Revisiting ALL UPPERCASE LETTERS vs. Upper And Lower Case

Picture of a sad robot faceI’m sometimes surprised by which of my blog posts people get passionate about. Take, for example, my post on whether all uppercase letters are inherently harder to read than upper and lower case. I wrote the post back in 2009, yet someone posted a comment on it today, 8 years later. And last week someone said the post was “utter BS”.

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.


Aries Arditi and Jianna Cho;. Letter case and text legibility in normal and low vision. Vision Res. 2007 Sep; 47(19): 2499–2505. Published online 2007 Aug 6. doi:  10.1016/j.visres.2007.06.010

The Visual Cortex And Design

Logo for HumanTech podcastDid you know that here is a part of the visual cortex that is sensitive just to a tilted line? Or that some people see millions more colors than the rest of us do? On this episode of Human Tech we talk about the strange and interesting science of vision and how it affects visual design.

HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

Top 10 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People: #3 – Multiple Sensory Channels Compete

Slide with too much text on itImagine that you are driving while listening to the radio and talking to a passenger sitting next to you. You are processing multiple sensory channels simultaneously. You are watching (the road), listening (to the radio and your friend), and thinking and talking. This doesn’t sound too difficult. People process multiple sensory channels all the time. But there is a limit. If one of the channels becomes complicated or difficult to process, then processing more than one channel can get very challenging. For example, what if there is a sudden storm while you are driving, and torrential rain makes it hard to see the road? It will start to get hard to pay attention to, or remember, what your friend is saying.

The visual channel trumps all others — Of all of our senses vision takes up the most area of our brains. Humans are very visual animals. So if there is something to listen to, or something to look at, looking will get first priority (an exception would be a large startling noise).

Listening and reading don’t mix well — During a presentation, there are two sensory channels that are most active: visual and auditory. Your audience might be looking at you while also looking at your slides. They are also listening to what you’re saying. If the slides are visuals that are easy to understand—such as photos, or diagrams that add extra context and meaning to the presentation—then the multiple channels are a positive experience for them. But if, instead, the slides are hard to read or complicated, then they will be distracted. In particular, the sensory combination of slides that are filled with text and a speaker who is talking is a bad combination. In order to understand the slides, your audience has to read. As soon as they are reading, they are not listening. Listening and reading are two sensory channels that compete with each other.

What to do instead of using wordy slides — You don’t have to use slides in a presentation:

  • Put your presentation together without slides first, then decide if any of your points would be enhanced by the use of a visual example or illustration.
  • If you use slides, use them for simple photos, diagrams, or illustrations.
  • Don’t put more than a few words of text on a slide. If people are reading, then they aren’t listening to you.
  • Know what to call slides with a lot of text on them? Your notes! If you feel you need slides with text, it’s probably because you need notes. Don’t show the audience your notes.

For more suggestions about how to be a great presenter, go to the rest of the posts in this series, and check out my latest book in the sidebar on the right: 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People

100 Things You Should Know About People — #50: 9 Percent Of Men And .5% Of Women Are Colorblind

Lays potato chip bag with blue/yellow color blind filterThe term color blindness is actually misleading. Most people who are “color blind” are not blind to all colors, but really have a color deficiency that makes it hard for them to see differences between some colors.

Different types of color blindness — There are many different kinds of color blindness, but the most common is a difficulty distinguishing between reds, yellows, and greens. This is called “red-green” color blindness. Other forms, such as problems distinguishing blues from yellows, or where everything looks grey, are very rare.

What people see – Let’s compare what people see who have different types of color blindness. I’ve put three different screen captures from a post at this blog. The first picture below is  how it appears to someone who has no color blindness, the second is how it appears to someone with red-green color blindness, and the last one is how it appears o someone with blue-yellow color blindness.

My blog with regular colors

My blog with red green filter

My blog with a blue/yellow filter

When colors become a communication problem — So what’s the big deal you might be saying? What colors you use in your photos, illustrations, maps, etc, can become problematic if you are trying to communicate information via the colors. For example, here is a map of winter driving conditions in Wisconsin that has color coding. And below that is a map that shows what it looks like if you have  red/green color blindness.

Map of winter driving

Map with red/green filter

If you are going to use color as a way to communicate — then you need to have a redundant coding scheme, for example color AND line thickness so that people who are color blind will be able to decipher the coding without needing to see specific colors.

Or pick colors that work or everyone — Another approach is to pick a color scheme that will work for people who have the various types of color blindness. In the example below they have purposely picked colors that look the same for people regardless of the type of color blindness they have, and even if they are not color blind.

Map with colors that work for everyone

You can test your colors — You can use websites to check for color blindness effects.

What do you think? What approach do you use to make sure your images work for people who are color blind?

100 Things You Should Know About People: #49 — The Brain Looks For Simple Patterns

Examples of geons and objects

What do you see when you look at the x’s below?

xx    xx    xx    xx

Chances are you will say you see four sets of 2 x’s each. You won’t see them as 8 separate x’s. You interpret the white space, or lack of it, as a pattern.

People are great at recognizing patterns Recognizing patterns helps you make quick sense of all the sensory input that comes to you every second. Your eyes and your brain will want to create patterns, even if there are no real patterns there. Your brain wants to see patterns.

Individual cells respond to certain shapes In 1959, two researchers, Hubel and Wiesel showed that there are individual cells in the visual cortex of your brain that respond only to horizontal lines, other cells that respond only to vertical lines, other cells that respond to edges, and cells that respond only to certain angles. (In 1981 Hubel and Wiesel won a Nobel price for their work on vision).

The Memory Bank Theory Even with Hubel and Wiesel’s work in 1959, for many years the prevailing theory of pattern recognition was that you have a memory bank that stores millions of objects, and when you see an object you compare it with all the items in your memory bank until you find the one that matches.

You recognize objects by simple shapes – But research now points to the idea that we recognize certain basic shapes in what we are looking at, and we use these basic shapes, called geons, to recognize objects. Irving Biederman came up with the idea of geons in 1985. It’s thought that there are 24 basic shapes that people recognize, and that these shapes are the building blocks of the objects we see and identify.

The picture at the beginning of this article shows examples of Biederman’s geons and how they are incorporated into objects for pattern recognition.


  • Use patterns as much as possible, since people will automatically be looking for them. Use grouping and white space to create patterns.
  • If you want people to recognize an object quickly, use a simple geometric drawing of the object. This will make it easier to recognize the underlying geons, and thus make the object easier and faster to recognize.

What do you think? Have you tried using simple shapes to create your drawings and icons for people to recognize?

And for those of you who like to read the research:

Biederman, I., Human Image Understanding: Recent Research and a Theory in Computer Vision, Graphics and Image Processing, 1985, Elsevier.