How We Read
by Jason Santa Maria | August 05, 2014
Published in Graphic Design, Typography & Web Fonts
Week 1: Dustin Bramlett
“Typography is a pursuit that combines the best of history, writing, math, artistry, and craft. No one thing rules over another. Sometimes the math won’t add up, but the type may look right. When that happens, you need to rely on your instincts.”
— Jason Santa Maria
Several different influences affect the way we read text. For example, you’re reading this response most likely on some type of computer; perhaps it is a tablet, smart phone, laptop, or even a desktop computer. Which is ultimately playing a role in shaping your overall experience of this text. Our screen settings may not all be the same, however we are all in theory going through the same motions reading word after word, and line after line. The key inevitable difference that we do have from one another lies within our individual interpretation of the text.
Santa Maria reminded me that the act of reading is often beautifully complex, and yet, once we know how, it is a kind of muscle memory that stays with us for the rest of our life. Sometimes text may be legible, but that doesn’t always mean it’s readable. He gave the analogy comparing legibility (meaning that text can be interpreted), to that of tree bark being edible. You want to aim higher. He goes on to explain that readability comes in by combining the emotional impact of a design with the amount of effort it takes to read. The act of reading is in fact shaped by our surroundings, our availability, our needs, and more. It is also affected by how our eyes and brains work to process information. What you see and what you’re experiencing as you read are quite different.
Reading goes hand and hand with typography because of how intrinsic it is to every factor and outcome that typography encompasses. One piece of advice about typography usage that really stood out to me goes along with the idea of making our typography flexible, able to perform as well as it can under all situations. Regardless of screen size, connection, digital platform, potential lunar eclipses, or any other unknown factor that we as designers have little or no control over; we can still prepare for the worst before publishing our designs. Yes, it can be frustrating sometimes to not have total control over the reading environment that our type/design is being read/presented in. Our best defense against this is to always keep flexibility and user experience in mind when we’re creating typography. Santa Maria states that, “Typography is the primary tool we use as designers and visual communicators to speak.”
I found this interesting. Do you know what it is called when our eyes perform a series of back and forth movements while reading? It is called saccades. To further explain, saccades are the lightning-fast hops across a line of text that help our eyes register a lot of information in a short span of time. I swear I learn something new everyday!
I will leave you with one last thought, “The experience of reading and the effectiveness of our message are determined by both what we say and how we say it.”