rob waller

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Parking visualisation

Parking notices are usually so badly written and designed that they appear to be deliberate traps to attact fines (see Martin Cutts's worthy campaign on this).

But I saw this sign at Westbury railway station* the other day, and thought: nice one, Apcoa.

I stumbled on the term 'knee rail', which was new to me although in context understandable. Off the central road the ground surface is gravel so they have painted white bars on the low rails at the end of parking bays.

*'Railway station' is old-geezer for train station.

Water coolers, squirrels, cocks

Thanks to David Murphy for sending me this, from his local health clinic. He has a very nice blog, which I  discovered earlier this summer. Mostly on distance learning, it reconnected me to my first job, at the Open University.

I first met David when I visited Australia in around 1981. I think he was possibly at Deakin University, which enables me to mention one of those odd 'small world' experiences that happens from time to time.

They had launched a course on visual design and semiotics, and one example of a visual-verbal clash in their course materials was of the sign outside an English pub.

The pub was called The Squirrel, and this is the logo.

The small world experience was that the pub was our local in Ascot, Berkshire, where I grew up.

Of course it never occurred to me that the logo was a cock-up (ho ho). It was not at all strange as many Berkshire pubs were owned by the Courage brewery, and this is their logo.

Context and usage blinds us to obvious communication failures, and they happen all the time with more serious consequences than this (for example, water coolers disappear).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Our local paper

Well it could have been a quartet  - the viola player might have stayed in the car.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Legibility research: seeing is unbelieving

A few years I did some legibility testing for BAA who were considering changing fonts for their airport signs. A key finding was that a narrow, condensed typeface (Vialog) was less legible from a distance than the regular ones tested (eg, Frutiger).

Top: Vialog
Bottom: Frutiger

In fact the results suggested that a smaller size of a regular font was just as legible as a narrow one at the same size – so using a condensed font to fit in longer names is actually unnecessary unless your main concern is consistency of x-height. [Insert usual disclaimer about more research being needed.]

This phenomenon is also recognised in studies by Garvey et al (1997) and Rubin et al (2006). It reinforces the warning that it is unsafe to assume that research results obtained with a particular typeface can be generalised across other typefaces – particularly if size is only defined in terms of height (eg, points or x-height) without taking relative width into account.

However, I recently read Gordon Legge and Charles Bigelow's very thorough 2011 review of recent legibility research. It's particularly interesting because Legge is a vision researcher and Bigelow a typographer, both distinguished and much published in their fields.

They express the opposite view, that narrower type is more legible, citing a 1996 study by Aries Arditi who has worked quite extensively with Metafont to explore different proportions and spacing of letters to optimise text for people with poor vision.

A little surprised at this, I've found the Arditi study and here is what he tested:

So... stop right there before you conclude anything at all from this with respect to setting proper typefaces for continuous reading. These letterforms are from opticians' test charts.

Although I imagine they are designed to occupy the same space on the chart, they are remarkably poorly conceived even to meet that objective. It is bizarre, for example, that the W has been compressed so it occupies the same maximum width as everything else, making no allowance for its angularity. No kerning has been allowed, with the result that although normally a wide letter it actually looks narrower than other letters.

By the way, don't worry, the narrow and wide letters here are the extreme forms tested (although why you would go that far I don't understand. Why would that ultra-wide 'I' ever be recognised? I have to confess that I understand very little of the Arditi study which uses a specialist terminology and reports its results quite cryptically, but it seems to be looking at the correct reading of individual letters in short strings, by very small numbers of visually-impaired people.

Arditi, Aries (1996) Typography, print legibility and low vision, in
Roy G. Cole and Bruce P. Rosenthal (eds), Remediation and management of low vision. Mosby Incorporated.

Garvey, P., Pietrucha, M., and Meeker, D. (1997). Effects of font and capitalization on legibility of guide signs. Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board, National Research Council.

Legge, G. E., and Bigelow, C. (2011). Does print size matter for reading? A review of findings from vision science and typography. Journal of Vision, 11(5), 1–22

Rubin, G. S., Feely, M., Perera, S., Ekstrom, K., and Williamson, E. (2006). The effect of font and line width on reading speed in people with mild to moderate vision loss. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, 26(6), 545-554.

Waller R. (2007) Comparing typefaces for airport signs, Information Design Journal, 15, 1-15

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

That old people sign revisited

I blogged about this sign a while back. Apparently it is patronising and disparaging to old people, and Spring Chicken organised a design competition for a replacement. They are an online retailer/advocate of well-designed products aimed at older people.

The results have been around for a few months but I've only just spotted them. Have a look at the outcomes on their website:

The designers have had a lot of fun with the brief and almost all the entries are of the designer-as-cartoonist genre.

For example, this one by Margaret Calvert and Marion Deuchars is based on the children crossing sign (which was in fact originally designed by Calvert, although she was not responsible for the old people sign):

And this one was designed by Neal Lankester:

I had a chuckle at these and many others, but there are only two which, for me, take the brief seriously and might be contenders for actual use.

This first one, designed by Else, nicely recognises that the issue may not be physical disability but confusion and dementia:

This entry, from Together Design, simply amends the current one to reduce the degree of stooping. By replacing the walking stick with an umbrella, continuity is maintained, but with less stigma:

But actually I question why the existing sign is thought to be patronising. It is not meant to be a social comment but a warning to drivers of a danger ahead. The danger is not old people per se, but people who are physically challenged and therefore slow to react, and who may well be recognised by their stooping gait and use of a stick. Signs have to be cliched and exaggerated to be instantly recognised by drivers.

One more thing... that word 'elderly' is odd. Do they think the word 'old' is too stark or bleak?

This is the British habit of softening the impact of the simple Anglo-Saxon with a Latin elaboration, and it's not necessary.

And another thing. I nicked the photograph at the top from Spring Chicken's website. What's remarkable for me is that I might find these elderly people half way up a mountain. Good for them.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Adrian Frutiger 1928–2015

Adrian Frutiger passed away in September. Here is a lovely obituary from the New York Times. I particularly liked the quote at the end:

'As conspicuous as Mr. Frutiger’s work became, it was for its inconspicuousness, he said, that he hoped it would be known.

 “The whole point with type is for you not to be aware it is there,” he said in an interview on the Linotype company’s website. “If you remember the shape of a spoon with which you just ate some soup, then the spoon had a poor shape.”'

I met him briefly at a lettering workshop held at Reading a few years after I graduated. I have the programme somewhere and will amend this post when I find it. What stuck in my head was his classic demonstration of the universality of Univers in which he would overlap a transparent letter 'a' from a range of fonts until the Univers a emerged.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Security questions again: I wish I'd thought of this

Have a look at Soheil Rezayazdi's Nihilistic Password Security Questions.

What is the name of your least favorite child?
In what year did you abandon your dreams?
What is the maiden name of your father’s mistress?
At what age did your childhood pet run away?

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