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The Math of Text Readability 282

Posted by Zonk
from the looks-good-to-me dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Wired magazine has an article that explains The Law of Optical Volumes, a formula for spacing the letters on a printed page that results in maximum readability. Wired's new logo (did anyone notice?) obeys the law. Unfortunately, Web fonts don't allow custom kerning pairs, so you can't work the same magic online as in print. Could this be why some people still prefer newspapers and magazines to the Web?"
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The Math of Text Readability

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  • Volumes not areas? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jakosc (649857) * on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:14PM (#18806021) Homepage
    It's basically kerning pairs, but instead of just a few pairs, it's generalized to maintain the area between all combinations of letters:

    The Law of Optical Volumes states that the area between any two letters in a word must be of equal measure throughout the word, and remain consistent throughout the body of text.
    So why 'Volumes', not 'Areas'?

    If Scott were more of a geometry wonk, he'd have dubbed it the Law of Optical Areas rather than volumes, but that doesn't sound as imposing.
    Why stop there? A Law of Optical Hyperspace would be even better...
    • by paeanblack (191171) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:19PM (#18806093)
      So why 'Volumes', not 'Areas'?

      It looked better in print.
      • It looked better in print.

        Yes, back in 1940 you could see the thickness of lead in the linotype output, which was indeed a volume. That sounds good, but it might not be right because I just made it up. I do, however have a jar of old lead letters about that old for fun and props. No linotype blocks though.

        If you want to get really hoary, I'll bust out my old IBM typewriter, hook it up to WP 4.x and show you proportional fonts that are all about areas instead of volumes. Then we can party like it's 1

        • In the print world, a sentence break is wider than a word break, for superior legibility. Standard HTML rendering compresses any string of spaces down to a single en-space sized blank. But there are ways around that. When I write for the web, I always add an extra space after a full-stop using the non-breaking space escape:  

          But I can't do that here. Slashdot prevents posters from using non-breaking spaces, among many other things (I can't use standard physics or trigonometric notation, because
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            You seem to be using non breaking spaces for a purpose different from its intended one. Non-breaking spaces are designed to be used—well...—when you want to disallow a line break at a space, in situations like "A. U. Thor" or to keep words together where it'd be awkward to have them separated—a good typographer will not let a short word like 'a' be left alone at the end of a line but join it with a non-breaking space to the word following it, for example.

            You probably wan

    • by Ahnteis (746045)
      Correct me if I'm forgetting my geometry, but volume is usually a 3-dimensional measure while area is for 2 dimensions.
      • right, which is why tfa says

        If Scott were more of a geometry wonk, he'd have dubbed it the Law of Optical Areas rather than volumes, but that doesn't sound as imposing.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by catbutt (469582)
      "Volume" also has more general meanings such as "amount, bulk, mass" (according to Websters). I imagine this meaning is much older than the one used in math to refer specifically to 3 dimensional geometry.

      "Area" also has general meanings that go beyond 2d geometery (example: "area of expertise"). If looking at all meanings of the words, I think "volume" is really the better word.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by AvitarX (172628)
      RTFA.

      It is explained and really short too.
      • by roscivs (923777)
        RTFComment. He quotes the part of the article where it is explained, and makes a joke about it.
    • by servognome (738846) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @09:14PM (#18807087)

      So why 'Volumes', not 'Areas'?
      Because 'Volumes' let you go up to 11.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by twistedcubic (577194)
      This probably isn't the reason, but in math, the general term used for the capacity of an object, regardless of its dimension, is "volume". And so "length" refers to the volume of a 1-dimensional object, and "area" refers to the volume of a 2-D object.
    • Geeks not nerds? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Duggeek (1015705)

      I'd use mod points, but I'm a designer (Web and print) and this has to be set straight. Besides, who on /. actually reads TFA to comprehend these posts?

      Waa-aay back on the early printing presses, characters were steel/pewter “shots” and held together with molten lead. The shots were lead-alloy and would break-away from melting the pure lead once the print-run was complete.

