Typeface Legibility: Towards defining familiarity

PhD thesis, Royal College of Art

The aim of the project was to investigate the influence of familiarity on reading. Three new typefaces (Ovink, Spencer, Pyke) were created in order to examine the familiarity of typefaces that readers could not have seen before.

Each of the new typefaces contains lowercase letters with familiar and unfamiliar skeleton variations. The different skeleton variations were tested with distance threshold and time threshold methods in order to account for differences in visibility.

This investigation helped create final typeface designs where the familiar and unfamiliar skeleton variations have roughly similar and good performance. The typefaces were later applied as the test material in a familiarity investigation.

Some typographers have proposed that familiarity means the amount of time that a reader has been exposed to a typeface design, while other typographers have proposed that familiarity is the commonalities in letterforms. These two hypotheses were tested by measuring the reading speed and preference of participants, as they read fonts that had either common or uncommon letterforms, the typefaces were then re-measured after an exposure period.

The results indicate that exposure has an immediate effect on the speed of reading, but that unfamiliar letter features only have an effect of preference and not on reading speed.

By combining the craftsmen’s knowledge of designing with the methods of experimental research, the project takes a new step forward towards a better understanding of how different typefaces can influence the reading process.

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