The Effect of Font Characteristics on Large Format Display

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Phillip M. Garvey Wei-Yin Eie M Jennifer Klenna


Objective: To assess the legibility of a large set of existing large format display fonts.

Background: The enormous selection of fonts allows for creative design; however, while there has been a lot of research on print and computer font legibility, only a limited number of large format display font studies have been conducted.

Method:  Sixty-four subjects from 19-87 years of age viewed 64 displays using 33 fonts shown on a computer monitor.  Viewing began at a very small size, which grew larger to simulate a driver or pedestrian approaching a sign.  Subjects attempted to read the displays at the smallest possible size.  Threshold legibility was determined for each font.

Results and Conclusions: Font selection can make a very big difference in the distance at which a display can be read; however, there are many fonts that have equivalent legibility.  Case can sometimes, but not always, have a large impact on display legibility, with uppercase often performing significantly better than lowercase.  The choice of serif versus sans-serif alone does not have an important effect on display legibility.  Age impaired sign reading ability, but not until the participants were over sixty.  Finally, fonts that share a family name (e.g., Times Bold versus Times New Roman) can have dramatically different legibility distances.

Application:  The results of this research can immediately and directly aid letter manufacturers, display designers, and display owners, as they now know how far away a large number of fonts can be read, and the impact of choosing one font style over another.

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