      The letters each occupied a rectangular space, since the shots were forged from rectangular molds. When the shots were fitt

  • Web Volumes??? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Slugster (635830)
    Well there IS pdf's, if you wanna be that picky......
    ~
    • True, PDF documents have kerning in them, but the hinting used to display glyphs in PDF documents on a 70 to 120 DPI screen without blurring the crap out of the glyphs distorts the spacing balance.

  • by realmolo (574068) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:19PM (#18806097)
    Having all the typefaces look *exactly* right is one of those things that only printers really care about. Don't get me wrong, it's worth the trouble, for the *printed page*.

    But on the web? I don't think anyone would really notice or care that much. Plus, it'd be hard to achieve, since you can't rely on all machines rendering fonts at the same resolution, and you can't rely on fonts actually being present on all machines, and you can't rely on all the *versions* of a typeface actually being the same across different platforms. None of this is news. The web was designed to sort-of deal with these problems. Or at least, ignore them.
    Someday, when we're all running ultra-high-res displays, and someone releases a shitload of completey free (as in beer and freedom), high-quality fonts (I think this is the biggest issue, personally), then we'll all see the same nice fonts on our computers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Itninja (937614)
      I think the point of the article wasn't about how important the quality of typefaces and fonts are, but some reasoning behind why some people get more fatigued than others reading text from a computer screen.
      • Right. Even if we could get the kerning right, I'd bet we would still retain more by reading from the printed page rather than from the computer screen. That's why books and newspapers will never go away.

        Really, other than on blogs and news sites, if you are presenting on the web you should write for the web. That means writing something clear and coherent and then paring it down as far as you can. News sites and blogs should just use a good serif font [wichita.edu] on the web and move on. If someone really wants to
    • I Care But (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tknd (979052)

      The main reason why it is much harder to produce a good looking font on a screen is due to the low dpi factor of screens. In print, you can get a much higher dpi and as such some fonts like Times look great. But on the screen they look like crap because the screen only has so much resolution. You can play a few tricks with current lcd technology and anti-aliasing but compare it to anything in print and there's no comparison.

      I certainly wouldn't mind higher resolution displays to display crisper fonts. A

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Having all the typefaces look *exactly* right is one of those things that only printers really care about. Don't get me wrong, it's worth the trouble, for the *printed page*.


      Look at the Slashdot banner at the top of the page. What do you see? Kerning. And if it wasn't kerned, it would look like crap. All designers care about kerning, not just those in the print world.
      • Look at the Slashdot banner at the top of the page. What do you see? Kerning. And if it wasn't kerned, it would look like crap.

        On the other hand, look at the Wired logo in the article, in which they brag about how it follows their law of readability. It looks like unreadable crap.

    • Probably a bad idea. (Score:2, Informative)

      by hedora (864583)
      Personally, I'd be upset if web designers had precise control over font rendering. I've overridden Firefox's default fonts with ones that I prefer, and regularly use ctrl + and ctrl - to adjust font sizes. It's better to have a fluid, customizable presentation layer for on-screen reading. Otherwise, we'd probably be using PDF instead of HTML.

      Also, I feel like we already have plenty of free (freedom) fonts, and high quality renderers; kerning for desktop computers was solved in the 80's. (Antialiasing wa
  • ...because the web is just too big to fit in my bathroom.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      ...because the web is just too big to fit in my bathroom.

      You already got the tubes in there. How much work can it be?
  • Is the lack of good font control. Lack of kerning is one thing. Another is you can't have font sizes for each individual fallback font - fonts can vary in size so much that you have to write for the most common font or risk throwing the design for everyone else.
    • by interiot (50685)
      So work in TeX or PDF or PS, or any of the other formats that are designed to be used with a single specific font and a specific page size, that can be tweaked endlessly.
    • by afidel (530433) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:46PM (#18806351)
      I think you miss the point of this HTML thing. It's a markup language, not a display language. For that we have PDF and Display Postscript. I don't want that much font controll in the language because your exacting layout isn't going to work on my 320*240 (or smaller) portable display anyways.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cloudmaster (10662)
        I think you miss the point of this CSS thing. It's a style defining syntax, not a markup language. It exists to put a Style - you know, the "middle S" - on top of a generic markup language. Your tiny device should a) treat styles in a way appropriate for its capabilities, or b) suck it.

