The Mario Blog
10.23.2010—10am
Lowercase letters for the road!

TAKEAWAY: The all caps versus lower case in lettering debate takes to the road. Indeed, the federal government is even getting involved, requiring cities across the USA to change street-name signs from all capital letters to capital and lowercase letters. The government says that makes them easier to read. Well, editors and art directors had the same idea many years ago!

Updated Saturday, Oct. 23, 10:53 Miami, FL time

TAKEAWAY: The all caps versus lowercase in lettering debate takes to the road. Indeed, the federal government is even getting involved, requiring cities across the USA to change street-name signs from all capital letters to capital and lowercase letters. The government says that makes them easier to read. Well, editors and art directors had the same idea many years ago!

All caps or lower case? The debate is old

blog post image

blog post imageblog post image
Easier to read the signs on top: Monroe and LaSalle : Pembrooke Point sign must change soon

blog post image

blog post image

blog post image

blog post image

A variety of street signs from around the world; indeed, the ones in lowercase are easier on the eyes; but, oh, those charming European street signs in Gothic letter——perhaps not so easy to read if one is navigating a new city, but the charm and style are undeniably appealing.

Only “italics” have a more prominent place in that always busy and hot corner of the newsroom where debate of type-related things is discussed. Yes, we have heard it all about italics: they are feminine, moody, slanted and hard to read, never use in sports pages, only use for commentary material——the list goes on.

But, alas, the second hottest point of typographic angst is using all caps versus lower case for headlines.

Now, the federal government takes the debates
out to MAIN STREET (or should that be Main Street?), requiring cities across the USA to change street name signs from all capital letters to capital and lowercase. Easier to read, says Uncle Sam.

Amen. We agree. Oak Avenue is much easier than OAK AVENUE, and Martin Luther King Boulevard, nicer and easier than MARTIN LUTHER KING BOULEVARD!

What took them so long?

blog post image
Diagram taken from Kevin Larson’s presentation showing the word-shape or “Bouma” model.

We have known for decades that it lowercase is easier to read than uppercase, and research from reading psychologists tends to agree. The big debate is why! A long-standing model has been the word-shape, or “Bouma,” model, in which in which the exterior shape of the word is used to recognize the word. From this model, the shape of lowercase characters allows for this recognition of shapes much better than all capital letters.

blog post image
Diagram taken from Kevin Larson’s presentation showing the parallel processing model.

But scientific research from a leading reading psychologist, Kevin Larson of Microsoft, argues that the word-shape model is outdated. In one of the The Art, Technology, and Science of Reading. He also discusses the value of typeface choice (the flavor of the text) and good typography (the pleasantness of reading, not the speed).

Brings back the memories

blog post image
Newsday: crisp and easy to read lowercase lead headline

blog post image
The over the top Bild of Germany goes lowercase for its lead story

blog post image
Always elegant, but direct and appealing, Austria’s Kleine Zeitung: lowercase letters do it for lead head.

blog post image
New York Post: all caps, followed by lowercase summary; caps are its front page trademark

blog post image
Belgium’s Niewsblad: appealing to the masses, and screaming the story in all caps. Works for them!

I remember that when we wanted to convince someone of the all caps versus lowercase impact and difference, we would write a word in all caps on a piece of paper, then take scissors and cut that piece of paper in half: if you only had the TOP of the page in the all caps version, it would be difficult to make out the meaning of the word; when the word was in lower case, the shape of the letters was more defined and therefore it was easier to read.

However, as in all discussions about type: the rule is not 100% sound, and we must make allowances for exceptions.

A couple of words in all caps to emphasize robustness in a headline will not hurt things. An entire headline in all caps, or a total concept of only all caps headlines, that is a different story.

Size has something to do with it. Caps work best in bigger sizes, which tabloid front page designers worldwide have known forever.

My own test

blog post image
Here I am in recovery room after eye surgery Thursday: now up and around and seeing the world better than in all caps

blog post image
And here I am today Saturday, completing a 5-mile walk in sunny Miami (no running for two weeks, so walking must do!)

