Re: Fonts for Online documents (#451041)

Subject: Re: Fonts for Online documents (#451041)
From: Bill Burns <wburns -at- MICRON -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 20 Jun 1996 12:41:53 MDT

20-JUN-1996 09:02:28.90

Tim writes:

>It's cultural in that we've come to expect upper and lowercase letters to
>signal certain things. The basis of all-uppercase being hard to read is our
>expectations only. Someone raised entirely on uppercase wouldn't find it
>hard to read at all. But since we've been raised in a mixed-case
>environment, we find uppercase extremely hard to read, because many vital
>clues aren't there. We're forever trying to educate people not to use pages
>of uppercase text to emphasize safety or regulatory information. Doing so
>only makes it certain that the user won't read it, so paradoxically the very
>effort to make it stand out makes it less likely to be read.

>All-lowercase is almost as hard to read in large quantities. Try to read ee
>cummings and see what I mean.

Although I agree that our cultural context has set up some expectations in us
about print convention, I don't think the issue is as simple as saying that
upper- and lowercase are equivalent in their inherent qualities and only valued
differently because of our expectations. As several people have noted in past
threads, readers determine words by the shape of them (relationship of high and
low points of the letters to the base line). The variance of this
characteristic is a quality of lowercase that doesn't exist in uppercase. With
uppercase text, words are all rectangular and vary only in length. With
lowercase text (including lowercase with initial caps), the shape varies much
more.

I agree, though, that e.e. cummings can be challenging--for me, more for the
message than the medium. ;-)

For online documents, I've heard many people indicate a preference for sans
serif type for legibility. Personally, I find it much easier to read onscreen
than serif typefaces. For hardcopy, I prefer serif type--but this may, as Tim
suggests, be because of the expectation that I have developed.

Bill Burns
Assembly Training and Documentation Supervisor
WBURNS -at- MICRON -dot- COM

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