        Now, if people would just use HTML as intended, and use CSS as intended, my tiny little devices can ignore the web browser CSS and render the HTML in a way appropriate for their screens. Some people will know aobut tiny l
  • by Headcase88 (828620) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:23PM (#18806143) Journal

    To see and appreciate the Law in action beyond our logo, you'll need to pick up a copy of the magazine.
    Well I guess that would be more profitable than just offering a .gif sample.
  • I always thought that kerning of installed (and injected) fonts is pretty much OS responsibility. So if you have kerning enabled (see, for example, Typography.Kerning in .NET, as we're talking mostly about Windows) adjustments of the font will be done automatically. So I guess if you force browser to download font via CSS2 that has kerning information it should "just work".

    Alas, I always thought that forcing downloading of custom font is a bad idea (jut like forcing user to use some fixed font size) as not
  • Print vs Digital (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Reason58 (775044) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:24PM (#18806173)

    Could this be why some people still prefer newspapers and magazines to the Web?
    Intrusive ads, popup windows, flash animations and audio come to mind as reasons. Also the simple fact that many people like the freedom of being able to actually hold and move around the thing they are looking at. Kerning adjustments seem pretty low on the list of reasons IMHO.
    • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:42PM (#18806319) Homepage

      Also the simple fact that many people like the freedom of being able to actually hold and move around the thing they are looking at.
      The term you're looking for is Picard's Syndrome [lewrockwell.com].
    • by Pharmboy (216950)
      I personally think that people prefer to read some things in paper form because it isn't convenient to use a laptop in the toilet. Not trying to be funny, as most people DO read in the toilet, and it just isn't easy, or particularly sanitary to do so with a computer.

      Also, people read on planes, in lobbies, while waiting in line, and other places that a computer isn't as convenient. Either use a paper book, or a Gameboy.

      More important to me, paper is more intuitive for casual reading. Computers are better
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Kerning adjustments seem pretty low on the list of reasons IMHO.

      You are partially correct. Kerning alone won't make print more attractive than web documents. However, kerning is only one part out of many things one can do to text (justification, hyphenation, smaller line-lengths, line-spacing, judicious use of emphasis, indentation, ligatures, etc.) to make it more readable, i.e. typography. The sum of all these adjustments, while not consciously visible to the reader, most definitely has an effect on the

      • by fossa (212602)

        I think the biggie is vastly higher resolution. Typical screens are what, 72-100 ppi? It's simply tiring to keep scrolling about. Letter size paper or a larger newspaper fits more information and lets the reader scan about without much effort.

        Also, something about being able to easily add color seems to make everyone want to do it. Those thick, darkly colored bars of slashdot headings sharply contrast with the black-on-white text and in many cases activate the negative space between the bars.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:27PM (#18806189) Journal
    The concept of WIRED magazine and its associated web site being interested in readability seems ludicrous.

    Consider their track record of using tiny type, garish color schemes, and layouts that I find difficult to characterize, making it nearly impossible for anyone with any of a number of (even slight) impairments to their eyesight (including especially presbyopia - the lack of accommodation that accompanies middle age) to read their publications comfortably - or even at all.

    I've often thought that this was done deliberately, to repell all but young readers, as part of targeting their circulation on the perceived avant-garde youth of gen-Y and beyond.

    Now they're modifying their logo for readability. ORLY? Is their target demographic aging enough that this is now a problem? Are readers deserting them due to headaches just as they graduate into serious spending money? Or are they just playing around with another art/layout fad?

    If they were really serious about readability I'd expect them to be modifying other aspects of their magazine and site layout. But TFA shows that is not happening. So I'll go with "fad".
    • I agree. While I haven't paid any attention to WIRED for a number of years, I remember that their magazine was harder to read than anything I'd seen before.
      • by jfengel (409917)
        They've improved it considerably since then. Five years ago the typography and design were actively offensive. These days it's much more conservative. Still a bit edgy, and not always wonderful, but almost always readable.

