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The Font Bullies

A Little Knowledge, and They’re Off! – August 2012
Why should anyone whose job it isn’t feel they need to be an expert in fonts (typefaces)? But they do, and there is something telling about it. I have yet to quite work out what, but I have some hypotheses.
The so-called Dyslexia Style Guide from the Dyslexia Association gives something of a clue as to what is going on, for it is not just fonts that are pontificated upon here, but a whole raft of things that the writer has learned a little bit about, and obviously thinks they are now the world’s expert on. And instead of coming over as expert, they sound to anyone who actually does know a little bit more about these topics as rather a joke, like the bloke on the bar stool who knows all there is to know about everything. And sadly, like the man on the bar stool, there are people out there prepared to believe this rubbish.
Rubbish? Who says so? Well, OK then, bad science, or unsupported assertions; assertions for which the evidence seems to be either that someone I know who knows about these things said so, or I tried it with my some of my students/patients/clients/mother and they liked it – classic bar stool.
So how does it come about that so often you see this sort of thing pontificated on, and why does it so frequently have the topic of fonts high on its subject list?
I am coming to believe it is deeply psychological, and connected with the nature of work. For something has changed in recent decades. In the old days, say, pre-1980s, when you went to work, someone told you what you had to do. Going even further back, to when many people worked on the land, you didn’t even have to be told what to do, you just knew. And for many, who followed their father or mother into an occupation, this state of inherent knowledge continued into industrial and commercial eras.
And then came along the desktop computer. And the person at the next desk said I dunno, you’ll just have to make it up as you go along like what I do. And mother hadn’t the first idea about it.
For some people, this was a welcome challenge. I am one of those. I was brought up in a social circle where anything could happen unexpectedly at any time – in working class north-east London – so getting a grip on the uncertain comes somewhat naturally. And I’m most certainly not going to be defeated by some flaky American machine.
But for others this is unsettling. If you believe that the world has answers, if your whole family culture and education are based upon the concept of right and wrong, while things out there keep trying to challenge the world being quite like that, then the desktop computer will be for you a jelly to be tamed.
And there on your word processing screen, there’s immediately in front of you a choice that you have no guidance on. The choice of a font!
Someone must know the answer - now there’s that bloke over there perched on a bar stool, probably calls himself an educational psychologist or something.
And this personal need for order becomes exacerbated further when we introduce the issue of the DISADVANTAGED.
For we all want to help the DISADVANTAGED now, don’t we? In fact that's right, most of us do want to, but whether this assistance necessarily means putting a kind of suburban middle-class order onto everything is a much mooter point.
Suburban middle-class? Who are you calling suburban and middle-class? Well right-on-ness is essentially that, in its insistence on there being only one way, the 'right' way.
I am not an expert in reading disabilities or dyslexia, but I feel confident in saying that dyslexia is not a single, fixed thing; there are degrees and types of it. And it surely is patronising to say that, whereas the majority of people can whiz through a newspaper or book without a second thought, those people with dyslexia can only be expected to do this if the font is 14pt Comic Sans printed on pink paper. Surely we want everyone to be able to enjoy the everyday don't we? Saying that someone with dyslexia must be restricted to infantile first readers seems to me to be patronising in the extreme.
So it is do what I say because I say so, and limit your output to the infantile for those less 'fortunate' than ourselves. Bullying and patronising or what?
But we must not forget to spare a thought for certain disadvantaged people, those for whom a computer is a scary mystery, a machine enveloped in a halo of iconoclasm.
It's all right, folks, uncertainty is fine, you only have to throw off your mantle of conceptions about the world. Well OK, I suppose that is easy to say.
And through all this, there is a significant thread running, because for those who hanker for the old, clear, certain ways, things aren't going to get any better. Somehow we as a society have to make sure that even the tree-lined avenue set can eventually learn to cope when they see a priest with no trousers on.

1 comments:

Unknown said...

Thank you! I've recently been bullied by preachy dogmatic Font Bullies in my Writing Group.
Like you, I'm fine with uncertainty and a natural born rebel; I also like science - resent and dislike the "Rush to judgement, Pontificating.... A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Anyway, insufferable dogmatics in my Writing Group: For fonts a gang of them pontificate in favor of Times New Roman. (I don't like the cramming of letters in TNR, designed as it was for newspapers; and for me, am repelled by it and think of it as conformist and boring too.
I've liked Arial. A smoother rounded font. But the gang is opposed to Arial, preaching against it..
Researching Fonts for Readability this afternoon, some conclusions come clear:
Serif fonts (ones with squiggles, feet) are considered more readable in text body for printed documents. {E.g., most books, etc.) This includes TNR; but better for readability, less crammed: Bookman Old Style, Garamond and new Calibri.
San serif fonts (like Arial) are much preferred for Online / on Computer screen reading. (Preferred in surveys by 2-1 margins) Arial 12pt; for smaller pts: Verdana well liked. San Serif fonts work better on the lower resolution and just-differentness of a computer screen than serif fonts. But Arial in particular some people have a hard time reading in print when long sections of it are done.
Like me, people who want easier readability and are able to do it: like larger points. (For myself I like 14pt).
Lawyers are turning to Calibri and some like Garamond and Bookman Old Style (as I do) for more open (not sqwuoozed) serif readability superior to TNR.
And with the growing popularity and widespread use of on screen reading, newer san serif fonts are becoming more appealing.
For headlines, san serif is more legible than serif. For paper printed text, the reverse.

Thank you! I needed some cheering up and recognition being bullied by 'bar stool' ' dogmatic preachy people.
Thanks. Enjoyed your articles.
For me, I would like larger type, though I adjusted.
Thanks,
Carl H. Cushman (I'm a writer for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction; experienced as a teacher of storytelling and creative writing)

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