Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

UXPA - Font of Knowledge: Typography and Typefaces for Everyone

This week I ‘attended’ the UXPA event Font of Knowledge: Typography and Typefaces for Everyone. I was not sure if I would find it interesting or relevant - I am a researcher after all, but I used to do design and I enjoyed playing with fonts when I was at art college.

The two talks were connected, with Bruno Maag talking about the theory behind creating fonts then David Bailey from the BBC talking about how they worked with Bruno’s team to create the new BBC font - BBC Reith.

This worked so well and I found the whole evening so engaging.

Bruno started off by going through the three things that make a font accessible.

The first area to look at is Emotion - is the font appealing? This comes down to the shapes humans have learnt, with curves being safe and angles signalling danger, and the culture we have been brought up in, among other things.

The next area is Function - was it built correctly? This is all about how we read, jumping along the text rather than in a straight line, and the science of the eye and how we see contrast etc.

The last area is Technical - does it work? This includes things like letter heights, resolution, spacing and all the other things that come together to create a readable word.

I have just skimmed the surface here, but Bruno gave so much detail that I had never even considered when thinking about fonts and how they are created and work.

Now we understood just what goes into making a font that works, David Bailey then spoke about how they had created a new font for the BBC which would allow them to be flexible but all come from the same central brand.

David talked through the process from getting stakeholders on board to how the central design team works at the BBC, to putting the font out on the Sports pages before changing the whole BBC website and other digital products.

I was particularly interested in how you can test fonts. You can use eye tracking to see how the eye flows over the text. You can test comprehension by giving someone something to read in the font and then ask them questions about the content. And you can flash letters at people and ask them which letter it was - the quicker the correct answer the easier the font is to read.

It was a really fascinating event and I am so glad I took the time to attend.

While I learnt a lot, I think the main thing that stuck with me is that reading is far more complex than I ever thought.

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