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Transportation Science

MIT Researchers Show Dash Font Choice Affects Distraction 147

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the grotesque-fonts-lead-to-grotesque-crashes dept.
bdking writes "A typeface family commonly found on the devices installed in many modern cars is more likely to cause drivers to spend more time looking away from the road than an alternative typeface tested in two studies, according to new research from MIT's AgeLab." It seems that the closed letter forms of Grotesque type faces require slightly more time to read than open letter forms of Humanist type faces, just enough that it could be problematic at highway speeds.
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MIT Researchers Show Dash Font Choice Affects Distraction

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  • by fantomas (94850) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @02:23AM (#41460917)

    Well it wouldn't matter if you weren't texting while doing 70 on the highway! :-)

    ok, I am sure the article is about the fonts on the dashboard or something like that but really, the number of drivers I see texting while they are rolling a ton of metal along at high speeds is ridiculous.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I am blind for most font differences. I can not even see difference between hyped "MS core" fonts and "ugly KDE" fonts.

      Only time when I can see difference is when I swap them rapily in LibreOffice or when I change konsole to use bitmap font without smoothing as by default it use smoothed fonts.

      It is just ironic that I do lots of graphical arts for my profession, but when it comes to fonts, I am totally blind to see the "huge difference". Thats why I always ask someone else to pick fonts for me.

    • by Dupple (1016592) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @06:43AM (#41462153)

      Well it wouldn't matter if you weren't texting while doing 70 on the highway! :-)

      I'm doing 70 and commenting on /. you insensitive clod!

    • by Shavano (2541114)
      seriously, there should be a $1000 fine for texting while operating a moving vehicle. Same as for throwing burning refuse (cigarette butt) out the window. OK, maybe it's not as bad as the cigs, but it's on the same scale of total disregard for safety and common sense.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by smooth wombat (796938)

        Don't bother. A majority of people on here don't believe in personal responsibility. They believe they can do whatever they want without consequence because someone else will pick up the tab.

      • by Applekid (993327)

        How about expanding that for any driving distractions. Rowdy passengers, excessively loud music, applying makeup while driving, eating and drinking while driving, playing with the GPS.... ... at this point you should realize it all falls under reckless driving anyway, and people calling for extreme fines and punishments for people who text and drive is just an excuse to bully others in the name of technology.

      • by pod (1103)

        Stop trying to explicitely criminalize individual behaviours. Doesn't work. Distracted driving is distracted driving. How is texting different from arguing with your passenger or yelling at your kids in the back, or any number of other things people regularly do that do not involve cell phones or texting? All are equally dangerous to texting, and perfectly legal. But being caught with a cell phone stuck to your ear is pretty obvious. Much harder to catch "distracted driving". It's all about politicians bein

        • by cellocgw (617879)

          Causing an accident while texting is punitively punished, but causing an accident because your girlfriend was giving you shit^H^H^H^H head is just something unfortunate that could have happened to anyone

          FTFY

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          Stop trying to explicitely criminalize individual behaviours. Doesn't work. Distracted driving is distracted driving. How is texting different from arguing with your passenger or yelling at your kids in the back, or any number of other things people regularly do that do not involve cell phones or texting? All are equally dangerous to texting, and perfectly legal. But being caught with a cell phone stuck to your ear is pretty obvious. Much harder to catch "distracted driving". It's all about politicians bein

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @02:26AM (#41460931)

    Serif fonts are easier to read than sans-serif fonts?

    Who would have thought it!

    Bloody graphic designers. They'll join the lawyers, bankers, patent trolls, advertising shills, dodgy stock traders and so on up against the wall when the revolution comes!!!

    Hmmmmm - its going to be an effin big wall, or we're going to have to operate in shifts to clear the backlog.......

    • Eurostile is a pretty terrible font.

      • by Dogtanian (588974) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @07:14AM (#41462343) Homepage

        Eurostile is a pretty terrible font

        Nothing wrong with Eurostile for what it is, just that in this case (where *any* tradeoff between legibility and style- however minor- might have an effect), it's probably not the best choice.

