which is easily read by dyslexic people: serif or san serif

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missgiggles's picture
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which is easily read by dyslexic people: serif or san serif
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what evidence is there? has it been researched before?

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Evidence: as usual in matters typographic, nothing good. So we're left with thought, and it seems to indicate that serifs help because they provide more info, including directional info (think of the tops of "b" and "d" for example).

hhp

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You might get something from http://www.readregular.com/english/intro.html .
Also, the HHRC might be able to help too. http://www.hhrc.rca.ac.uk/programmes/ra/2003/natascha.html

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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You might, but then... The thing to remember about dyslexia is it can't be "solved" by making a new typeface or by using a specific typeface in one place. I certainly have sympathy for people with extreme dyslexia, but you can't re-make the world, with all its magazines, fine print, illuminated signs, motion graphics, airport and city navigations, in a way that resolves the difficulty dyslexics have in reading.

Which is more useful to a dyslexic: a typeface used in 2 places, or new methods for reading they can apply everywhere?

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> you can’t re-make the world, with all its magazines

What about e-Ink? :-)

> new methods for reading they can apply everywhere?

?
What do you have in mind?

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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It's probably a mistake to draw a line between them and us.
All one can say is that there are varying kinds of reading ability, and varying degrees.

Go to your local library or bookstore and look in the large print section, and see what kinds of typefaces are being used. This shows what people who have some difficulty reading prefer. Of course, being short-sighted and being dyslexic are different, but it can be argued that large print helps both -- in particular because large print is also used for another group of people who don't read fluently: children learning.

For young reader books, the practice changed from serif to sans serif during the second half of the 20th century. Has this had any effect on overall literacy? Probably not.

At the RNIB website, they don't have a preference between sans or serif.

darrel's picture
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"Go to your local library or bookstore and look in the large print section, and see what kinds of typefaces are being used. This shows what people who have some difficulty reading prefer."

I know it's been said, but I think it's worth repeating...what is in widespread use is simply indicative of what's in widespread use...not necessarily what people PREFER. We live in a society where user preferences are not necessarily a sign of market penetration.

I think the only viable text-research I've heard was the statement 'we read best what we read most' implying that as humans, we're comfortable with what we're most familiar with. That rings true for pretty much anything...not just type design.

Of course, the problem is that everyone is different, so it somewhat prevents us from making viable broad generalizations.

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For years I designed for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and their counsel was: serif, large point size, and draw a vertical line between medium-wide columns (2-col format on 8.5x11" pages). Challenged eyes don't like sans for long any more than other eyes.

Christopher Timothy Dean's picture
Joined: 22 Oct 2006 - 10:49pm
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opps

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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> It’s probably a mistake to draw a line between them and us.

In a way yes, but it's also probably a mistake to lump different groups together! The problems that dyslexics have are pretty specific, so it's different than people who simply have blurry vision, or children who have yet to move from deliberative to immersive reading.

> Has this had any effect on overall literacy?

Everything has an effect, all of the time, on everybody.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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I was refering to the rate of literacy.
In other words, people who learned with sans aren't any less or more literate than those who learned with serif -- if indeed there were any way to make a measurable connection between sans/serif and the literacy rate.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Just because something hasn't been counted, or even if it can't be counted, doesn't mean it doesn't count. There's no reason to believe that "people who learned with sans aren’t any less or more literate than those who learned with serif", and there is in fact reason to believe the opposite. We can argue about which is better, sans or serif, but they could never be equally good/bad at everything, or really anything.

Everything Matters™

hhp

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Keep in mind that dyslexia is a term that encompasses multiple learning/reading disorders, so what improves readability for one dyslexic individual may be of no use, or even baneful, to another.

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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"What do you have in mind?"

I'm completely ignorant on the topic, but I imagine someone is focusing on aiding dyslexics to improve their reading performance. If nobody is studying this, yet there are untrained students developing special typefaces for dyslexics, then something's not working.

"This shows what people who have some difficulty reading prefer."

We've been over this already. This shows what designers or publishers think children or the elderly prefer. The jury's still out on what they actually prefer. And their stated preference isn't the same as what they read most easily.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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> something’s not working.

No sh*t sherlock. :-)

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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The jury’s still out on what they actually prefer.

Well, let me rephrase "readers' preference": The type in large-print books shows what works in the marketplace, as with any publishing genre. I would imagine that publishers conduct focus groups from time to time, try out a sans serif, get negative feedback, and stick with the old workhorses.

Nick Shinn's picture
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[Double post]

Nick Shinn's picture
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We can argue about which is better, sans or serif, but they could never be equally good/bad at everything, or really anything.

I would say that in this case, as it's impossible to measure, the difference is meaningless.
And if it were possible to measure, I would guess that the differenece would be statistically negligible.

But I'm strangely attracted to your chaos-theory existentialism, Mr Everything Matters.

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> I’m completely ignorant on the topic.

'nuff said.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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> .

Think -> Type

> as it’s impossible to measure, the difference is meaningless.

No, no, it wouldn't be impossible to measure because the difference is too small, but because not everything can be measured, or at least not everything will be.

