked me my opinion on this topic in an email a few weeks back, i replied that i believed that ligatures are a "typographic nicety," but that my views on readability issues tend to follow John Hudson's ideas about the ability of readers to adapt. i think "ligatures do (or do not) improve readability" is tough to argue, because it's all about specifics. there are so many variables that may or may not improve readability that it's probably next to impossible to isolate them to measure them: serif vs sans, leading values, spacing issues, x-height, point size, medium, &c. &c. all this talk about readability might possibly be a red herring which detracts from the amazing ability of the reader to adapt to a wide range of reading environments.

hrant's picture

Oh no, John Hudson Jr.
Paul, think with your brain, not somebody else's soul.

A human might be able to adapt to a diet of plankton and seawater, but that doesn't detract from the observation that he will be neither happy nor healthy (even if he never sees what other people are eating).

hhp

Christopher Slye's picture

A human might be able to adapt to a diet of plankton and seawater, but that doesn’t detract from the observation that he will be neither happy nor healthy (even if he never sees what other people are eating).

Sorry, I don't think that's so obvious. I do indeed think that someone could be happy eating just that -- if he never ate anything else, and especially if everyone else were eating it. He might come to be repulsed by apples, or peanuts, or Doritos.

(The "healthy" part isn't comparable, since there's essentially no chance of anyone becoming unhealthy from ligatures.)

I think people, throughout history, have adapted to horrific conditions and considered themselves happy... which begs the question: If everyone is happy, who's to say it's horrific? Yikes, can we just talk about the Big Bang or evolution or something instead?

hrant's picture

We can talk about how humans are not ethereal, abstract beings, that they are instead physically affected in the most subtle ways by the most subtle things.

Some people weave tapestries of argument premeditated to give themselves maximum comfort, to buttress their deepest beliefs, to preserve their way of life. But you're not them.

hhp

ebensorkin's picture

Yikes, can we just talk about the Big Bang or evolution or something instead?

Maybe on another site. This site is about type! ;-)

I may agree that the analogies can get pretty fruity at times here. But I think we are all doing our best even if that doesn't always seem good enough to some of us some of the time. You all have my respect & thanks for considering this issue, debating this with me & educating me in the process!

I do think that a careful reading of this thread shows that ligatures are not just a typographic nicety in all cases. Sometimes, but in fact - rarely. Sometimes they really do seem to improve a design ( even though nobody can PROOVE it ). Sometimes they seem to get in the way ( even though nobody can PROOVE it ). And sometime they don't seem to do much at all. They seem vitrually neutral, not improving nor detracting from a design. In which case we can call them a 'typographic nicety' ( even though nobody can PROOVE it ). I think this case is the unusual one however - and I cannot proove it).

Another way of looking at it, and this was the way I was looking at it when Tiffany made her point before - is that when a ligature does work well it's working because it isn't drawing attention to itself and it is working neither better nor worse than the glyphs around it. It's not distictive from a readability point of view from the glyphs around it. So it might be said to be average in some sense except for it's exotic connection & hence a 'typographic nicety'.

John Hudson's point about the profound power of the reader is of course an excellent one. But I don't think that it obsolves the type designer of the responsibility to be interested in incremental improvement and of being curious about how that improvement might be achieved. For the record, I am not admonishing anyone just stating my point of view.

I will also readily admit that the topic name I chose for this thread was as usual pretty naive!

might possibly be a red herring which detracts...

I do agree that the specific examples that people brought up showing relative success & failure in specific cases were by far the most useful things in the thread.

paul d hunt's picture

Paul, think with your brain, not somebody else’s soul.

Hrant, you should know that i do my own thinking. C'mon, give me some credit. just because i put more stock in readerability doesn't mean that i think making typefaces that are readable is futile. just because i CAN read fuzzy on-screen type or smudgy type or type spit out by Microsoft Office doesn't mean that that's what i'm most comfortable reading. It's hard for me to make any judgements about readability because, as far as i know, there is not much reliable research on the subject. (if there is, please enlighten me as to what i should be reading) What troubles me most when reading threads like these is that everyone has their own theories, but how would anyone go about proving or disproving them, which leads me to:
What is needed for scientifically sound reasearch on reading?

Erik Fleischer's picture

there are so many variables that may or may not improve readability that it’s probably next to impossible to isolate them to measure them (...). all this talk about readability might possibly be a red herring which detracts from the amazing ability of the reader to adapt to a wide range of reading environments.