        The content is pretty much the same as before: a lot of tech hype with a very low probability of ever seeing the light of day, but with a few reasonable articles.
  • hehe

    The new one is just the opposite of the old one, very interesting. I don't really see how this umm law applies more to one than the other tho.

    I do see what they are saying tho. A good sample is the button below for Plain Old Text. In that font it looks like the sans-serif T wants to get away altho in this font the seriffed T looks fine cause of a extra dot.
  • by Temeraire (913731) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:33PM (#18806239)
    I have actually written software to kern text (for the sign-making industry) and can testify that kerning is not an exact science. Yes, one needs to even up the areas of white space between letter, but then one needs to bias the calculations in favour of the tops of the letters. And then make some allowance for any white space inside the letters, and .... and .... and ..... Spacing that is correct for 12-point type on paper would be quite wrong for a huge 3D sign on the side of a building, and so on.
          For perfection, there is no substitute for the human eye. The algorithms used by our brains to unscramble text are very complex.
    • by rossz (67331)
      A long time a go I worked for a company that made fonts. From my experience, trying to kern mathematically just didn't work. The only way you can properly create kerning is to have a table for every possible character combination (at that time, 256x256 characters, minus the 32 control characters) with the kerning value. You needed a table for each font, face, and size. Thus, Times Roman 10pt Normal was entirely different from Times Roman 12pt Bold. Kerning mixed fonts was not even considered. For prin
      • by alexhs (877055)
        Does anyone know how it works for (La)TeX ? Do they also use tables, or is there some generic algorithm ?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          If you're referring to METAFONT-style fonts, then there is some supplementary information you can encode in the font file to indicate kerning between specific pairs, and also some moderately flexible ligature support. It's nowhere near as powerful as what you can do with Opentype, but suffices for reasonable quality when setting Roman alphabet languages. It can also be adapted, if you try hard enough, to support more complicated scripts like Devanagari. The nastiest limitations for that sort of work usually

          • by jd (1658)
            Is this the pdf(la)tex [harvard.edu] you mean?

            I do wish the LaTeX group could pull up their socks. Version 3 is being "worked on" (read: the mailing list occasionally has sparks of life), but the need for an underlying engine that does all of this properly seems clear to me.

            Adding layers on top of LaTeX only goes so far, if the underlying engine has flaws. If TeX can't do kerning adequately any more, then fixes above it will simply be implementation-dependent - which is largely what happened when LaTex 2 broke down a

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by zsau (266209)
              If you want OpenType goodness in LaTeX, use XeTeX. Apparently it's in Debian/Sid[*] now that Etch has been released, via TeXLive 2007; I've been using it manually compiled against TeXLive 2005 for some time now. It has far and away the best OpenType font support I've seen on anything running on GNU/Linux; it's somewhat at the level of Mac OS X's stuff (except it uses backslashes instead of mice and OpenType instead of AAT or ATSUI or whatever Apple calls their font format).

              [*]: (Of course, you can run it on
    • by geekoid (135745)
      " For perfection, there is no substitute for the human eye."

      ever try to put up a 100 foot long, 12 foot high cinder block wall using just your eye?

      No for perfaction there are measureing tools.They are a hell of a lot better then anyones eye.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        ever try to put up a 100 foot long, 12 foot high cinder block wall using just your eye?
        I'm trying to imagine that. You would need strong eyes, I think.

        But I take your point. Might I also suggest that using an automatic spell checker is better than trying to compose on the fly.
    • by pipingguy (566974) *
      You should be able to visually roll a ball of a consistent diameter between the rightmost edge of the left character and the leftmost edge of the right character. Does that make sense?
      • by Knetzar (698216)
        I can see that for some examples (NE) but I have no idea how it would work with DC
    • by gatzke (2977)

      Doesn't LaTeX do kerning? Couldn't it make big signs as well?

  • Web Site Readability (Score:2, Interesting)

    by hattig (47930)
    Unfortunately the WIRED headline "underwire" doesn't obey those rules.

