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Readability and Legibility

Which is it?
This is part of my pages on Typeface or Font Readability.
On these pages I use the terms Readability and Legibility pretty-much interchangeably. Strictly, legibility should mean you can read it, and readability that you can read it and understand it or feel comfortable with it, I think that’s right anyway, it being what some people maintain, for example see the Wikipedia page on Typography and I Love Typography.
If you don’t speak any English then for you this page is legible, but not readable.
And more relevant to these pages, a block of text set in Microsoft’s Comic Sans font in a smallish typeface (8pt) as in the leftmost example below is legible:
But not what you’d call readable, certainly not if you can imagine that spread over a whole page, whereas the passage next to it (in Bookman Old Style 8pt) would on paper be both legible and readable, it doesn’t render so well on screen because of the thin letter shapes and serifs. The third example is Bitstream Vera font 8pt, the most readable of the three on screen, but would probably be less readable than Bookman on paper, in a passage of text of this type I must stress.
“The most terse comment on legibility is attributed to Eric Gill: ‘Legibility, in practice, amounts simply to what one is accustomed to.’ Although humorous, it has been confirmed by research. Familiar forms are more legible than unfamiliar ones.” From Balancing typeface legibility and economy by Victor Gaultney.
There’s a page about legibity in type design at About Legibility by Adrian Frutiger.
And for a discussion on the laying out of type, of designing a page for readability, there’s an excellent article at The Typographer as Reader on the Linotype Font Lounge pages. Notice as you read through that article that there’s no guidance on which font or type of font you need for optimum readability, the advice is all about It ain’t what you do it’s the way how’s ya do it. That’s what gets results.
Next page in this set: A Fonty Conundrum .


Anonymous said...

While I enjoyed you perceptive series of articles,ironically, I found reading the long lines of text (sans!) quite tiring. Most text design articles suggest that there is an optimum line length - clearly it is less than you have chosen (at least in my case).
Anyway congratulations on some very extensive research

Chip Berlet said...

Been trying to explain this to clients for 20 years. I learned doing computerized typesetting in 1968. Thanks!

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