Which font to use? All of them?

Old wooden printer's typeface blocks in different colours and sizes.

New research from Adobe shows we have to re-think optimum fonts and typefaces.

First, font is not the same thing as typeface. What’s the difference? Typeface is a group of letters and numbers in the same design, such as Times New Roman. Font is a specific style of typeface, such as Italic or Bold, and in a particular size, for example, 10 or 16.

A woman is reading a book reader device similar to Kindle.

By simply changing the font readers can gain incredible reading speed. But there is no one-size-fits-all “best” font.

While reading speed is not something usually considered as a universal design concept, it is a related aspect. Ease of use and comfort for all is one of the tenets. And if you want to extend the attention span of readers then speed and comfort will help.

The study looked at a group of 352 participants aged 18-71 years. Forty-six percent were female, 22 percent bilingual and all self reporting they are comfortable reading English.

The study measured 16 common typefaces and their effects on reading speeds, preferences and comprehension scores. Similarly to an optometrists eye test they toggled letters to ask participants their preferred font.

a man is reading a tablet device.

Different readers read fastest in different fonts without losing comprehension. That means personalisation is the key.

On average an individual read 35 percent faster with their fastest font than with their slowest font. Comprehension was retained across all fonts. But no font was a clear winner for all participants. This means that devices will need to allow reader to personalise their font choices.

The other finding was that the fonts people say they prefer aren’t often the ones with which they read fastest. While there is no best font, there was some typefaces that worked best for older participants. This could be due to familiarity, or visual properties.

The title of the article is, The need to personalize fonts for each individual reader. It has some surprising results everyone should consider in their written and online communication. The title of the research paper is, Towards Individuated Reading Experiences: Different Fonts Increase Reading Speed for Different Individuals

Abstract

In our age of ubiquitous digital displays, adults often read in short, opportunistic interludes. In this context of Interlude Reading, we consider if manipulating font choice can improve adult readers’ reading outcomes.

Our studies normalize font size by human perception and use hundreds of crowdsourced participants to provide a foundation for understanding, which fonts people prefer and which fonts make them more effective readers.

Participants’ reading speeds (measured in words-per-minute (WPM)) increased by 35% when comparing fastest and slowest fonts without affecting reading comprehension. High WPM variability across fonts suggests that one font does not fit all. We provide font recommendations related to higher reading speed and discuss the need for individuation, allowing digital devices to match their readers’ needs in the moment.

We provide recommendations from one of the most significant online reading efforts to date. To complement this, we release our materials and tools with this article.

Plug and Pray?

Front cover of Plug and Pray report

People with disability are often early adopters of new tech, but these new ideas can also come with unintended barriers for users.

As we improve accessibility in the built environment, it is important to make sure we create and maintain accessible digital designs. A report from the EU, Plug and Pray? outlines the opportunities for emerging tech and people with disability. The report highlights the need to be inclusive and provides practical recommendations.

The title of the report is, Plug and Pray? A disability perspective on artificial intelligence, automated decision-making and emerging technologies.

New opportunities

New technologies are emerging every day and hold a promise of greater inclusion for people with disability. For example, devices and operating systems that automatically adjust to the behaviour needs of the user. This is most useful for people with sensory and cognitive conditions.

Many technologies are in early stage of development, so the promise of greater independence needs a note of caution. However, the speed of digitalisation and AI poses risks of creating barriers to use. Another issue is the potential for infringing human rights and widening the equality gap.

Some people have more than one functional disability. For example, speech recognition software not understanding commands by a person with Down syndrome. So design issues are multi-faceted.

Regulating AI

The European Disability Forum has a position paper on this topic. The Forum welcomes the EU’s proposal for regulating AI in the EU. Briefly, the important points to consider are:

  • Accessibility of AI-based technologies and practices;
  • Protect persons with disabilities from potential AI-induced harm;
  • Strong governance mechanisms, human rights impact assessment, and accessible feedback, complaints and redress mechanisms;
  • The same legal standards for European AI used outside of the EU;
  • Involvement of persons with disabilities and accessibility experts in the development of European and national AI policies, as well as promote their inclusion in AI  projects and technical development teams.

