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The Power of the Printed Word

The MIT Age Lab recently worked with Monotype in an investigation of effects of typeface on the demand of human-machine interactions during a simulated in-vehicle point-of-interest (POI) menu selection task. Their study showed that people could perform a menu selection task faster and with more accuracy depending upon the text type used as well as white text on a black background vs. the standard block text on a white background. Differences were clearly noted.

See the White Paper Revealing Differences in Legibility Between Typefaces Using Psychophysical Techniques: Implications for Glance Time and Cognitive Processing , Jonathan Dobres, Nadine Chahine, Bryan Reimer, Bruce Mehler, & Joseph Coughlin.

“Psychophysics” is about the scientific methods that look at the physical properties of a stimulus such as brightness, contrast, and presentation time to mention a few and also the psychological effects or perceptions that they generate. Monotype and MIT developed a Stimulus Onset Asynchrony (SOA) research method for testing typeface legibility under glance-like scenarios.

I spoke to Dave Gould, Director of Product Marketing and Rob Abreu, Director of Field Operations at Monotype and found out some very eye-opening facts about type-face and how it affects the viewer.

The breakthrough here is the creation of a more flexible, cost-effective and time-effective method for designers to test specific typeface legibility which led to their Monotype Spark Solution. This type and technology solution gives designers and engineers the ability to create a product with high-quality scalable text interfaces in low-end platforms with limited run-time memory. This will now benefit wearable displays, the Internet of Things (IoT) and medical device displays as well as low and mid-end automobile clusters without the costly burden of additional hardware or memory.

Modern day customers need a worldwide font with capability of different languages that are legible and with scalable font.

An automobile with a price tag of greater than $40K has a connected smart phone, radio, navigation, and dashboard and a dot-matrix bit map does not match the level of quality of this type of vehicle which the consumer expects. Bit map technology is hard-coded and stores each different font scenario separately which takes much more memory.

In addition, unpredictable text such as in the case of displaying an Internet connection can bring different languages and text sizes. Monotype offers scalable text at a lower cost than the older bit map method. The Monotype Spark solution is comprised of iType Spark and WorldType Shaper Spark software, and a set of optimized fonts. These enable market demands which need to support complex bidirectional scripts like Arabic, Thai and Devangari with a run-time RAM footprint of five kbytes and a code size for an ARM processor of about 118 kbytes.

Initial Target Platforms

Seeing is believing. Comments?

37 comments on “The Power of the Printed Word

  1. D Feucht
    January 20, 2015

    When I was in the Systems & Cybernetics Group of Tek labs, there was a guy (Dr. Michael Mandell) who was doing studies of the most easily readable presentations on color displays ('scope screens of the future, in the early 1980s). Nobody knew how to use color most effectively just as it was becoming feasible to put color displays in instruments.

    Past study of type fonts has resulted in the conclusion that serifed fonts, such as Times, are easier to read that sans serif fonts such as Ariel. The serifs – the little hooks on the letters – give the visual system additional clues about what the letters are, though it occurs semi-consciously.

    I am somewhat amused at how far this might go. In jet fighter aircraft, pilots were being overloaded with so much displayed data that now semi-autonomous drones take over similar functions. Perhaps all this work on type fonts for automotive applications is in anticipation of vehicles driven by machine-vision systems.

  2. Steve Taranovich
    January 20, 2015

    Great insights Dennis!

  3. samicksha
    January 21, 2015

    I heard about psychophysics, but dont know much about same. I guess,  because of its long history , its experimental methods, data analyses, and models of underlying perceptual processes have reached a high level.

  4. Vishal Prajapati
    January 22, 2015

    I never thought designing fonts have so much efforts behind it. Very thought provoking article.

     

    I like their focus for the embedded market.

  5. ue2014
    January 22, 2015

    I knew the color codes were using to comunicate clear messages to end users and make thier life easy. But this is superb. 

     

  6. samicksha
    January 22, 2015

    I was reading about Ascender Corporation, where in they conducted a study which concluded that numerous typographic-related research projects including a study on the typefaces that appear on the front pages of America's top daily newspapers. This study identified the most popular typefaces, sources, and the pervasive use of custom fonts in newspaper design.

