Are you feeling the font? Ian Peacock on the hidden power of typography

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Vincent Connare's picture
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Are you feeling the font? Ian Peacock on the hidden power of typography
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February 05, 2005

It takes all
Are you feeling the font?
Ian Peacock on the hidden power of typography

This article is manipulating you. Sorry. I can

Vincent Connare's picture
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from the London Times Feb 5, 2005 Ian Peocock article on typography

Vincent Connare's picture
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Nick Shinn's picture
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“Power”, “obeisance”, “dominance”, “explosion”.
he he he!

>Brody says this explosion is motivated by the commercial need to manipulate consumers:

Aw, and I thought I was bashing ‘em out because it’s fun to make pretty shapes.

Nick Shinn's picture
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From the dyslexia site:

“Select sans serif fonts such as Arial or Comic Sans”

Not that I have anything against Comic Sans, but this advice is flawed: those who have difficulty reading prefer serif type. Look in the large-print section of any library/book store, and you will find that all the books are set in serifed type. The market has spoken!

Vincent Connare's picture
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actually there have been several Univeristy studies on dyslexia… and I was told atleast one gave the nod to Comic over Arial and Times!!

Simon Daniels's picture
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Reminds me of this BBC piece from 2001…

http://www.microsoft.com/typography/links/news.aspx?NID=1976

Apologies for the dead links.

Si

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Vincent, thanks for posting that — I loved it.

BTW, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see CS do better than Times (and especially Arial) for dyslexics.

hhp

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All power to el Comico, and as it does so well against “real” typefaces, I wonder if the university boffins have tested type against handwriting (“printing”, not Dr-style)…

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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Why would they? Handwriting is lousy at mass communication.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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>Handwriting is lousy at mass communication

Who said anything about mass communication?
I’m talking about a lab test in a university

I was wondering, as Comic Sans performs well vs more structuted types, for dyslexics, if handwriting would perform even better.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Contemporary university research is about money, and money depends on scale.
You were wondering about tests that go against that.

Information comes from contrast, and irregularity (of which CS has a lot more than something like Arial) is a brute form of contrast (especially during deliberative reading). But the highest levels of contrast are achieved via planning, not accident, and this is counter to chirography.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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>You were wondering about tests that go against that.

It all depends how the research proposal is written.

>But the highest levels of contrast are achieved via planning, not accident,

If it is the repetition of forms that causes dydlexia, the randomness of writing may have its benefits. It’s not just the exact repetition of forms, but perhaps bits of typographic glyphs that, when rotated or flipped, resemble bits of other glyphs, that may be confusing. Or the space between letters.

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There doesn’t seem to be an appropriate typeface to aid those with dyslexia. For every typeface that seems to have some useful feature that would assist a reader with this specific learning disability, it always has an accompanying drawback.
As mentioned it is “the repetition of forms that causes dyslexia” i.e. arial, comic sans

Serifs vs Sans
Comic Sans, Arial and other typefaces noted for aiding dyslexics are all too similiar in stroke weight and style adding no variance between letters such as o,e,c etc.
The problem with serifs, then, is that they aid in the speed of reading, making it easier to pass over a word. This would deter phoenitic spelling.

“Phonology is a skill underlying the analysis of both spoken and written language, breaking words into their parts, so that ‘cat’ can be broken into ‘c-a-t’ … These skills need to develop at around the age of 5 years if children are to learn to read successfully. If this does not develop, they are reliant on learning to read whole words that they have to recognise visually (orthography).”
-DR Lindsay Peer CBE


“Dyslexic children need longer to read a word that is familiar to them (van der Leij and van Daal, 1999). This may lead to a strategy of trying to process large chunks of letters in reading, rather than breaking the word down phonologically in order to read unfamiliar words.
This approach makes heavy demands on working memory and limits the number of new words that can be tackled.”
-Wolf and Bowers (1999)

CAPS, on the other hand, will slow down the reader and force them too read each letter.
Typefaces faces such as Electra uppercase have serifs that point down at a 45 degree angle which would naturally add letterspace (a necessary factor to aid in reading in children and dyslexics). This would also break apart a flush line atop of the letters.

Another problem with serifs is that they can have too much contrast (particularly didots) causing eye strain resulting in reading fatigue; as well as confusion between letters due to extra details (the opposite of Comic Sans)

It is interesting to see that the designer of Comic Sans also designed Fabula, a font designed specifically for children. Depending on what you read, this may be a help or a hinderance. It may prolong, or help with the discovery of any children with learning disabilities.
www.kidstype.org/Other%20projects/fabula.html

It doesn’t seem like there is any clear answer to choosing an appropriate typeface to aid in the reading of those with dyslexia. Something in the middle of the board may do the trick.
Optima? But, that’s a whole other discussion of type prejudices.