The European Disability Forum has several publications related to human rights and inclusion.

Accessible graphic design

The text box reads Graphic design can be described as the language of vision but is this exclusionary in nature?

Graphic design is an essential element of communication.

Pictures, photos, infographics, icons – they all convey messages. It is often said that images say more than words. A bar graph gives a visual representation of statistics making it easier to understand. A photo of a landscape in a tourist brochure piques interest in a place. Readily recognised icons send instant messages, such as this is a train station or this is a toilet.

The way text is presented also sends messages. For example, a tiny faint font sends the message to people with low vision that they are not included. A busy page with tightly compressed text is readable but uncomfortable.

Images and text are essential elements in visual communication. The importance of accessible and inclusive communication is the subject of a masters thesis from Canada. The title is, Equitable access to public information and the role of the graphic designer. The author is Christine Woolley.

The text reads, appropriate measures must be taken to ensure people with disabilities can access information on an equal basis with others.

When graphic designers consider accessibility and inclusivity in their work, the result is a better experience for all…

Woolley’s research explores how graphic designers learn about, interpret and implement accessibility standards into practice. She used participatory research methods, often referred to as co-design. The outcome is a framework and a set of recommendations for supporting the graphic design industry in Canada.

The thesis discusses many aspects of accessible and inclusive design, and it’s role in equitable access to public information. Woolley has three main pillars of discussion.

  • Understanding the importance of access – the moral angle
  • Understanding industry standards and guidelines – the responsibility angle
  • Understanding accessibility legislation – the legal angle
The text reads, inclusive design recognizes people as individuals who are not all the same and prioritizes the needs of individuals who are often not acknowledged in current systems.

The framework and recommendations were designed through a collaborative process with participants and represent a collective need for industry support.

Findings

The findings identify opportunities on how the design industry can be supported in their accessible design journey, and in building capacity and motivation to go beyond the minimum requirements, to think critically about accessible design and pursue opportunities for innovation.

Viewing products online with Coles

Front cover of Coles Online Product Image Guidelines showing a family at the beach having a barbeque. Anyone buying or selling online wants the best possible view of the product. Buyers want to see relevant size and shape and key information. Sellers want the maximum number of sales. Making visual information clear, and easy to read and understand is key. Coles supermarkets has devised an image guide for suppliers to make products more readily recognised. So viewing products online with Coles should get easier for everyone. eBay sellers should also note.

The Coles guide is based on work carried out some years ago by the Inclusion Design Group at Cambridge University. This work is updated as they continue their research. The Coles guide is easy to read and gives instructions about images that suppliers should send them. These instructions are good for anyone who has a product or merchandise to sell. 

The guide covers the use of 2D and 3D images, out of pack images and lifestyle images. The Coles website will feature a first image with the brand with the option for further images with a click. This gives the opportunity to see front, back, left and right side of the product.

A previous post, Smart Phones and Shopping explained some of the background and has a video explaining how it all works. 

 

Good colour contrast for websites

How did you choose the colours for your last website update? Did you choose colours based on your brand logo and text or use the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) algorithm? But can an algorithm guarantee good colour contrasts on digital screens? Probably not. Visual perception is personal and much depends on your eyesight. Maybe it means using humans and not algorithms. But we need some form of standard to guide colour contrast when designing web and app pages. The WCAG contrast formula has tried to do that. However, Sam Waller reports there are some deficiencies with it. 

In January 2022, the Advanced Perceptual Contrast Algorithm now proposes a more complex formula. The technical talk is that the legibility of text on websites is better with perceived difference than a mathematical contrast ratio. Sam Waller explains this more fully in his  article, Does the contrast ratio actually predict the legibility of website text?

This is important information for choosing brand logos and text so it isn’t just something web designers should know. Many website designs are guided by brand colours so choose carefully.  

The article has examples of greyscale and colour contrasts and you can decide which work best for you. It’s best to narrow the screen for the coloured examples to limit the number visible at one time. 

