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Reading Letter: designing for legibility
published 2012

In our everyday life we constantly encounter a diversity of reading matters, including display types on traffic signage, printed text in novels, newspaper headlines, or our own writing on a computer screen. All these conditions place different demands on the typefaces applied.

The book discusses these aspects by drawing on typography history, designers’ ideas, and available scientific data concerning the reading process.

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Post.doc academic research
The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts

Font tuning (2011-2013)
Font tuning is the mechanism that allows us to forget the typographical image of the text we are reading. It is the cognitive shift that takes us from the stage where we register the letter shapes, to the stage where we only see the text. When it works we dive into the context of the text without thinking, and in the most optimal situations leads us to forget time and place. When it does not work, we will still read but we will be so conscious of the features of the font that the ease of reading will suffer as a result. In practice, font tuning makes us see past the actual letter shapes and see the generic letter alone.

An investigating into the cognitive shift of font tuning, will enlighten us on the implications the design of extreme typefaces can have on the reader, and provide designers with new tools to nurse the reader and make sure that the typographical layout will motivate an optimal reading experience. The data will also help researchers better understand the complicated mechanism of reading, and so add important new knowledge to the field of reading psychology.

Typeface legibility (2009-2011)
With an outset in the disciplines of vision research and type design, the aim of the reserach was to assemble the existing knowledge on typeface legibility. On one hand, the project enlighten type designers on theoretical and practical oriented method to improve legibility, and on the other hand, inform perception psychologists on methods to improve the test material in future legible studies.

Royal College of Art, London

The thesis is available through >>

Typeface Legibility: Towards defining familiarity
The aim of the project was to investigate the influence of familiarity on reading. Three new fonts were created in order to examine the familiarity of fonts that readers could not have seen before. Each of the new fonts contains lowercase letters with familiar and unfamiliar skeleton variations. The different skeleton variations were tested with distance threshold and time threshold methods in order to account for differences in visibility. This investigation helped create final typeface designs where the familiar and unfamiliar skeleton variations have roughly similar and good performance. The typefaces were later applied as the test material in the familiarity investigation.

Some typographers have proposed that familiarity means the amount of time that a reader has been exposed to a typeface design, while other typographers have proposed that familiarity is the commonalities in letterforms. These two hypotheses were tested by measuring the reading speed and preference of participants, as they read fonts that had either common or uncommon letterforms, the fonts were then re-measured after an exposure period. The results indicate that exposure has an immediate effect on the speed of reading, but that unfamiliar letter features only have an effect of preference and not on reading speed.

By combining the craftsmen’s knowledge of designing with the methods of experimental research, the project takes a new step forward towards a better understanding of how different typefaces can influence the reading process.

The research has been funded by grants from ‘Microsoft Advanced Reading Technologies’ and the ‘Rootstein Hopkins Foundation’.



Academic research by Sofie Beier