Legible Typeface - One-day seminar at The Danish Design School

 One-day seminar at The Danish Design School

What makes type legible and what are the right methods to investigate this? One-day seminar at The Danish Design School. May 11th 2010 

Meet a number of speakers with different professional backgrounds, we will learn more about the various approaches to typeface legibility applied by academic researchers in their experiments and by designer's in their daily work.

The Danish Design School, Festsalen

The seminar is organized in collaboration with the Danish Centre for Design Research.

Read more about admission and deadlines



Registration and coffee

Ole Lund - Legibility research as a project of modernity

Mary Dyson - What future for legibility research?


Sofie Beier - The reader’s reaction to new letterforms

12:00-13:00 - Lunch

Gerard Unger - Legibility; the designer’s view

Trine Rask - Type design and language

14:30-15:00 - Break

Bo Linnemann - You forget what you read, but remember what you see!


Ole Lund

Legibility research as a project of modernity

Legibility research as a ‘research program’ went through several phases between the early 20th century (when it was a visible part of reading research and reading research was prominent in the psychological literature) and its hectic peak period in the 1960s and 1970s. That is, before it seemingly vanished – due to a relative loss of legitimacy in the world of design and a paradigm change from ‘legibility’ to ‘usability’ within an emerging ‘information design’ discourse. However, although contemporary legibility research is rather invisible and bear no signs of being a collective ‘research program’, it is a paradox and may come as a surprise, that several more legibility studies (at least of certain genres) have been carried out each decade since the 1970s than in any decade before. This talk frames legibility research as a ‘project of modernity’ and outlines its history while also assessing its historical and present epistemological status.


Ole Lund (NO) is associate professor and director of a hybrid graphic design / information design program at the Department of computer science and media technology at Gjøvik University College in Norway – where he teaches copy editing & typography, the history of typography (which includes an annual one week study trip with his students to Rome) and ergonomics in digital media. He occasionally lectures at universities at home and abroad, and is a regular guest lecturer at Bergen National Academy of the Arts. He is currently deputy chairman of the Norwegian ‘Council of higher design education’.

Title of his doctoral thesis: ‘Knowledge construction in typography: the case of legibility research’ (University of Reading, 1999).


Mary Dyson

What future for legibility research?

In discussing legibility, the question arises as to what are the most important design variables to test. Are typefaces crucial or should we be more interested in how type is used, e.g. layout? I will propose that a fruitful direction for research that will inform design decisions is looking at how we recognise letters, the fundamental building blocks of reading. Surprisingly, there are still unanswered questions such as what are the features that we use to identify letters? How do we use the particular characteristics of a typeface? When we read we quickly translate a letter in a specific typeface into an abstract letter (i.e. a 't' in Garamond becomes just a 't') but do we throw away the typeface information? What happens if we suddenly change typeface? Are some typefaces easier to translate than others? I will introduce the ideas underlying 'font tuning' which describes how our perceptual system adjusts or tunes into a typeface. Illustrating this phenomenon with some examples, I will explore possible implications for type design and typography.

Mary Dyson (UK) has a PhD in perception and resides in the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading, UK. Her published research has explored legibility issues when reading from screen, but she has recently become more interested in how we perceive typefaces, both when we read and when we design them. This has led to a review and synthesis of mainly psychological literature that talks about typefaces within research on reading processes. As a psychologist, she is in the fortunate position of being immersed in a design environment which enables the building of bridges between disciplines.


Sofie Beier

The reader’s reaction to new letterforms

Prior to a typeface being established in society, familiarisation with the style and letterforms usually happens gradually. An analysis of these historical conditions, gives us a better insight into why some typefaces make the break and others don’t. But what happens in the perceptual system and the reader's mind before a new typeface or new letterforms becomes widely accepted?

We tested these issues in an experimental study by measuring the reading speed and preference of participants, as they read fonts of either new or old designs that had either common or uncommon letterforms. The fonts were then re-measured after an exposure period. The study demonstrated interesting and unexpected findings that can help us better understand what happens to the reader when reading typefaces of different familiarity levels. 


Sofie Beier (DK) is a designer, researcher and lecturer employed at The Danish Design School. She has a PhD from the Royal College of Art in London, on the subject of typeface familiarity and its relation to legibility. Her current academic research project concerns the review of existing knowledge on typeface legibility put forward by both design and scientific communities.

Her typefaces are published by Die Gestalten Verlag, and FontShop.


Gerard Unger

Legibility; the designer’s view

As a type designer I have been after indications in legibility research for the improvement of my type designs, to increase their legibility. The reality is that there are precious few hard facts that can serve this purpose. Moreover, some aspects of the daily practice of typographers and type designers have hardly been touched upon by legibility researchers, such as the atmosphere values of letterforms.
            In my talk I will present a designer‘s view of legibility, how I have handled it in my type designs, what I think are important issues, e.g. in relation to reading from screens or saving paper.


Gerard Unger (NL) has been a freelance type designer, typographer and graphic designer from 1972. Some of his type designs are: Swift (1985), Argo (1991), Gulliver (1993), Capitolium (1998) and Capitolium News (2006). For many years he has taught at the Rietveld Academy, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He is visiting professor at the Department of Typography of the University of Reading, UK, and professor of Typographic Design at Leiden University, The Netherlands.

Unger is furthermore the author of the book ‘While You’re Reading’ published in 2007 by Mark Batty Publisher.


Trine Rask

Type design and language

I will talk about how type design can support minority and individual national typographical peculiarities. About how languages look very different. About how languages applying different alphabets can achieve the same graphic expression. About how languages using the same alphabet with different frequencies can look very different. About the process of designing the individual letters when the aim is a good text image. I will talk about my work with the typeface 'North', a text typeface adapted for the Scandinavian languages.

Trine Rask (DK) is educated graphic designer at Seminariet for Formgivning, Denmark and type designer at Royal Academy of Art in the Hauge. She teaches type design at The Danish School of Media and The Danish Design School in Copenhagen, do workshops, give talks, and is an advisor in the field. She is also the author of the book »Skriftdesign – grundprincipper og arbejdsproces« and »Skriftdesign – øvelser på papiret« published by Grafisk Litteratur. Trine Rask has recently received the »Certificate of excellence in Type design« from the Type Directors Club, New York.

Trine Rask is part of Types United.


Bo Linnemann

You forget what you read, but remember what you see!
Talking about typefaces - is there some truth in this old Chinese saying?

A typeface's main task is to put as few obstacles as possible between the sender and receiver. But can we even connect the sender and receiver? At Kontrapunkt we work with custom typefaces. Typefaces designed to support a particular brand - or perhaps even define a brand. We don't fancy that we can get people to remember what they read. But we hope we can get them to recall how the text they read looks like.

Letters are archetypes, with characteristics and forms that we have to respect for a typeface to be readable. As designers we want to create new and distinctive type forms that give the reader extraordinary experiences and evoke the right emotions.

When it comes to legibility, we arrogantly rely on our own judgement...!


Bo Linnemann (DK) is creative director, owner and co-founder of the international brand and design agency Kontrapunkt A/S, based in Copenhagen and Tokyo. He has been awarded the Danish Design Prize 17 times and has received numerous international design prizes. Bo Linnemann and Kontrapunkt have exhibited in all parts of the world, and he has lectured at many universities. Since 2006 he has served as visiting professor at Musashino Art University, Tokyo.

Bo Linnemann is educated from School of Architecture, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen 1981, where he later has served as Professor and Head of the Design Institute.


Sponsor: Danish Centre for Design Research

Host: Danmarks Designskole.

Arranged by: Sofie Beier, sbe@dkds.dk

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