  7. valentinesdayquotesimages
    January 24, 2015

    I must say that overall I am really impressed with this blog.It is easy to see that you are impassioned about you writing.Nice post.i was searching for this post from last 30 minutes on google. and i reach to your website,superbly written and well explained.thanks for your article.looking for other posts also.keep it up.

  8. fasmicro
    January 25, 2015

    >> I never thought designing fonts have so much efforts behind it. Very thought provoking article.

    There are efforts indeed. That was how Apple began when Steve mastered the art. This piece is a brilliant one in making it come out naturally. There are efforts in anything we see in broad IT sector

  9. etnapowers
    January 26, 2015

    “Their study showed that people could perform a menu selection task faster and with more accuracy depending upon the text type used as well as white text on a black background vs. the standard block text on a white background. Differences were clearly noted.”

    Steve, I agree with other comments and I find very interesting this blog, congratulations.
    The results of the MIT research confirm the fact that the major part of the communication process is visual.

  10. etnapowers
    January 26, 2015

    @samicksha: It happens very often to me to read technical articles for scientific publications on the web, while reading this blog i realized that I prefer the articles written using a certain font and format, thus it's not casual.

  11. nasimson
    January 26, 2015

    Great Blog Steve!

    Eds, can we please have more blogs on psycho-physics. Its interesting to see that there are unexpected influences over us of very basic things like fonts.

  12. nasimson
    January 26, 2015

    Thank you for pointing to the monotype website

    Its such a visual treat seeing the mix of tradition and technology. Brings back old memories.

  13. etnapowers
    January 27, 2015

    @nasimson: I agree with you, this is a concept that can be extended to the marketing of an electronics product. the customer is attracted not only by the technical features but also from what he might imagine to do with that object, this is the “psychological side” of the electronics.

  14. PCR
    January 28, 2015

    Exactly ue2014, this is really interesting subject to learn…..

  15. PCR
    January 28, 2015

    “and i reach to your website”

    valentinesdayquotes,  If possible please share the link.

  16. samicksha
    January 28, 2015

    We do see and read different formats every day, but hardly realize or give importance to same until some special letter or story need to be written.

  17. ue2014
    January 29, 2015

    Many local newspapers in my country use this visual effect to attrack the readers. It creates a perceptual picture in consumer minds that special news would appear in speial fonts and general topics, headings could be easily identified with familiar fonts and colours. 

  18. geek
    January 29, 2015

    @Steve: Nice contrast beween Bitmap and Monotype. Monotype does seem better in terms of its appearance and finishing and can enhance the look of your overall product. However, is there any overhead to it in terms of additional cost? Anything that a company may have to invest into if they want to use in their products?

  19. geek
    January 29, 2015

    “the customer is attracted not only by the technical features but also from what he might imagine to do with that object, this is the “psychological side” of the electronics”

    @etnapowers: You'd be surprised to know how important the role of appearance is in an electronic product. The first impression in terms of the look and feel can make the buying decision right away. Because of this impulse-driven nature of purchase, it is important to know about the psychology of the customer and what really attracts him or her or turns them off.

  20. geek
    January 29, 2015

    “That was how Apple began when Steve mastered the art. This piece is a brilliant one in making it come out naturally. There are efforts in anything we see in broad IT sector”

    @fasmicro: Even I was thinking about Steve Jobs and his attempt towards creating the Sans Sarif fonts in his days at the university. The modern day fonts that we have owe a lot to his contributions in those days.

  21. nasimson
    January 29, 2015

    > Because of this impulse-driven nature of purchase, it is important to know about
    > the psychology of the customer and what really attracts him or her or turns them off.

    Given the falling prices of consumer durables and their shorter lifecycles thanks to planned obsolescence, even durables now have gotten a much shorter life. So the impulse factor is increasingly more important in that space too.

  22. etnapowers
    January 30, 2015

    @samicksha: you're right, many times we associate the format with a particular interesting subject , this is an unconscious mechanism of association.