 

Four of the colours against a white background showing levels of colour contrast..
Screenshot from article

 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have guided the whole ICT industry in access compliance. Billions of dollars in digital design are based on these guidelines. It’s formed the basis of ICT procurement around the world. Waller says to check out the examples in his article and give feedback via his LinkedIn article. The screenshots shown are just a sample from his article. 

Four of the colours against a black background.
Screenshot from article

A previous post also shows how colour combinations make a big difference in contrast and legibility. There also information on colour vision deficiency which Waller also mentions at the end of his article. 

 

Importance of accessible software

Rows of computer code are laid over the face of a woman. representing accessible software.Few would argue the moral imperatives for web accessibility but actually doing it is another matter. And it’s not just about the warm fuzzies of inclusion – it’s good for business. Quintin Balsdon and Brian Best explain why software developers still don’t ‘get’ accessibility. They even go so far as to say some software developers aren’t even sure what it means. This means you can’t assume your new website will be accessible even if the developer says “it will meet access standards”. 

According to Best, some businesses think near enough is good enough. They don’t realise the scale of the issues because they think it affects a really small number of people. 

Apart from the moral benefits, accessible software creates a superior user experience for everyone. That’s a big business advantage when 80% of people just don’t come back to a difficult website or app. 

Practical tips for accessibility

Balsdon and Best make three points.

Shift your mindset: Acknowledge accessibility is not niche and that it’s an opportunity for innovation.

Process change: Educate your teams about the importance and look at your testing procedures. Code review is not enough – include user experience.

Ask the experts: For example, Open Inclusion’s website has a framework and a network of testers with different access needs. 

Every software team should have a network of people ready to discuss designs from the start and test as the software develops. 

And another thing…

Non-tech people are happy to engage a web designer to take care of their website. But how do you design a scope of works to get a good job if you don’t know what to ask for?  How do you know if the designer really knows about accessibility? 

The designer needs to demonstrate understanding of visual, auditory, cognitive, neurological, physical and speech needs of users. If they have a network of people with different access needs and actually practice user experience design (UX), so much the better. 

The title of the online article is, Accessible software solutions: Discover why inclusive software is so important for your people and your business

 

Making Accessible PowerPoint Slides

People are gradually getting the hang of putting alt text for their images in Powerpoint slides, but there is more to do. Sheri Byrne-Haber provides advice on making accessible PowerPoint slides by using the inbuilt accessibility checker. Some of her advice is reproduced below the screenshot of the accessibility checker. 

The screenshot below shows an example of the Accessibility checker tab in PPT

Screenshot of PPT slide showing accessibility tab for making accessible powerpoint slides.
Alt text is really important if the slide deck is being shared either in PowerPoint or saved as a PDF. It allows screen readers to access the picture descriptions. PowerPoint has a handy accessibility checker within the Review tab. It picks up any images without descriptions and a few other things.

Some presenters use only picture slides and in this case it’s essential to provide alt text descriptions. Providing the text of the speech in the notes section increases accessibility. The notes section is also the best place to put long descriptions rather than in alt-text. 

Use the master template for repeated images such as company logos. This hides the information from the screen reader so it doesn’t have to swipe through every time.  Graphics marked as decorative in the alt text box will allow screen readers will ignore them. 

Captioning is essential for videos, but people need to have choice in whether to use it or not. Not all videos need described audio, but first running the video with eyes closed will give an indication. Byrne-Haber’s article has many other useful tips. 

 

Human centred design is for humans

A man in a blue shirt is wearing virtual reality goggles and is holding a controller in his hand. This is part of exploring Human centred design Almost all designing is done for human use. Even designs for animals and plants link back to human use or human benefit in one way or another. So based on that premise, all design is human centred design. Well, that is one way to define it. 

In the world of technology the key question for human centred design approach is, what are people doing? Not, what can the technology do? Dr Peter Schumacher reminds us in a video below that humans were creating things for themselves in the Stone Age. However, digital technology isn’t crafted by hand like a stone axe where the maker is often the user. With artificial intelligence, technology can do amazing things. But are they the things that humans want?

