Join Ina Saltz for an in-depth discussion in this video How legibility and readability differ, part of Foundations of Typography.
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A lot of people don't know the difference between legibility and readability. They are both important, but there is a difference that you should know. Legibility measures the ability to decipher something, that is can you look at it and make sense of it? In typographic terms legibility measures how easy or difficult it is to see the differences between one letter of a typeface and another. This is a function of the type's design. The most legible typefaces have individual character shapes which are clearly defined from one another.
Also, they usually have large excites and large counter spaces. In this example, you can see that the serifs make it easy to see the difference between the Is and the Ls. The serifs provide a little extra detail. Studies have shown that serif typefaces are more legible than sans serif typefaces because of the details provided by the serifs. This is why you will not see a book type set in a sans serif typeface.
Lengthy reading in a sans serif would be uncomfortable. If legibility measures the reader's ability to see the text, readability measures how much the reader wants to read the text. That is based on how the designer invites the reader into the text. Another way of saying that is how appealing does the text appear to the reader? For example, a page of text might be perfectly legible, but might not be appealing to the reader.
There are many ways to make that same text more inviting. We want to create some visual relief, places where the eye can focus or even rest. Even small gestures can invite the viewer in. A line break or two with some lead-in caps might help. You could find appropriate places to insert drop caps. These can be used to create some focal points, with spaces between the paragraphs. Try looking for interesting sentences that can be pulled out of the text and made larger.
And adding color can add appeal to the reader. These small changes provide something we call entry points. Entry points are places where a reader can choose to enter the text and start reading. Magazines do a great job of providing multiple entry points. Here are some examples. Look at all of the entry points in this single page. There are about 15 or so different places that I might choose to dip into the text.
Here is another example. It helps readers if you can find a section of text which can be separated into a mini story that can work on its own. This infographic can be read as a separate yet related story, and it's visually dynamic on the page. Other entry points are the photo's caption and a break in the narrative using lead-in text in another color. Maybe your text can be divided into sections with their own headlines, as in this example.
Think about ways that the text can be broken up into more bite-sized chunks. Adding color into selected type or other graphic elements, adding some white space, each of these steps adds to the readability of your project. Even though a lot of people think legibility and readability are the same, you can see that they are actually quite different. Just to recap, legibility measures whether the viewer can read the text and readability measures how much the reader wants to read the text.
Understanding this difference will help you focus on the best ways to improve your viewer's experience.
- What is typography?
- Differentiating type characteristics
- Using ornamental and decorative type
- Combining typefaces
- Using contrast and scale
- Kerning and kerning pairs
- Choosing the optimum line length
- Aligning and spacing characters, words, and paragraphs
- Understanding factors affecting legibility
- Working with three-dimensional type
- Putting type in motion