[texhax] book: Active Literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography

Pierre MacKay pierre.mackay at comcast.net
Thu Jan 8 02:18:09 CET 2009

Philip TAYLOR (Ret'd) wrote:

>It is unthinkable that I should have the temerity to
>disagree with Pierre, but I do think that the statement

>>With modern screen resolutions, a decently restrained seriffed typeface 
>>will surpass any sans-serif for instant readability.  
>is a subjective one, and therefore needs to be enclosed
>in <opinion class="personal"> tags :-)
That may not be entirely true.  In the 1970s--80s, Bob Morris of the 
University of Massachussetts did some studies of the innate filters that 
seem to favor certain patterns of linewidths and spacings at the 
early-vision level of sight, before interpretation begins (Chuck Bigelow 
illustrated the same phenomenon at the Stanford "farewell to lead type" 
conference in Stanford).  Morris's reliably quantifiable conclusions 
were associated with the widths of stems and interletter spacing, 
together with questions such as word length in various languages and 
interline leading, but he did mention that there seemed to be also an 
early-vision advantage to seriffed as opposed to sans-serif faces.  It 
was large enough to be noticeable, though not on the same level as the 
phenomena he was studying directly. 

A font in which | (one), | (lower-case l) and | (uppercase I) are 
basically indistinguishable unless you adopt the truly ugly forward hook 
on the lower-case l is hard to characterize as preferentially readable.  
I have been trapped by the similarity more than once, and have, on a 
very few occasions, had to resort to loading the offending text into 
OpenOffice and choosing a seriffed font.  I don't think that is solely 
because I am seeing with 75-year-old eyes.

I recently had to make much use of Syntax on a great number of 
illustrations for the University of California publication of Coarelli, 
/Rome/, and I came to appreciate the clean lines of this distant cousin 
of Optima when it is set against a background of random hairlines going 
every which way.  Syntax and Gill Sans are both triumphs of disciplined 
design, but would you really want to read even one volume of Gibbon in 
either?  (I am of course assuming that <opinion class="personal"> 
reading a volume of Gibbon is a desirable activity </opinion>, and that 
may not be entirely true).

Pierre MacKay

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