How appropriate that this discussion of caps versus lower case should surface this week, when I myself had minor eye surgery to remove an annoying cataract from my right eye.

I had this surgery on Thursday, and I am fine and seeing the world so much better, as if life sent me a postcard to remind me of how beautiful my surroundings can be.

The day of the surgery I had a patch on my right eye, of course. And because total disconnect was out of the question, I did come to my computer and to my iPad to do some light reading.
Indeed, lowercase type was much easier for a temporarily sidelined one-eyed reader.

As for the names on the streets, it should be interesting to see how the cities react to the requirement.

But, a good thing is already happening: the debate of caps versus lowercase comes down to Main Street, and people who never gave a thought to such things can now think about them.

Make that thought all lowercase.

For further reading of interest:
The theory that lowercase letters are easier to read than caps
http://typophile.com/node/73596

TheMarioBlog post #661

Blog Post01.22.2018—1am
Are we using better photos today?
Blog Post01.19.2018—1am
The challenge of that fold
Blog Post01.18.2018—1am
The Washington Post: another profitable year
Blog Post01.17.2018—1am
Did I really read that much?
Blog Post01.15.2018—4am
The Guardian changes more than just the format
Blog Post—1am
Are vulgar words now part of a journalist’s styleguide?
Blog Post01.12.2018—4pm
The new New York Times campaign
Blog Post01.11.2018—1am
The good news about paying for content
Blog Post01.08.2018—3pm
Prof. Miguel Urabayen (1926-2018): Tribute to a grand maestro
Blog Post—2pm
Fire & Fury: Here’s a cover that tells more of the story
Blog Post—1am
End of print edition for Montreal’s La Presse
Blog Post01.07.2018—11am
Happy New Year…..I am back, sort of
Blog Post12.19.2017—10am
My prediction for 2018: we will write, edit & design for mobile
Blog Post12.13.2017—1am
Best wishes for the holiday season!
Blog Post12.12.2017—1am
Every year should be year of the audience
Blog Post12.11.2017—1am
The Post Most: curated content as easy as 1-2-3
Blog Post12.08.2017—1am
The power of a comic
Blog Post12.07.2017—1am
Those European ePapers Continue Growing
Blog Post12.06.2017—1am
Journalism students and print (not a romance)
Blog Post12.05.2017—1am
The nuances of using ragged right type
Blog Post12.04.2017—1am
Monocle’s habit-forming daily briefing
Blog Post12.01.2017—1am
2018: More digital everything, more of the Trump factor
Blog Post11.30.2017—1am
That time of the year to think what next
Blog Post11.29.2017—1am
Apple goes romantic
Blog Post11.28.2017—1am
E-mail newsletters can be a real seductive hook
Blog Post11.27.2017—8am
An e-newsletter with visual appeal
Blog Post11.21.2017—1am
So 2017 was really NOT the year of video……
Blog Post11.20.2017—1am
The New York Times: the Spanish weekly
Blog Post11.17.2017—5am
Paywalls, storytelling highlight Latin American conference
Blog Post11.15.2017—5am
In Argentina: the hot topic is “paywalls”
Blog Post11.14.2017—1am
The NY Times’ Jobs Classified: Really?
Blog Post11.13.2017—1am
At The New York Times: a kids section on Sunday
Blog Post11.10.2017—12am
“I read it on Facebook.”
Blog Post11.09.2017—12am
The flow of a breaking new story in the mobile era
Blog Post11.08.2017—12am
When content hits the spot
Blog Post11.07.2017—12am
When hierarchy makes a statement
Blog Post11.06.2017—12am
When the advertising wraps around
Blog Post11.03.2017—1am
New Hebrew fonts from Typotheque
Blog Post11.02.2017—1am
Favorite branding logos? No surprises
Blog Post11.01.2017—7am
A New York terrorist attack on the front pages
Contact us with speaking requests, questions or to discuss a project.