My apologies if this got confusing anywhere along the way, but it’s a bit confusing writing in such a confined space ad hoc.

Nick Shinn's picture
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Another train of thought:

When someone is sitting watching a dancer, the parts of their brain that would be active if they were dancing, become active.

So perhaps there is a relationship between early reading and writing: if it looks like you can make the letters, you can recognize them. Fabula looks like that.

The LetErrror Schoolbook typeface even comes with rules behind it, if I recall correctly, to further simulate the writing experience…

Alessandro Segalini's picture
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Henrik Drescher’s ‘Dancers’ :
http://hdrescher.com/dancers/index.htm

Nick Shinn's picture
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Contortionists, more like.

Jay Fraser's picture
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I want to know how Vincent bears the emotional weight of creating all those sad fops on valentines day?

stefan felsing's picture
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re:”perhaps there is a relationship between early reading and writing: if it looks like you can make the letters, you can recognize them. Fabula looks like that.”

An associated writing disability is dysgrpahia: a difficulty in writing out letters. Fabula would be infinitely less daunting when trying to copy letters as compared to trying to emulate a highly detailed typeface

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It looks like a version of this article is going to be on BBC Radio 4 this morning at 11:00GMT

More info here

EDIT: That’ll be FRIDAY morning, what time zone is this anyway?

Nick Shinn's picture
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>Fabula would be infinitely less daunting when trying to copy letters as compared to trying to emulate a highly detailed typeface

Alternatively, if one tried to copy the nuances exactly, it would be harder than to approximate what one perceives as an ideal, abstract form, such as a perfectly round “o”.

So the question is, does the “mental writing” that occurs in reading trace the exact forms, or is it a generalization of a generalization. If the ability to generalize can be equated with the process of learning to read fluently, it follows that the dyslexic has difficulty generalizing.

In which case, is it easier to generalize from a precise form, confusing in its repetition, than from a more unique form, which suffers from distractingly complex idiosyncracy? This must be the dilemma that makes reading so hard for some.

Oz Cooper’s approach to type design, to “balance harmony with diversity”, points the way.

Vincent Connare's picture
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Our office thought the Ian Peacock Radio 4 show ‘Arial to Wide Latin’ was RUBBISH! Carolyn Archer was the only one to make any sense. Neville Brody was fine, but he’s a graphic designer really and has made his share of rubbish typefaces too. There were no type designers and some stupid woman who is an ‘expert’ in resume/cv’s said to make your cv in Trebuchet. Typical journalistic rubbish, and he never meantioned Wide Latin.

Also, here is what Broadcast Now www.broadcastnow.co.uk has listed for opinions on the Channel 4 ‘Blood on our Hands’ show from last night.


Blood on Our Hands: The English Civil War (C4)

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> There doesn’t seem to be an appropriate
> typeface to aid those with dyslexia.

Yup. So get to it!  :-)

BTW, I feel the reason for this lack is the infatuation with regular forms (coming from Modernism). Designers tend to be too concerned with superficial form, so they make their shapes formally harmonious, but this ignores the deeper, subconscious harmonies of reading — and I mean general reading, not even for special cases like dyslexics. A font that would work well for dyslexics (or work exceptionally well for the general readership) will look unacceptable to the “artistes”… Unfortunately, they’re the majority with the technical training — analytical thinkers rarely make it into design.

BTW, from your quotes it’s interesting that dyslexics actually seem to be using a strategy that proficient adult readers use! Picking off large structures inctead of individual letters. Not all the time, just as much as possible.
http://www.themicrofoundry.com/ss_read1.html



> if it looks like you can make the
> letters, you can recognize them.

Being able to write something certainly helps, but it’s not a requirement. Partly because -as you hint with “ideal, abstract form”- the essence of a shape is only circumstancially related to how the arm/hand/marker prefers to make it.

hhp

Christopher Washer's picture
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Nick Shinn's picture
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Er, Chris, that one’s been the rounds — several times.

Christopher Washer's picture
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thought it probably had.

Gerald Lange's picture
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Peacock’s exuberant and misconceived rendition of printing history is quite pathetic. Felt like I was reading Stop Stealing Sheep…