Reading and Typography
Reading is unavoidable. Students read textbooks; fathers read newspapers; engineers read manuals; technicians read webpages; politicians read bills; Christians read the Bible, and the list goes on. Everyone reads something. Seeing, perceiving, and recognizing lines and dots as a form of language is a process that is extremely complicated yet necessary. Scientists have researched many aspects of the visual reading process, and one of the most immediately applicable areas of concern is in the field of typography. Researchers are attempting to answer two questions posed by publics such as graphic artists, magazine editors, résumé writers, and even standardized test publishers: What typestyle is best for what situations?, and How do different characteristics of a font affect different audiences?
The term font is a generic word used to express the general computer category of typewritten characters. Similarly, a type or typeset refers to a complete family of sets of characters having a certain fundamental design or structure. For example, the Courier type may include the variations Courier New and Courier Bold. Other typesets are Caslon, Quill, and Old English. Typestyle is used to categorize types by attributive similarities. Two of the most recognizable, and most researched, typestyles are distinguished by the presence or absence of serifs and by fixed width (FW) and variable or proportional width (PW) pitch. Types which display the serif feature add short, decorative lines to the tips of the characters; this line of print (12pt PW) is in Garamond and has serifs. Types such as Arial, as in this line (12pt PW), do not have the serif addition and are thus called sans serifs. A fixed width font may be like this Andale Mono (12pt FW), and a proportional width font may look like this Times New Roman (12pt PW).
Other attributes for fonts include size, letter width, stroke width, and leading. All of these qualities combine to produce a great number of options for users. Likewise, there are as many types and variations of users as there are fonts, and consequently these audiences have unique needs for reading and for font usage. The elderly prefer a different font than younger people (Keller 1997). Normal vision readers have a greater advantage in seeing than low vision persons, so special considerations must be made for those less fortunate (Mansfield, Legge, & Bane 1996), and persons reading from print are affected differently than those viewing a computer monitor. Researchers have considered these differences and have put fonts and their traits to the test.
Thomas Keller of Nonprofit World Magazine noted a survey conducted by the Disabled American Veterans (DAV). The DAV sent out mailings with a new type, a serif type, and reportedly claim that their bottom-line profits increased by $500,000 due solely to the change in typestyle. Keller also attests that the DAV's findings support the "conventional wisdom" that serif...