Monotype looks to encourage the use of easy-to-read typefaces

Monotype is working with MIT AgeLab on new research looking at how easily typefaces can be read at a glance, reflecting our “increasingly fast-paced, information-gathering” culture.

British motorway sign, typeface by Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir. Courtesy of Flickr user Henry Burrows.
British motorway sign, typeface by Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir. Courtesy of Flickr user Henry Burrows.

Monotype is looking to raise awareness of typeface legibility on everything from road signs to smartphones with a new research group.

The type foundry has teamed up with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) AgeLab – a research lab which looks to improve people’s long-term health – to create Clear-Information-Presentation (Clear-IP).

Clear-IP logo[1]

“Text legibility is one of those things that affects us hundreds of times throughout our day without us ever really thinking about it,” says Bryan Reimer, PhD research scientist at MIT AgeLab. “Through our work with Monotype, we’ve found that certain type styles have an impact on how fast people can read information under specific conditions.”

The new research consortium is based around investigating typography’s readability when words are skimmed or read quickly – a “glance” culture which has developed out of increased use of smartphones and tablets, and a preference for quick stories and notifications, explains Monotype UK type director Nadine Chahine.

“Bringing science to the world of design”

Google has already joined the research group as a member, meaning it will work with Monotype and MIT AgeLab to conduct investigations into the topic.

The ultimate aim of Clear-IP is to produce a body of research around typeface legibility, which can then go on to inform guidelines for different industries. This could be relevant for any product that features typography, but particularly in-vehicle digital displays, physical and electronic road signs, connected home products, wearables, packaging, advertising, labelling or “anything with a glass screen”, says Chahine.

“We’re trying to bring more clarity, and a scientific perspective to the world of design,” she says. “A lot of design decisions are made without enough information on how this affects reading.”

She adds: “There’s enough experience around designing for print, but today we are designing for environments that have never existed – an Apple watch, or a connected home fridge. Rather than using trial and error, we can do research now to inform future decisions. Technology can make our lives easier but the first access point is to allow better communication and easier reading on screen.”

“We need to digest information quickly and clearly”

Although there is a focus on digital applications, Chahine hopes the research will also inform traditional applications such as typefaces used on physical road signs. “When driving a car, we’re not meant to be spending extra time reading,” she says. “Our eyes should be on the road. We need to digest information quickly and clearly.”

Monotype and MIT AgeLab have been working together on typeface legibility projects for the last five years.

The creation of the Clear-IP research consortium comes after MIT AgeLab investigated two typefaces – Clearview and Highway Gothic – used on road signs in the US.

Clear-IP currently looking for members

The research found that Clearview, which was replaced on road signs in 2016 by the older Highway Gothic, was more legible. This research was presented at this year’s Transportation Research Record (TRR) Annual Meeting in the US, and hopes to inform future decisions made by local governments.

The Clear-IP consortium is currently looking for members, which can be “anyone interested in legibility research”, says Chahine. There is not currently a deadline for the research project.

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