The traditional understanding of readability has been inherited from print and is informed by studies of human perception and typographic form. The form is altered by the typographer to enhance perception with the goal of an optimized reading experience that elucidates content. The values that form the foundation of readable text type, typeface choice, type size, letter spacing, word spacing, line spacing, line measure, and text alignment are refined for an audience defined as “the average reader.”
A divergence in practice ocurrs between the writer and the typographer when creating content and designing content. During the creative process writer chooses language and phrasing that’s appropriate for a specific audience. To some degrees the typographer does the same, but with less specificity. The quintessential readable block of text that is set with even type color*, in small text type, with an optimum character count of 66 characters per line is readable to 85% of the population, but overwhelming to the dyslexic reader. How can typography adapt to address the needs of its wider audience?
The answer comes with a wider definition of readability that includes usability. With this broader definition comes a new role for the typographer that includes optimizing the usability of type. To understand usability, the typographer needs to understand the behaviors and abilities of their users. To better address the needs of their users typographers need to utilize an expanding tool kit of new technologies.
Typography for digital media does not only inherit qualities from print. There are new rules and grammars that can serve communities who are, for whatever reason, locked out of the culture of the book…and, it’s exciting.
Jan Tschichold’s youthful manifesto for the future of typography. (circa 1928) He advocates passionately for typography to be designed with utility and clarity for the public good.