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Optimising the design of text using simple algorithms

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Simple algorithms that assess the spatial periodicity of text can predict both the comfort and the speed with which text can be read. Ratings of discomfort from a wide variety of images are predictable from the extent to which the images are “un-natural”, as assessed by fitting a 1/f cone to the two-dimensional Fourier transform. The size of the residuals in such a fit predicts discomfort from text, as reflected in the choices people make when adjusting i-Books. Reading speed can be predicted from the first peak in the horizontal autocorrelation of text. The higher the peak, the lower the reading speed because more time is required to re-align the eyes following a saccade. There are large differences between fonts as regards predictions of comfort and speed. Text for children is inappropriately designed: it gets too small too early in life, compromising reading speed and comprehension. In addition, appropriately selecting the background colour of text can sometimes facilitate reading. The reasons may be related to cortical hyperexcitability and a consequent susceptibility to the spatial periodicity of text.

This talk is part of the Craik Club series.

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