        In fact, I'd say the fact that it's still "functional-looking" enough is how you could imagine car manufacturers using it in a dashboard whereas (e.g.) a black letter, or cursive/joined-up "handwriting" font would be much worse, but obviously so (and hence not likely to be chosen and hence not an issue here).

        It seems that the closed letter forms of Grotesque type faces require slightly more time to read than open letter forms of Humanist type faces

        This is true but incomplete; the study used Eurostile [wikipedia.org] (apparently a Square Grotesque font), which is clearly less legible and a stronger example of those claimed issues than Helvetica [wikipedia.org]. Helvetica is still a "Grotesque" type font).

        I'm not saying that Helvetica is the perfect choice, or as good as a Humanist font, just that I suspect it doesn't suffer from this problem to anything like the same extent as Eurostile.

    • by jbengt (874751)
      To me, sans serif fonts are much better looking and easier to read. Could be, it's because my eyes are getting old and the serifs add to the fuzz. YMMV.
  • by Alain Williams (2972) <addw@phcomp.co.uk> on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @02:33AM (#41460951) Homepage

    So what font should you choose on your web site ? I note some research that Making things hard to read 'can boost learning' [bbc.co.uk]; so should I use a serif or sans-serif font for my web site ? I suppose it depends on the purpose of my web site.

    • Taking things to extremes...anyone who bothers to read your site will either be educated and Jewish, a theologian or extremely determined. Very high learning and retention rate.
      • Either one will work in terms of selecting a more educated, judisk, and desireable readership.

        But it's still a very important question, which?

    • I hear top students use textbooks printed using the dingbats typeface.

    • by Rainer (42222) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @04:40AM (#41461557)

      So what font should you choose on your web site ?

      Your user's preferred font in their preferred size and with their preferred colors.

      • That is what user stylesheets are for. Fonts can be expressive and are an improvement over textual graphics. Take responsibility for yourself, don't expect every website to cater to your needs.

        p,a,em,i,b,ul,li,div,block,h1,h2,h3,h4,h5,h6 { font-family: [your font]!important; }

        Drop that in your user stylesheet.

  • by CodeheadUK (2717911) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @02:36AM (#41460971) Homepage

    Everyone loves Comic Sans.

    Then all drivers will be happy, smiley and give way to old ladies.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @02:38AM (#41460979)

    Did anybody else think this post was going to be about hyphens?

  • I'm blind (Score:4, Funny)

    by TheInternetGuy (2006682) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @02:50AM (#41461029)
    I'm blind you insensitive clods, the typeface in all cars should be braille and nothing else.
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I'm blind you insensitive clods, the typeface in all cars should be braille and nothing else.

      That was only humorous because it's so close to the truth. I'm not sure if it's still that way, but when I had my eye operation, the elevator buttons in the parking garage were marked in braille.

      Why in the hell would you have braille elevator buttons in the parking garage? Why would a blind person be in the parking garage without someone with him? he certainly didn't drive there!

      But the funniest part was that the el

  • by pieleric (917714) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @03:15AM (#41461173) Homepage

    The summary links to Grotesque, but what they use in the article is "Square Grotesque", a modified version which is _really_ square and IMHO hard to read (and which apprently quite appreciated by car manufacturers). Concluding every Grotesque font is hard to read is definitely not what the research demonstrated.

    The best is to have a look at the paper, which has good examples. A similar font can be found on wikipedia there: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurostile [wikipedia.org] (but I find this one is still slightly easier to read).

    • by Jon Abbott (723)

      My '95 Honda Magna motorcycle actually uses Eurostile for the speedometer and tachometer, and I like it that way. I also spend minimal time reading gauges because there are only two of them. As they say, YMMV.

  • by A Friendly Troll (1017492) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @03:18AM (#41461189)

    Read the PDF, people, damn it, before jumping to conclusions.

