version: 3.4, last changed Saturday, August 11, 2012

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Calligraphy at the dinner table.
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Legibility performance

→ Reading rate is the average speed that a font is read in. It is measured in words per minute and is an expression of the font's quality as a text face. Compare how our fonts perform.
Higher rating in this test usually means that a font is better suited as a text face. Display fonts should slow the reader down just a little bit and attract the readers attention. So lower rating is actually preferable for display fonts.
by Hannes Famira
created Jan. 16, 2009
updated Jan. 26, 2014

Our retail library in words per minute

Interpol Serif
Interpol Sans
JC Kugelkopf
JC Tieshy
JC BubbleJet on Steroids
JC Corrido
Helvetica Neue
(reference sans)
(reference serif)

Why does reading rate matter? 
Text should read comfortable and with ease. It is the typographer’s job to choose a typeface and to lay out a page that makes the reading experience as unremarkable and enjoyable as possible, to instill a sense of quiet pleasure. A lot of effort goes into removing any resistance for the reader. Tweaking typography until the text just seems to flow is a tricky craft. The less resistance the reader is feeling when consuming text the more successful is the typography. This can be assessed by measuring how fast it can be read. This does not mean that every text should be read as quickly as possible. It simply means that if all parameters determining reading are optimized, that's when it can be read as quickly as ever. Different fonts vary slightly. The faster a font can be read the more it is suitable for large amounts of text. At least that is the idea behind testing reading rate for our retail library of fonts.

The science behind reading rate
Psycho physicists measure reading rate and take it as an expression of legibility. This seems counter intuitive from the typographer's point of view. Reading or consuming typography is a sensual experience and it encompasses a whole world of variables. However it turns out that...

Our method was adopted from "Artists look and scientists measure: A type designer and a vision researcher discuss legibility" Denis G. Pelli & Hannes F. Famira 2009.

Each page contains a 200-word passage from Mary Higgins Clark’s (1991) "Loves Music, Loves to Dance". The pages are presented in random order and the observer never reads the same passage twice. Each of the pages is in a different font. The text is laid out in Adobe Illustrator: 12pt at default line spacing (14.4pt), flush left (ragged right) and a maximum line length of 382pt. The first line of each paragraph is indented 32pt. Each page was printed at 1200dpi as black letters on white paper on a Hewlett Packard LaserJet 4250n. The current page is placed on a large white board that the observer holds 40cm from her eyes. Observers are told: "Look away until I say ‘start’. When we start, please read as fast as you can while maintaining comprehension. When you’re done, I will ask you to tell me the gist of the passage. Begin reading when I say ‘start’, and please say ‘done’ when you’re finished. Start now." Using a stopwatch, we time the interval from "start to "done". Once they finish reading, observers are asked: "Please tell me the gist of the passage you just read." The experimenter (subjectively) scores the gist for accuracy, on a scale of 0 to 10. Providing the gist and seeing it scored encourages the reader to maintain comprehension. The graph lists all fonts that we tested.

Many psychophysical phenomena vary little over the population, and we sometimes can make 879 strong statements about prevalence on the basis of a half dozen observers. If one takes 6 independent samples from a population, and all turn out to have a certain property, then, from binomial probabilities, one may conclude, with 95% confidence, that at least 61% of the population has that property.

Denis Pelli, professor of psychology and neural science at NYU

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