    I'm generally unhappy with kerning on websites, unless they use certain fonts (sorry, I've never cared enough to look them up, although oddly enough they were serif fonts whereas I like sans-serif on websites).

    The biggest issue for readability was:

    - not too small
    - decent line spacing
    - NOT black on white. Dark grey on white, or black on pale grey
    - Nice margins to other content

    (aside, remember when people used to call them founts back in th
    • by rs79 (71822)
      "aside, remember when people used to call them founts back in the 80s?"

      I created comp.fonts in the 80s and I can't ever recall seeing that spelling.

      I do live under a rock though. So maybe it's just me.
  • by yusing (216625) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:47PM (#18806355) Journal
    White space, fonts and text density are minor concerns to me (intense reader for decades). Computers are fine for relaxed reads, but for long texts, the medium's just wrong: I prefer paper books.

    Computers breaks my study habits ... intense focus and keeping my circulation moving ... and so I find PDF manuals distasteful. Books: Grab, flip open, crawl inside... quickly, wherever. Maybe it's long habit, but considering the e-book flop, I 'spect I'm part of a majority.
    • by DeadCatX2 (950953)

      so I find PDF manuals distasteful. Books: Grab, flip open, crawl inside... quickly, wherever

      I find books distasteful. PDFs: Double click, ctrl-f, put in some text, click next a few times...done.

      To be somewhat less sarcastic, perhaps you should look into a widescreen monitor that you can swivel and put into portrait mode. I find that makes reading PDFs and web pages much more natural.

      Maybe it's long habit, but considering the e-book flop, I 'spect I'm part of a majority.

      I would say e-books flopped because

  • by Entropius (188861) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:47PM (#18806357)
    The space between letters on my screen generally has a lot of anti-alias grey pixels, and even subpixel-rendering-derived colored pixels, in it. It's not empty.

    One approach would be to apply this sort of kerning logic to a font in a completely analog way (like one would in print), assuming an infinite-resolution display, and then use antialiasing and subpixel-level antialiasing to squeeze more resolution out of the screen.

    Nonetheless, text looks better when lines fall evenly on a pixel boundary -- if a line is one pixel wide, for instance, I'd rather have column 10 illuminated fully than a mix of columns 10 and 11 dictated by the kerning algorithm and provided by the antialiasing code.

    Zelaous application of the kerning rules would result in nearly all characters falling halfway between two pixels. Antialiasing makes diagonal lines look smooth, and it's wonderful for that, but I don't want all my text looking like it's displayed on an LCD at non-native resolution.

    Interestingly, The GIMP has two modes for its text tool -- one that makes some compromises on "the exact shape and spacing dictated by the font" in order to *improve* readability once you quantize distance by sticking the characters in pixels. I find this mode is far more readable for small characters than the one that doesn't.
  • Disappointing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:47PM (#18806361)

    I thought someone might finally have come up with some serious research showing how to objectively improve readability, but it's just a summary of kerning.

    Why is this area so bare of real scientific results? There have been a few studies into on-screen readability, typically measuring things like reading speed, accuracy of recollection afterwards, and subjective approval of the document by the reader. However, there are so many variables that people don't seem to control that it's hard to see any general patterns. For example, changing the font from 10pt to 12pt on screen may well not just scale the size by 120%, but also make the dominant strokes two pixels wide rather than one. There is little consistency among conclusions about optimal font size for reading across fonts or whether serif or sans-serif fonts are more readable, perhaps because there are so many variables.

    Oh well, I guess we'll just have to wait a bit longer for comprehensive research.