    The fonts used in the experiment were Eurostile as the grotesque and Frutiger as the humanist. Both of those are sans serif.

    This is about shapes, form and spacing.

  • Reading the original white paper, (http://agelab.mit.edu/files/AgeLab_typeface_white_paper_2012.pdf) a salient feature is definitely, for all tasks, all measurements, all graphics: women react noticeably faster --and by far...
    Then the poor guys indeed have a different lag time according to the font, OK...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Gotta get that kerning [method.ac] right.

    Oh boy, I probably just killed Wednesday for a lot of people. Gooooodbye productivity! And website likely.

  • Funny story... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JimmyVolatile (2440274) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @04:54AM (#41461637)

    This has been "tested" around 2002 in Norway. A car registration plate font redesign was conducted to make all plates issued from that moment look more modern and stylish and a font similar to Eurostile were implemented. All in the name of creating a mono-space font which would make all plates equal width. ("IL 111111" would be just as wide as "MW 123456")
    Result: Numbers 3, 6, 8 and 9 went from being easily distinguishable at 80m+ to be undreadable by speed and toll cameras. You could pass speed cameras with little risk of getting fined and drive on any toll road for free. Sombody else would end up with the bill due to the misreading of the license plates.

    Scroll down to see examples here:
    http://www.typografi.org/bilskilt/bilskilt.html [typografi.org]

    In 2004 they decided to go for Myriad with variable white-spacing instead. This has not yet been implemented :)

    • by mapkinase (958129)

      >look more modern and stylish

      Yep. That's always a winner approach in safety.

    • Errata: The redesigned Myriad-based licence plates were finally made mandatory in Nov 2006 after a 2.5-year delay. All vehicles bought or re-licenced after this date are issued with the new design. http://www.typografi.org/bilskilt/dk54019_myr.jpg [typografi.org] . Casually looking out at the nearest 15-space parking lot 6 years later shows a ~80% adoption rate of the new style licence plate :). 2002-style plate is on remaining 2 of the cars and pre-2002 style on 1 car.

    • by Speare (84249)

      This is something that bugs me no end: ever since setting lead type, I've known that there is a fairly strict rule in typeface design: all digits are the same width. You can't typeset a useful ledger sheet if the 1 is narrow and the 5 is wide. Usually, all digits are an "en space", the same as the letter N, which is in turn half the "em space" or width of M.

      I see bad examples all the time in digital typefaces. Clocks are the usual glaring example, the whole clock shifts around as it rolls through the o

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        This is something that bugs me no end: ever since setting lead type, I've known that there is a fairly strict rule in typeface design: all digits are the same width. You can't typeset a useful ledger sheet if the 1 is narrow and the 5 is wide. Usually, all digits are an "en space", the same as the letter N, which is in turn half the "em space" or width of M.

        It depends - there's "table type" and "text type" for numbers. For table type, yes, all numbers have to be the same width and more importantly, have no

  • by QuietLagoon (813062) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @08:08AM (#41462895)
    ... the problem is that one has to look away from the road to see the screen.
  • I find it amusing that we needed MIT researchers to discover what a good designer with typographic experience could have told you. It's fundamentally not that much different than the thinking that has to go into selecting fonts for road signs. It's what drove the recent change from Highway Gothic to Clearview [wikipedia.org].

    The problem is when designers and their managers are driven by being different and place the emphasis on style over functionality. Part of the challenge is selecting the right font for an implementatio

  • by DavidHumus (725117) on Wednesday September 26, 2012 @08:58AM (#41463507)

    So continues a recent tradition in the auto industry of poor interface design: replacing speedometer dials - easy to read approximately but quickly - with digital speed displays which give unnecessarily precise information; replacing tactile radio buttons with digital displays and moving numerous other devices that could be used without looking at them to a (single point of failure) screen that requires taking ones eyes off the road.

How many Unix hacks does it take to change a light bulb? Let's see, can you use a shell script for that or does it need a C program?

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