Visible Language

An independent scholarly journal published continuously since 1967.

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Do Designers Show Categorical Perception of Typefaces?

Mary C. Dyson,

ProQuest  EBSCO

Readers need to easily discriminate between different letters, so typefaces are designed to make these differences distinctive. But there is also a uniformity of style within a typeface. These styles are recognized by typographic designers and may be categorized to enable more efficient discrimination among typefaces. The manner in which designers perceive typefaces is explored using the paradigm of Categorical Perception (CP). A continuum of fonts is created by interpolating between two typefaces, and two tasks (identification and discrimination) are used to test for CP. As the application of CP to typefaces is a new approach, various methodological issues are pursued. The experiments reveal that the conditions required to demonstrate CP are quite specific and CP was only evident inTimes and Helvetica and not Garamond and Bodoni. Possible reasons for this difference are the characteristics of the two typefaces and their context of use. Speculation as to the purpose of CP in non-designers raises the under-researched question of how we identify letters in different typefaces when reading.