It's ironic how apparently empiricism is good or bad depending on how well it guards the shores of Shinnistan.

hhp

William Berkson's picture
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Note on large print books. These were developed to help adults with vision problems. Some people with limited vision can't get the visual information except from large print. This is a different matter from dyslexia, which is a matter of how visual information is processed.

>shores of Shinnistan

--located in a galaxy far, far away from Planethrant :)

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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I think it's in another dimension.

hhp

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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"‘nuff said."

Mr./Mrs./Ms. T. Bones, definitely not. I was hoping someone here might chime in with information about what is being done to help dyslexics on the behavioral/practical side. Got anything?

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Mr. Carl Crossgrove,
Behavioural? In what context?
For what it's worth, I posted links to those who are/were researching the topic in question. If your're really desperate for information perhaps you could email them and find out more about how they are sourcing and verifying their research.

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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The Read Regular material is what I'm talking about. I'm too busy to look up dyslexia psychology today but I'm imagining, because Typophile is global, that someone would be curious enough to find out what else besides this project people are doing. By behavioral I mean: what is being done to assist retrain, adapt or otherwise interactively aid dyslexics in reading what's all around them. It seems to me that would be more helpful to them, than trying to have everything in the visual environment translated into Read Regular. That wouldn't help anyway. The a looks like an o, negating the entire thesis of the project.

Nick Shinn's picture
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it wouldn’t be impossible to measure because the difference is too small, but because not everything can be measured, or at least not everything will be.

That's what I said: It's impossible to measure whether learning to read with serif faces in the first half of the 20th century, or learning to read with sans serifs in the second half, would have had made any difference to the rate of literacy.

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I'm unsure whether or not Ms. Frensch's work is supported by hard evidence. I'm equally unsure if any fellow typophiles might know the answers to what is a very grey area. Particularly as the 'experts' are seemingly unable to agree upon, "what it [dyslexia] is or how to treat it."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4205932.stm

Not that I see the BBC as providers of the absolute truth!

William Berkson's picture
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>if any fellow typophiles might know the answers to what is a very grey area

This issue has come up regularly on Typophile. None of the claims to fonts that are better for those with reading difficulties have stood up to even mild scrutiny.

Nick Shinn's picture
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If only English were more like Italian.

The assumption seems to be that English spelling and grammar is too tricky, but alphabetic distribution in Italian might also be a factor.

Luc de Groot has figured out the most common character pairs for different languages. It would be interesting to compare English and Italian in that light, with regard to reading difficulty.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> That’s what I said

No it's not - and you know it.

> Luc de Groot has figured out the most common
> character pairs for different languages.

That's a mischaracterization of the situation.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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No it’s not - and you know it.

I thought we were discussing the rate of literacy, i.e. what percentage of the population is considered literate.

***

That’s a mischaracterization of the situation

Well, that's what he demonstrated in a talk in Montreal last month that I attended, so perhpas he was mischaracterizing himself? (As usual, you seem to know more about people than they do themselves, even when you weren't even there.)

Luc has been looking into removing automatically generated kern pairs from font tables, where the characters don't appear in the same language, and has analyzed the frequency of character combinations in different languages, with software that trolls texts -- he takes a variety from newspapers, magazines and books -- to record that information. This is a subject which you, he, and I discussed (if my memory serves me) at the Boston AtypI conference many years ago, and he has followed through.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> I thought we were discussing the rate of literacy

I don't believe you.

> perhpas he was mischaracterizing himself?

Possibly, but my bets are on the skew coming from your end - sorry.

And yes, it was in Boston (in 1999). Live and learn I guess.

Anyway, here's something from my end:
http://typophile.com/node/5097 _
http://typophile.com/node/5106 _
Not remotely as significant as Luc[as]'s efforts, but still better than navel-gazing.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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I don’t believe you.

Hrant, all you have to do is read the thread again.
I said "I was refering to the rate of literacy. In other words ,,,"
You then quoted my "other words" and debated them, "No, no,"
Why do I have to engage in this nit-picking just to answer your accusations that I am lying and deceiving?

Possibly, but my bets are on the skew coming from your end - sorry.

Not exactly an apology.
How on Earth could "Luc de Groot has figured out the most common character pairs for different languages" be considered skewing? What in the Hrantiverse did you think he was doing?

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Wow: 2 parallel threads. I had thought we were discussing reading abilities of dyslexics.

"This is a different matter from dyslexia": Thank you William, this is an important point ignored in the Read Regular project. Issues such as "infant" characters, mirroring, and a host of hopeful hyperbole are conflated in the thesis to support the results, which I find simply fail to satisfy basic criteria for type for even general readers. Since the [also presumed] advantage of infant characters is based on a developmental stage in learning to read, and dyslexics might just as easily not be at that developmental stage, it's of questionable use there. From the website:

"The characters have been stripped down from all unnecessary details –such as a two storey a and a two eyed g."

But what about those helpful feet on the bottom that carry the eye along like a wheelbarrow? ; )

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> all you have to do is read the thread again.

