Sofie Beier is a type designer and associate professor employed at the School of Design under The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where she is the head of the Centre for Visibility Design. She holds a PhD from the Royal College of Art in London and is the author of the books ‘Type Tricks: Your personal guide to type design’ and ‘Reading Letters: designing for legibility’. Her current research is focused on improving the reading experience by achieving a better understanding of how different typefaces and letter shapes can influence the way we read.
The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts,
School of Design
Philip de Langes Allé 10
DK-1435 Copenhagen K
Att: Sofie Beier
For list of publications please see >>
Typeface Legibility for Visually Impaired Readers
Sofie Beier is the head of the project, which is an interdisciplinary collaboration involving researchers with backgrounds in design, ophthalmology, psychology and vision science. By combining methods of psychophysics with research-by-design, the aim is to improve typeface legibility for low-vision readers. A tradition within typeface legibility research is to compare the performance of different typeface styles. Such an approach makes it difficult to locate the specific characteristic of a typeface that causes a given variation in legibility.
The present project sets out to control for typeface variables by designing the typefaces specifically for the studies and only vary on one feature at a time (e.g. letter weight or letter width). The findings aim to lead to a general improvement of accessibility of information for visually impaired readers in the context of conventional print media, digital media and signage.
The project is supported by The Danish Council for Independent Research.
The main concern is a better understanding of how different typefaces affect readers with normal eye sight.
With the growing amount of new electronic devices and media, text is not only presented to us in a number of formats never seen before but also needs to function in a wider range of situations than just a few years ago. This, of course, places additional requirements on the design of contemporary typefaces.
With more and more written communication from official authorities and news media, it is essential to understand how different typefaces influence the reader and hence efficient communication.
The research focus addresses these changes in society by building on existing knowledge about reader behaviour with a particular emphasis on selected research areas within the fields of typeface legibility.
In the history of design, there are many examples of designers proposing an ‘ideal typeface’. The fact of the matter is that there is no optimal typeface style. A thorough literature review shows that typeface legibility varies significantly depending on the reading situation. Consequently, what is legible at a distance is not necessarily the same in longer paragraphs that are to be read at close range.
Typefaces vary widely in appearance. It is therefore puzzling that readers typically do not remember the image of the typeface they just read. We can look at a typeface and see it, yet as soon as we start reading the text it presents we can no longer focus on the shapes and forms of that particular typeface.
Long ago, Beatrice Warde made the famous analogy to drinking wine from a clear thin crystal goblet, arguing that the content of a text is most enjoyable when read in what she called ‘invisible typography’. Yet, investigations into the semantic associations of typefaces demonstrate that typefaces are cable of conveying strong personalities that can carry an altogether different message from the content of the text and thus provide an additional layer in the communication with the audience.