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Monotype and MIT AgeLab Develop Streamlined SOA Research Method for Testing Typeface Legibility under Glance-Like Conditions

Following up on the 2012 research, Monotype Imaging Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: TYPE) today announced that together with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) AgeLab, they have developed a new, streamlined methodology for testing the legibility of typefaces on screens under glance-like conditions. Their new study correlates with the results of the previous research but uses an adapted Stimulus Onset Asynchrony (SOA) methodology to create a more flexible, cost- and time-effective way for designers to test specific typeface legibility under glance-like behavior – and help OEMs such as automotive manufacturers and HMI designers select a legible typeface for in-vehicle displays. The results of the new tests found that on average, a humanist (Frutiger®) typeface could be read accurately in shorter (8.8 percent) exposure times than a square grotesque (Eurostile®) typeface – which was broadly consistent with the legibility benefit for Frutiger as seen in the previous study.

SOA is a psychophysical method that was adapted by the research team to investigate subtle aesthetic properties of typographic and graphic design by employing a relatively pure measurement of legibility. It focuses on the typographic variables affecting legibility and using a standard desktop computer rather than a driving simulator, reduces the complexity, administration time, and data reduction and analysis costs required to study various ways in which typographic information is displayed.

“The new study highlights that basic psychophysics research tools can be practically utilized to help designers and engineers balance the subtle tradeoffs between typography and interface characteristics, while seeking to optimize the demands placed on the driver,” said Bryan Reimer, research scientist at MIT AgeLab and one of the principle researchers of the project. “With the advancing use of digital displays in vehicles, efforts to objectively evaluate legibility and different interface characteristics may help automakers better meet governmental distraction guidelines, while providing the driver with an enjoyable experience from the showroom to the road.”

The latest research tested participants on a lexical decision task, to find the minimal time needed to recognize whether or not a string of letters was a word (as opposed to a nonsense string). The researchers hypothesized that a more legible typeface would require less time for correct recognition. The methodology enforced glance-like behavior, paralleling occlusion test methods commonly used in the driving research field. The results of the SOA methodology have led researchers to believe that with extraneous behavioral factors removed, such as differences in allocating attention while driving, the legibility benefits of the humanist typeface are now more clearly evident than in the earlier research.

The research team also applied the methodology among participants in a subsequent study to investigate the legibility of typefaces in glance-like contexts among five Simplified Chinese typefaces that are used in various late-model car navigation and automotive HMIs. The most legible typeface in that study could be read accurately in shorter (33.1 percent) exposure times than the least legible typeface – demonstrating that the methodology may work across multiple languages, a critical component to automotive interface designers.

“While more work needs to be done, we believe the SOA approach could be further adapted to investigate a wide range of questions relevant to typographic and graphic design in automotive HMI designs. This research can be easily expanded to other languages and scripts as we did in the Chinese study,” said Monotype’s Dr. Nadine Chahine, a legibility specialist and an award-winning typeface designer and one of the report’s co-authors and principle researchers of the project. “Our findings also suggest that the methodology could be suitable for various glance-based reading environments, not only for automotive displays but also for medical apparatus, smartphones and other devices.”

The optimization of intrinsic and extrinsic features of type and the graphic design in which the text is presented, according to the researchers, may help reduce the demand on drivers when glancing at interfaces, making it easier for automotive manufacturers and suppliers to meet new governmental guidelines (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2013).

Full results of the latest legibility studies are available as MIT AgeLab white papers for both the English and Chinese studies. Additionally, portions of the studies will be presented by Chahine at the Car HMI Concepts and Systems conference in Berlin, Germany, June 26-27, 2014, where Chahine is scheduled to speak.

About Monotype

Monotype is a leading global provider of typefaces, technology and expertise that enable the best user experience and ensure brand integrity. Headquartered in Woburn, Mass., Monotype provides customers worldwide with typeface solutions for a broad range of creative applications and consumer devices. The company’s libraries and e-commerce sites are home to many of the most widely used typefaces – including the Helvetica®, Frutiger and Univers® families – as well as the next generation of type designs. Further information is available at www.monotype.com. Follow Monotype on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Monotype’s Type Case blog.

Monotype, Helvetica and Frutiger are trademarks of Monotype Imaging Inc. registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Eurostile and Univers are trademarks of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. ©2014 Monotype Imaging Holdings Inc. All rights reserved.

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