Colin Wheildon in 1996 presented the results of 9 years of research on the effects of typography and page design on readers understanding of the written material presented.  The conclusions that he made were as follows;

Reading Gravity

The Gutenberg diagram was conceived by typographer and teacher Edmund Arnold.  The Gutenberg diagram divides a page layout into four quadrants.  This chart indicates that readers from western cultures will typically scan from the top left and then gravitate toward the bottom right.  The Gutenberg diagram and demonstrates that the viewer is likely to pay less attention to the fallow areas.


Typestyle in body text

  • Readers displayed a good understanding of body text printed in serif type more five times as often as they did body text printed in san serif type.
  • Italic body type caused no more difficult for readers than roman body type.
  • Typestyle in headlines
  • Legibility differed little between headlines set in serif and those placed in san serif typeface, or those set in roman and italic.
  • Headlines set in capital letters were significantly less legible than those in mixed case.
  • Tightly tracking headline type (decreasing the spacing between its letters and words) reduced legibility.
  • Slightly condensing headline type (decreasing the width of its characters) made it easier to read.  Settings between 70% and 90% of natural width appeared to be optimal.

Color and Type

  • The darker the headline, the better it’s comprehension.  The research revealed that nearly four as many readers showed good comprehension dark headlines as readers of headlines in bright, high-intensity colours.
  • Body text was most legible when black. Even body copy that was set in dark colours that were not black was identified as more challenging to understand.
  • Black text printed on a light tint was viewed as attractive to readers and highly comprehensible. With black text written on a grey background, however, they had difficulty discerning words when the background screen was greater than 10%.

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Other Typographical Elements

  • Readers showed the best comprehension with entirely justified text.  Almost twice as many readers understood justified text better than text set to the right.
  • Readers were easily annoyed by features that are often considered good design.  An example was that many readers complained about articles in which the body type jumped over the illustrations or ‘pull quotes’.
  • Most readers found subheadings useful, especially in longer articles.
  • Running text set in either long lines (more than 60 characters) or short lines (fewer than 20 characters) was more difficult to read.
  • Text set in capitals was hard to read.

teamSimon is a Sydney based digital designer. He is the Director of a boutique digital design studio, Bailey Street Design located in the vibrant inner west suburb of Newtown. Simon studied graphic design at Shillington College and specialises in web design for small and medium size businesses. Simon and his team (Toby the studio dog) are passionate about visual communication in the digital environment.


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