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Can certain typefaces mitigate driver distraction? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab and the New England University Transportation Center set out to find the answer along with Monotype Imaging Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: TYPE), a leading global provider of typefaces, technology and expertise for creative applications and consumer devices. Initial results of an exploratory study show that certain type styles can reduce glance time – the time away from watching the road when driving while interacting with in-vehicle displays.
“The study indicates that the right typefaces can make a difference in reducing the amount of time not focused on the road, and therefore, gets us closer to our goal of improving driver safety,” said Bryan Reimer, research scientist at MIT AgeLab and one of the principal researchers of the project. “With digital information and entertainment increasingly available through in-vehicle displays, we know that text in cars is here to stay. Given this reality, text needs to be as easy to read as possible. Your eyes need to get back on the road very quickly for obvious reasons.”
Full results of the exploratory study are available in an MIT AgeLab white paper. Portions of the study will be presented by the MIT AgeLab at the Automotive User Interface (AutoUI 2012) conference in Portsmouth, N.H., Oct. 17-19, where Reimer is scheduled to speak.
During the study, drivers interacted with a multi-line menu display designed to model a text-rich automotive human machine interface (HMI). Data, including eye tracking measurements from 82 participants, were collected across two driving simulation experiments. Participants ranged in age from 36-75 and were asked to respond to a series of address, restaurant identification and content search menus displayed using two different typeface designs. Among the men in the first study, a humanist style typeface resulted in a 12.2 percent improvement on glance time as compared to a square grotesque typeface. Consistent with this observation, results from the second experiment, where the extent to which modifications in contrast (decreasing screen brightness) impacts glance behavior were assessed, a 9.1 percent improvement on glance time resulted among men using the humanist typeface, as compared to the square grotesque design. Among women in the first study, glance time between the two typeface designs was virtually equivalent. Women in the second study showed a 3.3 percent improvement on glance time with the humanist style over the square grotesque typeface.
“Across both experiments, it’s very notable that the two different testing conditions showed a lowering of visual demand of around 10.6 percent among the men,” said David Gould, director of product marketing at Monotype and part of the research team. “This difference in glance time represents approximately 50 feet in distance when traveling at U.S. highway speed. Although we’ve only scratched the surface and more typeface studies need to be done, we see this as a call to action for auto manufacturers, their suppliers and safety standards bodies to recognize that typeface style can represent a critical element of the driving experience.”
Monotype typeface experts believed that a typeface from the humanist genre would demonstrate distinct advantages in legibility in limited glance-time applications as compared to a square grotesque style. Humanist typefaces, such as the Frutiger® design which was used in the study, are characterized by open forms that lead the eye horizontally, making them ideal for reading small text. Humanist styles are noted for their highly distinguishable shapes, which help to lessen at-a-glance ambiguity. By contrast, square grotesque styles, such as the Eurostile® typeface which was also used in the study, adhere to a rectangular form that’s repeated in a large number of characters, resulting in letterforms with similar shapes, potentially increasing ambiguity. Other attributes, such as tight spacing inside the letterforms, can cause characters to appear blurry.
“The humanist genre is ideal for automotive interfaces. It’s deeply rooted in our psyche because it’s founded on the classic book typefaces we are so used to reading,” said Steve Matteson, creative type director at Monotype who was part of the research team. “Eurostile is actually very popular in automotive today – it conveys power and energy. However, the letterforms are mechanically rigid and compact, tightly spaced, and in some cases are nearly indistinguishable from each other.”
Government bodies, the auto industry and safety committees worldwide are addressing the need to reduce driver distraction risks. In the U.S., the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has proposed voluntary guidelines to limit potential distraction risks. Among the guidelines’ cited statistics are that 17 percent of all crashes reported to police (an estimated 899,000) in 2010 involved reports of distracted driving. Of these, 26,000 involved adjusting a device/control integral to the vehicle. The guidelines recommend that devices allow for drivers to complete tasks in two seconds or less while not watching the road, since glances longer than two seconds are correlated with an increased crash/near-crash risk.
About Monotype Imaging
Monotype Imaging is a leading global provider of typefaces, technology and expertise that enable the best user experience and ensure brand integrity. Based in Woburn, Mass., Monotype Imaging provides customers worldwide with typeface solutions for a broad range of creative applications and consumer devices. The company’s library and e-commerce sites are home to many of the most widely used typefaces – including the Helvetica®, Frutiger and Univers® families – as well as the next generation of type designs. Further information is available at www.monotypeimaging.com.