  • by M-RES (653754) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:58PM (#18806467)
    Have you noticed that Wired's 'NEW' logo uses an almost monospaced font (ie: the kind used on old manual typewriters aka 'Courier' - where every character was the same width, hence the lowercase i with very large serifs to take up the space effectively)? Only the W is of a different width, but they've balanced it by using a slab-serif I and then balanced the useage of that amongst the sans-serif face by also including a slab-serif E so that it doesn't stand out in your subconcious. Such is the way of kerning... it's not mathematical at all, it's all in the 'feeling'. It's a purely aesthetic exercise and as has been quite rightly pointed out in the comments, a font that is perfectly kerned at 12pt becomes odd-looking when scaled up to a display size (even scaling to something like 120pt would show it) - hence some type families including a 'display' version specifically kerned for use at larger sizes. Typography... it's all in the whitespace y'know ;)
  • latex (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dheera (1003686) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @07:59PM (#18806475) Homepage
    This is exactly why MS Word sucks and LaTeX is awesome, at least in terms of readability. Try reading a LaTeX'ed documunt on the screen, it is extremely pleasant.
    • Re:latex (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @08:31PM (#18806751)

      The irony, of course, is that the latest versions of Windows support Opentype pretty comprehensively, the latest fonts from MS support some Opentype features, pretty much all of the serious, commercial, professional-grade fonts you can buy these days come as Opentype (at least from sources like Adobe), Opentype features are far more powerful than anything in the TeX/METAFONT world, yet Microsoft were too busy revamping their UI again to add support for these features in Word 2007. So much for BillG's claims about readability on the screen being important.

    • by doti (966971)
      Exactly! Mr. Knuth [wikipedia.org] devoted many years of his life studying fonts and character spacing.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TeX#History [wikipedia.org]
    • Er, most TeX-generated PS/PDF documents that I've seen print fine but look horrible on screen. IIRC, it's got something to do with them using an unusual font format [72.14.209.104].
      • The ones I make look beautiful. Nothing wrong with the fonts. Of course I use pdfLaTeX to create the PDFs directly, instead of LaTeX - dvi - ps - pdf. You can type \usepackage[T1]{fontenc} to fix things if you don't use pdfLaTeX.
  • by rh2600 (530311) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @08:07PM (#18806537) Homepage
    Web fonts don't have custom kerning pairs

    Whilst true, this is a bit misguided.

    First things first - web fonts, and print fonts are the same. Fonts are fonts. Some are better than others and include more default kerning pairs than others. But rest assured, Georgia, Arial etc have got kerning pairs (for print and screen) and hinting information (for screen).

    Type rendering engines *do* support kerning pairs, that the typographer who designed the font decided to create and embed in the font file. There are a bunch of patterns that are used to expose badly spaced pairs that typographers use when checking these spaces and fixing them.

    Custom kerning for print is actually font independent and is done in the print design app of choice. Print design uses these same font files and their kerning pairs, and print designers won't custom kern large blocks of text, unless of course they want to spend 3 days per page of content. Print designers do often kern large headings and logotypes where any subtle problems are (literally) magnified and are obvious to the reader. Online designers do this in a number of ways, but typically resort to using an image (because the logotype font isn't likely to be on the end users computer anyway). CSS does give you the ability to create custom kerning pairs if you would want it, through a mixture of text-indents, spans and margins but its not very clean.

    So the author if this piece is correct, but a little misguided and not being particularly fair on "the web". ;)
    • I don't get where they pulled that "web fonts don't kern" from. I can see the kerning differences between Vera Sans and DejaVu Sans in my browser, even though they use identical letter shapes.
      Which one looks better is largely a matter of opinion, though I like the way DejaVu has funny spacing between T and small letters.
  • FWIW (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dausha (546002) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @08:15PM (#18806609) Homepage
    http://webtypography.net/ [webtypography.net] This link goes to a way of implementing Elements of Typology online; which is supposed to improve readability. Its interesting in that it sort of goes against the common idea with screen size and web text. The common idea, as I understand it, is that we should not worry about the 800X600 and use as much screen real estate as possible. Then, text columns can stretch as wide as my 19" monitor will let them. The problem is, that works against readability. The "optimal" is about 4.5". I use 37em for text body width, and that seems to work.
    • Actually, the optimal line length for extended reading has more to do with the angle through which yours eyes must rotate to get back to the start of each line from the end of the one preceding it. It happens that for typical typefaces, text sizes and reading distances, this works out at around 4–5", or 1.5 alphabets, or whatever your preferred practical rule of thumb is.