Absolutely. We had a similar discussion on the ATypI list recently, and if you don't mind the cross-posting, I think part of the discussion fits here perfectly. I remarked that "I believe graphic and type designers can learn quite a bit from complex systems theory, aka chaos theory."

David Berlow's reply (hope he doesn't mind my quoting him here) was: "What is/are the initial condition(s)?"

And this was my subsequent post:

And can you control all initial conditions so that they're all exactly the same (except for the one you're trying to test) every single time? In our specific case here, "hardly" is probably the answer, especially if we're trying to arrive at absolute laws of legibility.
But if we reduce the number of variables by dealing with one specific target audience (one culture, a limited age range etc) and one medium, then I believe that a well designed experiment can make a whole lot of difference to a design process. You're not looking for a single universal "objective" truth -- an immutable law -- but merely trying to determine how this or that design will work for a given target audience, on average.

As Paul Hunt pointed out, a very large number of variables would be involved in a purely objective analysis of whether or not ligatures contribute to legibility/readability, especially if the goal is to arrive at absolute laws that apply to the whole human race. And right now not enough research has been conducted to warrant definite conclusions as to whether ligatures help the human brain process printed text more efficiently/effectively.

So what? Does this mean typographers should stop using ligatures, or not trust their instincts? I don't think so. Perhaps what we can do is have a healthy scepticism (not paranoia, though) of our intuition and every now and then check if a specific design works for its target audience.

Erik Fleischer's picture

What troubles me most when reading threads like these is that everyone has their own theories, but how would anyone go about proving or disproving them (...)

http://typophile.com/node/28777/164203

Miss Tiffany's picture

Eben, all:

After reading Will Harris' short piece I have decided he's definitely over-simplifying and many of his examples are poor and lack real merit. (Maybe I'm over-simplifying too.)

His point about the odd shape made by the fl ligature in a few of his examples is good, however, and I've noticed this myself before. I've even not used the fl ligature on occasion because it does create an h-like shape.

One flaw, I think in what he is saying are in his examples. He's basically using what can be seen as display settings. But the usability of a ligature is in text settings and for small point sizes so what he is showing us doesn't wash with me. I'd rather see a paragraph at a reader's point size and then form my own opinion. OF COURSE, the ligature might call too much attention to itself at dispaly sizes, duh!

If the letters don't "crash," to use his word, then perhaps that is when ligatures aren't needed. I agree with this. But again, his samples, only in a few instances, really prove his point. The Caflisch sample, for instance, I think, is better for the ligature as the tittle creates visual noise, display or text, which needs to be taken care of.

In some cases, for text setting (and maybe display), where the tittle doesn't crash, I wonder aloud if the ligature doesn't simply remove a bit of data that we simply don't need because we recognize the letter pairing without it.

I feel out of my league with the rest of you, but this is a great thread.

paul d hunt's picture

Erik, what are you trying to link to? this thread?

hrant's picture

Paul, I apologize.

> i put more stock in readerability

More stock than in what? A gentle improvement in readability thanks to the (judicious, please) use of ligation? Well I do too. But I put even more stock in lamb kebab, and that doesn't stop me from addressing readerability.

> doesn’t mean that i think making typefaces that are readable is futile.

Not readable; that's easy (exactly because of readerability). More readable; that's hard. That's what makes most people run away, but some not before using readerability as a smoke screen.

> there is not much reliable research

Agreed.
This however does not absolve people from considering the evidence that is out there, and most of all from thinking. The Ancient Greeks figured out tons with sticks and ropes. Now we paralize real progress with our addiction to Proof, afraid to think deeply and try to dig out of this Empirical prison.

> What troubles me most when reading threads like
> these is that everyone has their own theories

What's even worse is these theories tend to be self-serving, and furthermore there is little overall desire to actually listen to something new. It becomes an excuse to listen to yourself.

This realization is why I no longer fully participate in threads like this, and I get short-tempered when some people go on and on without the will to actually learn anything, at least not something that would alter their approach to type design (because to them it's too close to Art, something that should -rightly however- be excluded from empiricism). Don't get me wrong, Typophile is better than anything else out there, but -even after all these years of trying- it still doesn't seem good enough for more than possibly sparking an interest among the truly curious, the true craftsmen. Eben, Peter, they are very rare exceptions.

