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Subject:Re: Font favorites From:Mark Dempsey <mxd2 -at- OSI -dot- COM> Date:Tue, 6 Apr 1999 12:58:48 -0700
A little sidelight to the serif/sans-serif debate:
When the operation to cure congenital cateracts was discovered, several
people who grew up blind were expected to become sighted, once they had
the operation. That's not what happened, however, at least right away.
The formerly blind were not practiced in the use of their eyes, so
despite having the physical equipment to do so, they were unable to see.
Their physicians began to train them, and, with great difficulty, they
recovered their sight, although many preferred to remain functionally
blind. (How human!)
Their doctors would ask these patients to distinguish between two shapes
on a plain background. Even after the operation, they literally could
not tell the difference between a circle and a triangle, until they were
trained to use their gaze just as they had previously used their touch.
When their gaze hitched and stopped at the apex of a triangle, they got
a sense of the shape.
Sighted people learn this very early in life, and we spend our time
looking at things through a variety of filters and assumptions learned
during that early semi-sighted period. Optical illusions, among other
things, take advantage of the blind spot of inference we learned when
learning to use our vision equipment.
So serifs, if really visible, are the visual cues for letters, and can
be very effective doing so. Onscreen, however, letters are of so much
lower resolution that serifs cannot be relied upon to be anything more
than a blur--hindering their proper function.
One can therefore conclude that custom is probably more powerful than
the visual cues offered by serifs, so if European readers are used to
sans-serif, even though they're reading print, it'd be better to use
sans-serif fonts. In any case, it's probably better to use sans-serif
onscreen for applications that won't be printed.
(Thanks to Maurice Merleau-Ponty's "Phenomenology of Perception" for the
-- mailto:Mark -dot- Dempsey -at- osi -dot- com
-- Mark Dempsey
-- Technical Publications
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