    • by mollymoo (202721)
      Here's a radical idea: if you don't want your web site to be the full width of your 19" monitor, don't restrict your entire readership to your preference, which may not translate to their display device well anyway. Instead don't make your fucking browser window full-screen.
  • Come on, nobody should ever need anything but a 80 columns ascii terminal.

    Kerning is a scam to destroy ascii artists !!
  • Unfortunately, Web fonts don't allow custom kerning pairs, so you can't work the same magic online as in print.

    They don't? What the hell are you talking about? A TrueType font contains a kerning table. If the font rendering does not kern properly, it just means the rendering engine is a piece of shit. There is nothing about "web fonts" (what the hell does that mean?) that preclude proper kerning. It just means that the fonts which are typically installed have shitty kerning tables.

  • I took a look at the Wired web site expecting to see something nice and elegant, but was met with something I consider to be really ugly. They seem to have missed out on applying it and having something pleasing to look at.
    • by mshurpik (198339)
      Irnoically enough, their website's font size and screen width assumes the desktop is set to exactly 1024, which are two things HTML was never intended to force on its users.
    • I can roll up a magazine and beat the dog
    • I can fold a newpaper and whack flies
    • If I sit on the train and scan through Penthouse, people will think I'm an crude, insensitive, misogynistic lout. If I do the same thing with the Penthouse hidden inside a copy of Roll Call [rollcall.com], people know I'm a crude, insensitive, misogynistic and powerful lout, and they'll fear and respect me.
    • Newspapers are good for concealing the bottle of booze
    • Paper needs dead trees - lots of 'em. Extensive tree cutting decreases the abili
  • I'm sorry, all I could find on that page is a lot of designer mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-science.

    Where is the actual evidence that this "maximizes readability"?
  • It seems to me that this could be a reason why programmers generally seem to like monospaced fonts. Not only do things line up in columns, but each letter is easier to pick out and read (due to the singular widths of letters).

    For example, this sentence takes up more space, but is easier to read.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Sique (173459)
      The main difference between normal text and programs is that in texts the smallest semantic unit is the morphem (which is mostly a syllable), while in programs the smallest semantic unit is the single character (or symbol). It thus makes sense for programs to use monospaced fonts, because then every semantic unit has the same size.

      But we read text by reading morphems, and the reader even can easily be confused by hyphenation through morphems (re-adi-ng is difficult to read compared to read-ing), and morphem
  • by yellowstone (62484) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @09:14PM (#18807099) Homepage Journal

    ...is that nobody seems to care about margins.

    In so many websites (and yeah, Slashdot, I'm lookin' at you) every square inch of screen space seems to be cram-jam full of content, pictures, navigation menus, adds, sidebars, logos...

    Stop. Please... just stop.

    • ...is that nobody seems to care about margins.

      I agree. Whitespace is very important. I prefer to have decent margins and padding when I create web pages and I tend to use san-serif fonts for readablity. Also fixed-width is very important too. It's harder to read wide columns. Another good place to start is A List Apart [alistapart.com], but there are other good resources as well.

    • Who's forcing you to have your web browser filling the whole screen? Just make the window narrower. Works fine for me. If you start adding five-centimetre margins to every chunk of text on the web, that's just going to piss off those who are looking at a different-sized window.
  • Too simplistic (Score:4, Informative)

    by WillAdams (45638) on Thursday April 19, 2007 @10:16PM (#18807611) Homepage
    As David Kindersley's experiments have shown, it's more about the interplay of light and dark as perceived by the human eye than mere physical measurements.

    See his _Optical Letter Spacing For new printing systems_ for a more detailed system and account --- but as Dr. Charles Bigelow has stated, no system fully accounts for all subtleties of all designs and the perceptions of the human eye. Co-designer of the Lucida superfamily, and having worked out the spacing system used for the Optima capitals sandblasted into Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans' Memorial and newly placed as a profesor at RIT he's well-worth pying attention to.

    William

The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can't be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it. -- E. Hubbard

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