> hope he doesn’t mind my quoting him here

He might not, but since the ATypI list isn't a
public one, it's inadvisable without permission.

hhp

Erik Fleischer's picture

Erik, what are you trying to link to? this thread?

This thread, comment 164203. The link should take you to a page with only the thread leader (or whatever you call the post that opened the thread) and the comment in question.

paul d hunt's picture

interesting, it wasn't working for me before, but now it is doing exacly as you said it would!

ebensorkin's picture

and many of his examples are poor and lack real merit ( Tiff )

I do think the examples were cherry picked. It would be very interesting to go over 100 or so of what might be argued are the best text faces, look at them in context etc & see what we think. Still if you trim down his conclusions as being somewhat premature I think he has interesting points to make - even if I don't subscibe to his conclusions. I am glad to hear your take on that page.

...wonder aloud if the ligature doesn’t simply remove a bit of data that we simply don’t need because we recognize the letter pairing without it.

Exactly.

dberlow's picture

"Exactly"
And precisely. And ligatures are not there to speed reading up, they are there to prevent reading from slowing down.

hrant's picture

Those two could mean the same thing, but since reading is never
at full speed it's better to look at it from the "speeding up" angle.

hhp

enne_son's picture

To borrow a term from Willim Berkson, I think we should explore the notion that there might be a speed-of-reading 'sweet spot' which changes from individual to individual and from text to text. The spot whould be the speed at which the sustainability of immersion with effective engagement and good comprehension is at it's greatest.

David, I like the angle: "And ligatures are not there to speed reading up, they are there to prevent reading from slowing down."

In research on reading, speed is often the measure. This should not trick us into thinking of it as an end.

Erik Fleischer's picture

It seems to me that speed can never be ignored. I can see a very clear distinction between efficiency (speed at which letter shapes/word forms/word clusters are correctly recognized) and efficacy (speed at which comprehension occurs), but speed is a component of both.

Complex as research on reading efficiency may be, it's probably child's play compared to research on reading efficacy. After all, comprehension quickly leaves the realm of visual processing and enters a nebulous domain populated by variables such as intelligence (or intelligences), attention span, education, culture, cognitive strategies, length and complexity of sentences, and so on.

If I take myself as an example, I'm well educated by most common standards, score above average on traditional IQ tests and exams, am a very efficient reader, but not a very efficacious one in that I read rather slowly when I need to actually comprehend a text. I suppose I'm not very good at concentrating and need to re-read some passages, especially when the writing is convoluted and when there are many levels of nested structures in a sentence. Could typography improve my reading efficacy? I really don't know.

hrant's picture

Peter, no.

hhp

ebensorkin's picture

Erik, until there is really complex sophiticated research done you have every right to be skeptical. But I am guessing that yes, type is a variable & that your speed and comprehension will be different in different types and obviously with different typography - line spacing etc. Experientially - that is my subjective experience & I basically trust it. Of the two it's the arrangment of type on the page and the line spacing etc that matters most but yes, I think the forms are important too.

ebensorkin's picture

Hrant, what is your problem with David's distiction? Or is that what you are reacting to? I think David's point is not just clever - it's useful. David, sorry if I am over-interpreting your words here but this is what I am getting from them: Ligatures don't cause speed to increase - they avoid slowing the reading speed permitted by the overall design. It 's the overall design that creates the potential for speed. In the same way that a well made road allows greater speeds to be driven safely - a well made font ( & ligature if needed) does not cause speed but makes it potentially avaiable. A well made ligature if it's needed is like a potential fault removed from the road. Not so much a feature as a problem avoided.

dezcom's picture

Perhaps what Erik is saying is that better typography may be able to improve perception of glyphs and word recognition, and reduce fatigue, but not aid much in decifering meaning when either the writing is convoluted or the terms are unfamiliar? Separating perception from understanding of meaning is a big issue and difficult to measure predictably.

ChrisL

hrant's picture

Eben: atypically, Peter's most recent post was entirely regressive. So I don't need to tell you which part I disagree with: just go through it and it's every single thing.

> Ligatures don’t cause speed to increase - they avoid slowing
> the reading speed permitted by the overall design.

I can't believe I have to point out that this is completely bonkers. There is no "overall design" - it's all the overall design. After all this abstractive progress we've been making, please don't regress into textbook classicist compartmentalization.

hhp

enne_son's picture

Regressive?

