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Apr 02, 2007
Blog Post

Best Research on Graphic Design for Print - Ever

SUMMARY: No summary available.
By Anne Holland, President

In 1984, the Newspaper Ad Bureau of Australia published a research pamphlet that should have been laminated and hung on the walls of every single marketing art department in the world.

In fact, to this day I think every graphic designer should be forced to take a quiz on this data before you allow them anywhere near your marketing design project.

Why? Because it spells out what typefaces and layout design people can read most easily ... and what's nearly impossible for the human eye to comprehend.

For example: Headlines set in Times New Roman upper and lower case have a 92% comprehension rate. However, headlines in sans serif type (think Arial) all caps cause a 59% drop in comprehension rate.

Another example: Reverse type, such as white lettering on a black background, has 0% good comprehension (that's right, zero.) Ink colors, such as bright red on a white background, aren't much better at 10% good comprehension.

One more example: 80% of readers will look at a vertical shape or graphic before they'll look at a horizontal one.

Does this data carry over to the Web? Whenever I ask Web designers for research about comprehension and online typography, they have told me they make choices based on what they see on most other sites. I guess designers think, "If everyone else is doing it, it must be right."

MarketingSherpa and other organizations (most notably the Poynter Institute, which studies what works for newspaper publishing online and off) have conducted eyetracking tests that indicate certain broad rules about online design that works. (The fact that the eye skitters about fairly quickly and does not read everything on the page in order, nor often entire headlines or sentences from start to finish.)

However, to my knowledge, no one has conducted a specific study on online typography. Example: Are sans serif fonts used extensively online because science told us to do it, or is it just design habit based on a decade of common usage?

Solutions? Well, first of all, if you oversee or sign off on any print marketing materials, such as brochures, space ads, marcom, PDFs that are meant to be printed, etc., get yourself a copy of the 1984 study. Get your art director a copy, too.

It's now available as a paperback book at most major bookstores. Ask for the title, 'Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes' by Colin Wheildon.

Also, if you know of any true research (not just opinions without referenced data) on the topic of online typography please do post a reply to this blog so Sherpa's research department can look into it for everyone right away.

Third, we're strongly considering conducting our own research on the topic. It will be a giant undertaking, but I think well worth the work. Wouldn't it be nice to at last be able to walk into Web design meetings with data in your hands? So, watch this blog for a posting when we start the project. We'll definitely need test subjects to come into the lab and read Web pages to help us. If you'd like to volunteer, let us know.

See Also:

Comments about this Blog Entry

Apr 02, 2007 - Bill Tanner of Belo/ TDMN says:
The Poynter Institute has done a number of eyetracking and heatmap studies on print and online readership, mostly for the newspaper business.

Apr 02, 2007 - Michele C. of KHM says:
Jakob Nielsen has done a lot of research on Web design, both graphics and text. His Website is

Apr 02, 2007 - Louise of Olympic Software says:
This pamphlet sounds amazing! Is it freely available still? If so how can I get hold of it?

Apr 02, 2007 - Raewyn Whyte of @URL says:
Guys, plenty of research has been done about what works on screen vs what works in print. Usability guidelines are based on direct observance of user behavior - aka research. They are fairly equivocal about the need to use sans serif fonts on screen for readability. Accessibility guidelines are also based on user research, and they are even more equivocal about what should/should not be done to guarantee accessibility. These guidelines have become requirements in many countries as far as public access/government funded web sites go.

Apr 02, 2007 - Ray R Harris of The Pointe Church says:
Great article, Anne. Very appreciated. It was kind of ironic though to see the article appear in a sans serif font. Grin.

Apr 03, 2007 - Dianna Huff of DH Communications, Inc. says:
Colin Wheildon's book was first published as Type and Layout: How typography and design can get your message across -- or get in the way. The original book is out of print. It's now available on Amazon under the title you referenced. It's a book every single person in marketing should read (I used to make all my marketing writing students at Northeastern read it). Why? Because most graphic designers make all the errors Whieldon points out in his book. And I have said for years now, if people can't read your stuff, they're not buying your products.

Apr 04, 2007 - Fred Peter of FiF Marketing says:
I've been arguing with my graphic designers for years about readability and fonts for years, but could never find a reference. After reading this post, I went to my local library, pulled the book and sat down and read the whole thing in about an hour. Best hour I have spent in a long time. I then pulled out the latest copy of Fortune Small Business and nearly every advertisement *violates* even the basic tenets of Wheildon's book. ...and we wonder why our advertising isn't pulling the responses we expect...

Apr 04, 2007 - Sarah Naasko of Market Strategies, Inc. says:
The Wichita State University Software Usability Research Laboratory has been looking at this very question for years. Studies they've done on online readability and fonts are available here: and here:

Apr 10, 2007 - Vicki K of Poynter's NewsU says:
More research for you: The Poynter Institute soon will be releasing new Eyetrack stats about online and print reading habits. Learn more about the study, the findings and how to order your own copy of the results at Plus, Poynter’s e-learning project, News University, features a quick primer on typography and news design. Register and take this free course at

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