Context/Intro

This article exists, as a person on twitter started boosting an article on a “readable font” project. So I started looking for readability myself; rather than relying on deep pockets at Microsoft, Samsung, Apple etc.

In the UK there is an aging population; but increasing amounts of the population were working with a PC when they where working. They are still old people, but can read/watch the news via the internet. I tried to get some numbers, but I can't find the right question to get a search engine to tell me the date of adoption of PCs by UK industry. Looking at “production of computer devices”, the generation that bought toys at the end of the 70s and start of the 80s would have bought PCs into their work as soon as they got to make choices.

What are the effects of age, as far as it affects accessible text, and information presentation?

  • Less good vision, and a tendency towards long sightedness
  • Less working memory, leading to getting confused more easily
  • Lower rate of information absorption
  • Reduced manual precision and granularity; increased jitter/ clumsiness
  • Reduced confidence, increased isolationism/ social retreat
  • Increasing time spent alive increases number of injuries acquired (making previous points more common and more acute)
  • People born a long time ago tend to have lower levels of education compared to current people

I have seen various numbers for frequency of Dyslexia, but it is fairly frequent. What I was told as a teenager ~ who was asking as its relevant to me ~ Dyslexia is a genetic profile where people have little short term memory; and its consequences. Other explanations are less engineering focussed, pls consult qualified medics for medical advice; not random webpages. Common side effects of dyslexia are detailed 1. In adults the effect are 2 3 4 5 6 7 :

  • Unless the person had targeted learning support as a child; they are likely to have difficulties with language; sequence order problems in particular
  • This leads to non verbal/ non human language based reasoning structures; which makes communication of thoughts more difficult
  • More relevant to children than adults; speech problems are more likely (as a follow on)
  • Problems with transcoding operations, which require short memory to implement or buffer data. For example listen to a phone call and write down a phone number
  • Good at pattern matching/ spotting data points that fails the pattern
  • Good at spatial reasoning

There are many other population segments that need support for readable text; but these tend to be a smaller numbers of people (and most of the suggestions help all the segments.) Good design is good design.

UX Suggestions

I read a very terse summary of some UX research over a decade ago; that said that web based shops selling games really needed good UX for more elderly people between October and December every year; as there where millions of occasional buyers getting Xmas presents for grandchildren. The rest of the year these buyers had no involvement or interaction with the entire games industry.

To support the elderly (who in the case of commerce are still spending money with you), we should:

  • Not make text too small
  • Have good level of contrast (of colour) between screen elements (in particular foreground/background)
  • Have clearly separated components
  • Try to avoid jargon in text
  • [technically] Degrade gracefully (stereotypically they have low investment in technology)
  • If you want icons rather than words in button/nav bars; you need to choose the icons very carefully; consumers may not be in the “fanboi” category
  • . . . all those items are really generic, will be found in any text that mentions accessibility or usability even a little bit . . .
  • Lastly: Use a readable font

To support dyslexic people, we should:

  • Avoid text layouts where the reader can easily loose their location (so lists are good)
  • Avoid flashing or moving adverts (also not for people with migraines)
  • Not make the site structure really complicated, as users will get lost
  • Avoid maximum intensity white with maximum intensity black pages (again applies to people with migraines)
  • Lastly: Using a readable font will assist a bit (but different definition of 'readable')

Readable fonts.

I did several hours reading. The terms “clean”, “readable”, “modern” and “crisp” are meaningless as they are applied to 100% of the descriptions in the market. In my experience, only joke fonts, such as a used for black metal name names lack those attributes. Secondly, an important metric is the age of the font or description of font. Old hardware has serious limitations, and so fonts created at that period are trying to avoid problems that no longer exist.
It is widely stated that serif fonts 8 are best for “on paper” media 9 10 11 12, as printers have high resolution. Before a point in time; san-serif was more readable on screens 13 14, as the simpler outlines work with the comparatively low resolution. Given “retina displays”, I'm not sure that statement still holds (pls note enabling that feature reduces screen resolution, so I never use it). Modern phones have a very high resolution screen compared to a CRT in the 1980s or 1990s. I refer to 15 16 17 as evidence that detailed research with basic scientific process is important; and the deciding factor on whether one like serifs is more culturally linked, and preference normally matches the most frequent use of the reader.
The following is a list of which fonts people who care enough to write about it recommended;
The first billet is the person 18 who triggered this article. He was pulling content (with attribution) from 19. I mention this font first, as it is the only one I spotted that demonstrates testing process (rather than design process). Technically the font is derived Helvetica (a san-serif); but they added the serifs on a few key points 20. The font was in 2019 design awards 21. The braille institute seems to be using this font on their site; but they are using the bolder version (which I think is better for normal desktop screens). To continue analysis of how to define “readability” 22, which is written by the Director of Words & Letters. The author favours different fonts to other recommendations; I think these are fonts for paper.
Second billet has comparative analysis, recommending Tiempos 23 and again stating that many fonts are related 24. Tiempos is derived from Times New Roman, and therefore Plantin.
Third, Medium lists commonly used fonts (which you may not have noticed). Not top copy the entire list 25, it mentions Droid Sans 26 (used on phones), and Bookerly 27, used on Kindle series devices.
Discussion on font selection for the elderly (the initial objective) outlines focussing on font size as most important factor 28, and matching the font to the old persons normal data sources; as they will be accustomed to reading that.
As a supporting statement for my claim that the default MSFT fonts are a reasonable choice 29 30 31 32, but also Plex Sans Serif 33 Verduna 34 (this font is probably in your win32 installation; the link is valid but has quite alot of adverts).
Lastly, as a tool to assist “making apps/sites” here 35 is a list of tools to assist setting up font combinations. It would be really cool if they added “font per device” tester (which I currently need), but a free tool is always good. As a side note, apparently fonts have genders 36 37. According to those articles, there is a strong trend towards fonts with female names being called “female fonts” (I am not being sarcastic).
I found 38 which is talking about online text and dyslexia. I disagree with some of the points on it; and I am a bit dyslexic. Other dyslexic articles 39, whilst not everyone has the “same dyslexia”; I have no concern about font size, that advice is for the elderly. Not loosing track of location is more important than line length. An interactive letter swap demo (which in me affects typing much more than reading) 40.

Lastly; pls note unlike many blog articles I do not define “serif”, or “san serif”/ “sans serif”.

This site:

What does my site do? Support various font adjustments via the appearance option.

  • For dyslexic people, look at the visually weighted font option; my text is “engineering english” (concise, no adjectives). The articles are frequently “columnised” and I have too many lists.
  • For the elderly, I have font sizes, the choice of a serif font. My content may not be interesting to “pre internet people”, but it should be readable. Most of my sizing is written in 'em', so if your text is larger everything will scale.
  • For screen readers and blind people; I am using HTML5 correctly, so you get a reasonable read. I like the blind institute right hand side menu for visual adjustment; but I'm not sure this correlates with my expected audience that well.

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