I was thinking the same thing about you! But re-reading stuff
somebody wrote still won't reveal what's really in his head.

> Why do I have to engage in this nit-picking

I think I know why.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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Well, I guess if you want to stay at the top of the posting board it's easier to engage phantoms than deal with what people actually say.

Dan Greene's picture
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I'm a bit late to this party, but I just wanted to interject that I have a friend who is a designer and dyslexic, and according to him he reads almost entirely by wordshapes - he has a really difficult time reading all-caps, for instance. To me, this would seem to support the idea that serifs would be better, since they theoretically assist in linking letterforms into wordshapes.

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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You could argue the opposite as well, thanks to the absence of real data.... And in fact, lots of people do. Now, you could actually get some useful data by testing your friend to see if he has a preference. Preparing your test materials is the crucial part. I have suggestions, if you're interested.

I think everyone has more difficulty reading all caps. We all use word shapes to some degree.

I hope your designer/dyslexic friend has someone to help with proofreading? ;)

Simon Daniels's picture
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>he has a really difficult time reading all-caps

Now I'm worried that maybe I'm dyslexic?

Dan Greene's picture
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I'd say that a graphic designer would make a poor candidate for such a test, actually, as he would be much more aware of the font than a layman.

There certainly is an absence of real data; all I know of is anecdotal evidence. It should be noted, too, that just because this one guy picks up on wordshapes doesn't mean that's how all dyslexic people operate.

As an aside, I've noticed that my dyslexic friends seem to be better at three-dimensional spatial tasks than two-dimensional. Again, purely anecdotal. Might the two ideas be interrelated though?

William Berkson's picture
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> "large print section ... shows what people who have some difficulty reading prefer."

>I know it’s been said, but I think it’s worth repeating

I don't, because it's not correct. As I noted above, large print editions are for people who have difficulty seeing, not difficulty reading. Vision impairment and dyslexia are two different things.

Is it worth repeating again? :)

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>>I know it’s been said, but I think it’s worth repeating

>I don’t, because it’s not correct.

That's not the part I was repeating. I understand your point that large type is not in any way a fix for dyslexia.

The point I was repeating was the common assumption we often make that market share somehow is an indicator of end-user preferences.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> I think the only viable text-research I’ve heard
> was the statement ‘we read best what we read most’

You know, we can talk about that (like I could explain how
it's basically misleading) but let's not call some self-serving
rabble-rousing artsy mantra "research".

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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Is it worth repeating again? :)

Well, if you're going to get all repetitious, may I draw your attention to a comment I made at the top of this thread:

"being short-sighted and being dyslexic are different, but it can be argued that large print helps both — in particular because large print is also used for another group of people who don’t read fluently: children learning."

And also:

"there are varying kinds of reading ability, and varying degrees."

If you can read fluently, you can read "normal" or small text (say, 8 to 12 pt). If you can't, for whatever reason, then you need something larger.

William Berkson's picture
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>it can be argued that large print helps both

Yeah, you "can argue" anything whatsover. If there is any good evidence, please give us the reference and after confirming that it looks solid it I will gladly withdraw my comment.

edit: I'm wrong. You're right, Nick. Here's an article with solid research:

http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1427019

William Berkson's picture
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Looking on the internet I also found this interesting article reporting on research on the link between rhythm and reading ability:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/2144790.stm

Nick Shinn's picture
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I’m wrong. You’re right, Nick.

Thanks for the empirical corroboration, William. However, I can't claim any credit for divining that, as my hypothesis was based on assumptions about the marketplace. I just found it inconceivable that in a competitive segment of the publishing industry, that publishers would not conduct focus groups, or be aware of the reading issues, or not try different type treatments, in an attempt to sell more product. And so the standard that has become established -- as with news text -- may be considered to represent the kind of product that readers prefer, and is not just a style foisted on them by a monolithic industry. In that sense, it's similar to newspaper text type, extremely conservative in its adherence to certain sizes and styles, and woebetide any typographer who deviates too greatly from the norm.

A scenario I'm familiar with is where a newspaper is redesigned and a focus group (or the readers in the letters page) say a particular type spec is too small. Of course, the type is not smaller, the readers just don't like it, or aren't prepared to make the adjustment to become familiar with it.

One interesting aspect of large print is book size: it seems that readers like a normal-sized book (although it will, of course, be thicker). I suspect this is for social and cultural reasons, or maybe even the size in their hands for ease of page turning. In the study you cite, participants were kept at a distance of 40 cm from the text -- so I wonder, what if they had used smaller text, but a closer distance?! In other words, the typographic factors -- numner of words per line and page -- may be quite significant.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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> If you can’t, for whatever reason, then you need something larger.

False.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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True.

nws

William Berkson's picture
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As well as a deep connection of reading and rhythm, the research seems to indicate that tactile experience, such as writing and molding letters out of clay helps dyslexics to read.

http://www.dyslexia-parent.com/mag30.html

here is a method used by teachers:

http://www.dyslexia-parent.com/VAKT.html

Hrant, this research really casts doubt on your claims that rhythm and writing have nothing to do with good type design.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Only if you were already predisposed to that.

hhp