Late 2011, I was super proud to find out that I had been accepted as an official supporter of the “Global Designers Accord“.
The Designers Accord is a global coalition of designers, educators, and business leaders, working together to create positive environmental and social impact.
All adopters, supporters, and endorsers follow a basic code of conduct: Do no harm; Communicate and collaborate; Keep learning, keep teaching; Instigate meaningful change; Make theory action.
Legibility and Readability in Design
When a designer is formatting a piece of text they have no part to play in the content of the writing, only in how, as visual information, it is to be accessible.
However the designer does have control, and indeed an obligation to the LEGIBILITY and READABILITY of the letters, words, sentences and paragraphs on the page.
Although a designer has no control over the material, they must have an understanding of the purpose of the text.
Whether it is an annual report consisting of continuous text, diagrams and tables, or a children’s book for the early and still-learning reader aged between 5-8 years, with pictures. Different typographic decisions will have to be made by the designer in each case.
Decisions in Design
These different decisions involved dealing with the particular needs of the two groups of readers. Including are differences, physical differences, reading experience, habits and methods, cultural and social differences and the mechanism of memory and attention.
It is the physical properties and ‘rules’ of typography (and reading) that will aid the designer in formatting a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a column, a page or a book, that will enhance the legibility and comprehensibility to both the child or the CEO.
These properties include style and design of the typeface, with or without serifs and stroke contrast, that will either aid or hinder it’s ease of initial perception and recognition.
While the use of the typeface correctly in it’s formatting—from it’s size, to it’s letter spacing and kerning, word spacing, line length and the inter linear spacing; will ensure that the child can decipher the characters and make words out of them, and will determine that the CEO can then read ten pages of continuous text without strain or confusion.
All of these typographical properties are important in their own right, and while a number are independent from the others, some have an effect (directly or indirectly) on one another.
Elsewhere in this blog, I will discuss the common typographic threads that run through these two types of extremes. Through a series of compare and contrast exercises, I will demonstrate that, whether a picture book or a budget breakdown document is being designed, the same concerns (typographic) are evident and need to be addressed.
They simply vary in degree, rather than kind. For example a child’s text will have a larger point size, and have more space in between the lines than the continuous text of the adult’s document. Conversely, the child’s book will have shorter line lengths and less words per line, and less sentences per paragraph.
The Three Goals of a Designer
The designer has three main goals, typographically speaking. And these (in order) are accessibility, comprehension and aesthetics. If a document or book is accessible, then it is legible. If it is comprehensible, it is readable.
And if it is both legible and readable and aesthetically pleasing, then it is going to be pleasurable and easy to read.
To achieve this, a designer must understand the mature and still-developing human eye and brains perception and comprehension of visual and non-visual information. A typographic designer must comprehend the criteria of legibility and readability and deal with issues of comfort and pleasure, through the aesthetics of a page.
It is documents and books produced by this designer the CEO will want to read, and be able to remember important information from, while the child will enjoy their learning process of perception, comprehension and recollection.
Choosing a Typeface
The aesthetics of typographic design begin with the typeface, and is effected by the overall layout of the page. This includes margins, columns, images and colour.
It is here that the designer deals with issues of contrast-black on white, balance and symmetry—basic elements the eye will react strongly to. The designer at this point also endeavours to appeal to the taste of the reader, dealing with issues of style.
All of the typographical concerns I will be discussing and visually demonstrating throughout this blog, are under the control of the typographic designer.
Unlike the content of the document or book, or the behaviour of the eyes and brain, or the reader’s knowledge of the text, the amount of NON-VISUAL INFORMATION they have.
However the designer should understand the mechanisms of reading, and how a child and adult’s eye and brain works, and what their limitations are. Though they may be unable to control them, the designer certainly can influence them.
Computer vs. Human Eye
Although computer programs may have been developed with in-built formulas for letter and word spacing, leading and words per line; a computer cannot tell if its formulas may be inappropriate in a particular circumstance.
A computer has no sense of content, and is impartial to the final reader, whether it be a CEO or a child, the computer will give them the same thing. And a computer cannot layout a page. It is the typographic designer who can create the most legible, readable and pleasurable documents and books, not computers.
To achieve these appropriate typographic endeavours, designers need to understand aspects of the physiology and psychology of perception, and the interaction between these components and the correctly, typographically designed page.
The typographer, typesetter and designer needs to be aware of the categorical act of reading, the physical and psychological factors of the eye and it’s actual movements (voluntary and reflex) and brain that are involved.
The eyes use of visual information, in this case the letters and words on the page, where they will appear in various formats. And the brains use of non-visual information, information the letters on the page cannot give us, an understanding of the English language (or German language if the text is in German) and a basic awareness of the subject material.
A designer who takes note of the importance of the need for this knowledge, and necessity of being aware of the typographic criteria involved, will produce documents and books that are relevant and effective. Relevant to the content, and relevant to the reader. They will be effective in their comprehension, in conveying the communication.