  23. Sachin
    January 30, 2015

    Given the falling prices of consumer durables and their shorter lifecycles thanks to planned obsolescence, even durables now have gotten a much shorter life. So the impulse factor is increasingly more important in that space too.


    Maybe the lifecycles of consumer durables are decreasing due to a well planned electronics supply chain marketing strategy? 

  24. Sachin
    January 30, 2015

    You'd be surprised to know how important the role of appearance is in an electronic product.


    @Tzubair: Indeed. That is the case even with healthcare electronics. People aren't ready to accept it inside or on their body if it does not have a logical design principle.

  25. Sachin
    January 30, 2015

    Many local newspapers in my country use this visual effect to attrack the readers. It creates a perceptual picture in consumer minds that special news would appear in speial fonts and general topics, headings could be easily identified with familiar fonts and colours. 


    @ue2014: The same is with electronics. Electronics that have a premium visual flair to it generally have a better market future than electonics that don't.

  26. geek
    January 30, 2015

    “Given the falling prices of consumer durables and their shorter lifecycles thanks to planned obsolescence, even durables now have gotten a much shorter life. So the impulse factor is increasingly more important in that space too.”

    @nasimson: I agree. More and more people want to touch and feel and use these consumer durables before they can make a decision. This makes it more important to know the psychology of the consumers and what their thinking pattern is like within the stores.

  27. nasimson
    January 31, 2015

    @tzubair:

    > More and more people want to touch and feel and use
    > these consumer durables before they can make a decision.
    > This makes it more important to know the psychology of the
    > consumers and what their thinking pattern is like within the stores.

    Apple has gotten the design back in high-tech. Trying to replicate Apple's success, companies are emphasizing design and user interface in even non-consumer goods. A welcome sign!

  28. dassa.an
    January 31, 2015

    @nasimson: Well apple is always unique. They do unique things which gets copied and re-defined by others. Hats off to apple for doing and introducing new things to the market

  29. chirshadblog
    January 31, 2015

    @dassa.an: looks like you are a big apple fan. Anyway agreed 100% on what you mentioned here. 

  30. dassa.an
    January 31, 2015

    @chris: Yes indeed I am. Apple has changed the life styles of people who use smart phones. True the cost is high but still they have to maintain their standards and I feel it's a good ploy

  31. geek
    January 31, 2015

     

    “That is the case even with healthcare electronics. People aren't ready to accept it inside or on their body if it does not have a logical design principle.”

    @Sachin: You're right. When it comes to medical devices, people are even more conscious about the design and look and feel of the electronic products. They want to make sure the devices are safe and sound to use. It's not just the functionality that matters anymore when it comes to these products.

  32. SunitaT
    January 31, 2015

    @Steve, thanks for the post. I never knew the advatanges of bitmap Monotype fornts. I am sure in future we will see more usage of Monotype fonts in display products.

  33. SunitaT
    January 31, 2015

    The serifs – the little hooks on the letters – give the visual system additional clues about what the letters are, though it occurs semi-consciously.

    @D Feucth, very good point. Serifts are used to increase the contrast and spacing between letters and improve identification.

  34. SunitaT
    January 31, 2015

    I like their focus for the embedded market.

    @Vishal, though to begin with they are focussing on embedded market but am sure they do realise that similar requirement exists in other markets and hence they can easily utilise the products in other markets also.

  35. SunitaT
    January 31, 2015

    This study identified the most popular typefaces, sources, and the pervasive use of custom fonts in newspaper design.

    @samicksha, thanks for sharing this point. I am curious to know what font was chosen as the most popular?

  36. SunitaT
    January 31, 2015

    The results of the MIT research confirm the fact that the major part of the communication process is visual.

    @etnapowers, agree with you. What adds to the challenge is challenge is surace. For example San-Serif fonts are unreadable on screen and serif fonts are not meant for print. 

  37. Davidled
    February 2, 2015

    Generally speaking, either 10 or 11 fonts size is popular in the email. Font size used in the online might be depending upon the context of contents. Font size for presentation might be changeable to what purpose it might be used for. 

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