Perhaps it's unclear where I was heading with this.

I have to be cryptic, because for now I've overextended myself on Typophile and must attent to other things.

I'm positing: "sustainability of immersion with effective engagement and good comprehension" as the overall goal of efforts to improve reading performance and readability. I could also say: sustainability of sense following over time and text-extent relative to the varient conditions of reading.

In cognitive processing terms, with extended texts, there can be a too fast and a too slow, and this relates to the capacities of short term memory and the integration of it's contents into one's 'world'. The speed at which a balance of comprehension and holding on to the thread of narrative or argument is 'found' (or occurs) in practiced readers who don't suffer from reading disorders varies, but hovers about a mean.

Type plays it's role in enhancing the sustainability of this sense-following by not placing 'maintaining it' at risk for reasons of perceptual processing fatique or expense of neural effort in overcoming neural-attentional diversion, which holes and crashes do. Ligatures address that.

William Berkson's picture

I have used the expression 'sweet spot' refer to some kind of ideal balance of weight of strokes, dimension of counters, width of spacing and evenness of color (etc.!) that results in the most comfort of reading.

I haven't thought that the 'sweet spot' for text will vary with the person. I do think different optical sizes will require a different balance of the factors. Also it will be affected by measure and leading. But beyond that I have maybe the simplistic notion that reading process among competent readers with good eyesight or good corrective lenses is pretty similar.

There isn't any grand theory here, just a notion that there is some ideal balance of factors to shoot for, at a given optical size, line measure and leading.

hrant's picture

The important thing is comfort. Speed and comprehension are merely
its results, and they are linked; they only become unlinked in the lab.

> Type plays it’s role in enhancing

Type doesn't "enhance" anything - it is what we read.

> Ligatures address that.

Everything addresses that.

> I haven’t thought that the ‘sweet spot’ for text will vary with the person.

Of course it does. But it's just a variance, not a difference.

hhp

Erik Fleischer's picture

better typography may be able to improve perception of glyphs and word recognition, and reduce fatigue, but not aid much in decifering meaning when either the writing is convoluted or the terms are unfamiliar

Yes, that's exactly what I meant. Obviously, in order to comprehend a text one first needs to be able to recognize the bits that make it up, namely letter shapes and word forms. I have no doubt that good typography can make a world of difference in this process.

When it comes to making sense of all the printed words that have already been decoded, however, I'm not quite sure how good typography helps, even if I suspect that it does. Perhaps Hrant et al are right: it's all a matter of comfort. The more comfortable the reading, the longer one can read and the more energy one can devote to interpreting meaning (since less energy is expended in recognizing glyphs and words).

When I read something long on a computer screen, I start getting restless because of discomfort and this may cause me to pay less attention to the text, even if I have no trouble making out letters and words.

Type plays it’s role in enhancing the sustainability of this sense-following by not placing ‘maintaining it’ at risk for reasons of perceptual processing fatique or expense of neural effort in overcoming neural-attentional diversion, which holes and crashes do.

Yes, that makes sense. I guess that's the conclusion I came to in the previous paragraph.

enne_son's picture

The important thing is comfort. [Hrant]

Ok. So: I’m positing: “sustainability of immersion with comfort, effortless sense-following, and maximal comprehension grip” as the overarching goal of typographic and pedagogical efforts to improve reading performance and readability.

dezcom's picture

"When I read something long on a computer screen, I start getting restless "
I have a theory that reading long text on a computer screen may cause problems unrelated to just monitors, resolution, and rendering. I think being in a fixed position looking at the screen is also an issue. With a book or magazine, I can quite easily move it around, lay sideways, on my back sit up turn my head any old way--basically move. I don't have to care about much other than enough light. With a computer, there is more fixed than free and more conditions to meet. I just don't like reading anything long on screen. Maybe it is just the human need to fidget :-)

ChrisL

ebensorkin's picture

Hrant, I see, I think you are asserting an ontological point. You feel that speaking of speed as 'a measure' goes against your assertion that the phenomena of speed, comprehension etc. descend from the existence (or lack) of comfort.

Still, what do suggest Peter & Kevin do to avoid this 'split" in the lab or in discussing tests etc? They have no choice but to but to parse the phenomena and to ultimately think in terms of various kind of discrete phenomena - don't they?

How does asserting ontological primacy of comfort help us?

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