02 April 2009

Type choices

As a scientist, I value the empirical approach. So I read this post in the Comm Comm blog with interest. It refers to PowerPoint, but some principles that apply to projected slides should also apply to posters.

I was particularly struck by the claim that two typefaces are just flat out better than others. Gill Sans and Souvenir Lt are, apparently, are professional, comfortable to read, and interesting. Now, I like Gill Sans (pictured), but I disagree with the finality and certitude of Jennifer Kammeyer’s conclusion:

So what we learn from the research is... Use Gill Sans or Souvenir Lt font

These recommendations are not opinions, but rather facts based on research done by academics following rigorous protocols.

On his Ask E.T. forum, Edward Tufte wrote about the problems of this ostensibly empirical approach:

(W)hat did it matter if some students in freshman psychology in Iowa preferred one clunky font compared to another clunky font in an experiment conducted by a teaching assistant?

There are thousands of typefaces that have been designed over centuries. This paper tested ten. This sort of research does not definitively support the conclusion that These Are The Typefaces Thou Shalt Use™.