Since the all uppercase topic seems to still be hotly debated, I thought I’d write a quick update. It appears there was a research study done in 2007 that I missed when I first wrote the post. The research confirms, as I said 8 years ago, that:
All uppercase letters are not inherently harder to read.
All uppercase letters don’t slow down reading speed.
In fact, in this study, done with both normal vision and low vision readers, people with low vision performed BETTER with all uppercase letters, presumably because they were larger.
This better performance effect with all uppercase disappeared when they increased the size of the font so that it was large even in upper and lower case.
All uppercase letters did not slow down the normal vision people.
It’s a small sample size, but it was statistically significant, and so far as I know there is still no research showing the opposite, so, I’m sticking to the idea for now, that all uppercase letters are not inherently harder to read.
I am taking a chance here, because I know that the subject of fonts is always controversial, and if I say that you should use fonts that are hard to read I’ll be blasted by many of my readers! But I have to share this fascinating research on how mental processing changes in some surprising ways when people read text that is in a hard to read font vs. an easy to read font. Below is the video.
For more information check out:
Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast And Slow
and my new book (when it comes out in March 2013 — available for pre-order now at Amazon) How To Get People To Do Stuff
In a previous video on confirmation bias I talk about Daniel Kahneman’s idea of System 1 (quick, intuitive) thinking vs. System 2 thinking (slow, logical, analytical). Kahneman’s research shows that when a font is easy to read then System 1 thinking does its usual thing — makes quick decisions, which are not always accurate. When a font is harder to read, System 1 gives up and System 2 takes over. Which means that people will think harder and more analytically when a font is hard to read. I’m NOT suggesting you intentionally make fonts hard to read in the text you have at websites and in other places, but these findings do make me pause and think about whether we are all inadvertently or purposely encouraging people not to think about what they are reading.
Ok, let’s hear it! I know you will all want to weigh in on this one!
I’ve been a fan of Kevin Larson’s writing about fonts, typography and online reading for some time. I mention him in my latest book, 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People.
Kevin is a reading psychologist that works with typographers at Microsoft. He’s part of a team at Microsoft with a goal to make reading online as easy and enjoyable as reading from paper. I recently interviewed Kevin for a podcast.
When it comes to fonts, size matters a lot. The font size needs to be big enough so that people can read it without strain.
Not just old folks — For older people this is critical. Starting in their 40’s, most people have increasing difficulty reading small fonts. But it’s not just older people that need fonts to be bigger. I’ve conducted many usability tests on web sites and heard people in their late teens and early 20’s make spontaneous comments about the font being too small.
x-height magic — Some fonts can be the same size as others, but look bigger, due to the x-height. The x-height is literally the height of the small letter x in the font family. Look at the illustration at the top of the post to see how the x-height is measured. Different fonts have different x-heights, and as a result, some fonts look larger than others, even though they are the same font point size.