Based on the Stone Age definition, Schumacher says human centred design is something we’ve been doing forever. From the moment we could, we’ve been making things we could use. We were creating technology for a purpose, for something we wanted to do. But technology, and the way we interact with it, is getting more complicated.

We are at a point where technology and the environment we live in is creating problems. Schumacher says that finding out what’s going on with humans and their relationship to technology is the key focus. It’s putting human back into the centre of the technology rather than saying what the technology can do.

So, you start with the question, “what are people doing?” This is followed by “what does the technology need to do in that context?” Then there is the question of what’s the right technology?

Human Centred Design Group

The Human Centred Design Lab at University of South Australia is focused on developing methods for the design of objects, environments, and systems for human use. They take a collaborative and trans-disciplinary approach to create products for human use. The Human Centred Design Group is a research centre for interactive and virtual environments. The video below explains a bit more and they invite other collaborators.

Also see their Design Clinic brings together researchers, industry and end users for co-design in healthcare. The Design Clinic can capture ideas and designs for new products, systems and services vital to the health and wellbeing sectors. 

 

Model for ICT Procurement

Two open laptops facing each other with stylised bodies coming out of the screens to shake hands. Model policy ICT procurement. Accessibility and inclusion begins with procurement for any project. Often a scope of works is done by a non-expert to get the expert.  But if the scope isn’t targeted correctly, the consultants are committed to sticking to the scope in the contract. So, the consultants are “doing the thing right” but not necessarily “doing the right thing” for the intended outcome. Consequently, staff involved in procurement activities need to understand access and inclusion basics. That means co-designing of the scope of works to include accessibility requirements. 

The G20 Global Smart Cities Alliance  has a webinar and a model policy on their website about ICT Accessibility procurement. It states:

“Procurement policies are a critical lever in increasing accessibility. They set out the expectation, standards and criteria for how goods and services will be purchased, and through this the city can ensure the acquisition of universal designed products and services to safeguard the equitable development and participation of all.”

A procurement policy or code of conduct can: 

      • clearly document and ensure compliance with national legislation on accessibility and procurement, or
      • define a clear approach for ensuring inclusive and accessible services that demonstrates alignment with globally recognized standards, even if national legislation does not exist.

While the focus of the advice is on ICT procurement, the principles are applicable to other types of procurement. 

Model Policy

The model policy set out on this website looks very wordy and not an easy read. It’s aimed at city planners and policy makers in the context of smart cities. However, it does set out processes for tendering and contract management. It also includes a section on training, awareness and capacity building for all stakeholders. 

The model policy is worded in policy-speak so that cities and local government can copy and paste sections. The website has various Standards in an annexe and includes Definitions and policy references. 

The references include the UK Government policy and guide on accessible technology, and another from Chicago. Also included is the G3ict discussion guide for accessibility in public sector procurement. 

The model policy is available in English, Spanish and Japanese. A five minute video with James Thurston explains.

Karen Tamley, “The adoption of a policy like this is going really help your city to make sure that accessibility is part of your DNA”.

Readability and colour choices

Colour contrasts can be deceiving because we are subject to optical illusions. The video below shows how two different shades of grey are actually the same. That’s why you can’t rely on judging contrast by eye. Fortunately there are colour checkers to help with colour choices especially for websites. And why do you need colour contrast checkers? Because more than 8% of the population has colour vision deficiency (colour blindness). 

A semi-trailer is stuck under a bridge with the warning "low bridge" in upper case. Colour choice is one factor in readability. Others include using sentence case. Using upper case or capitals does not convey important messages more urgently. The image shows that using upper case to indicate a low bridge did not stop a truck driver from driving under it. Upper case is harder to read because the shape of the words are unfamiliar. 

The most accessible websites are those that have an Easy Read option.  A good example is the My Allied Health Space. At the top of the home page is the symbol for Easy Read and this is where you click to turn it on

Screenshot of Allied Health Space standard format.
My Allied Health Space home page with option for Easy Read at the top of the page

 

Screenshot my allied health space in easy read format.
My Allied Health Space with Easy Read option turned on

Thanks to Dr Em Bould, Senior Research Fellow at Monash University for the inspiration for this post. She has great advice on this topic based on her research.