SAN FRANCISCO -- For men, size does not matter as much as fonts, at
least in the realm of human-machine interface design.
That's according to a new study from the MIT AgeLab, where researchers examined
the impact of typography on driver distraction. The survey found a major
difference in how men reacted to a certain font class when looking
at an on-board display compared with women.
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The survey was done in
conjunction with Monotype
Imaging, a century-old font firm.
Driver distraction is
becoming an increasingly important design consideration in the wake
that have found that 3,092 people died in 2010 and about
416,000 people were injured in crashes that were thought to involve
a distracted driver--or 18 percent of all car injuries.
The MIT study included 82 participants in a simulation
lab. Researchers compared glance times when drivers looked at a 800 x 480
display using a "grotesque"-category
font (Eurostile). This was compared with the glance time for a "humanist"-category
font (Frutiger). The font size was 4 mm.
Glance times for men, examined partly with eye tracking technology,
dropped 10.6 percent on average when looking at the display showing
Frutiger (3.86 seconds) compared to a display showing Eurostile
(4.33 seconds), according to Bryan Reimer, the MIT AgeLab research
scientist who ran the tests.That time is
equivalent to driving 50 feet at a speed of about 75 mph, added Reimer, who also heads the New
England Region University Transportation Center. .
The study divided the participants into two groups. one male group recorded a 12.2 percent improvement in glance time with the
humanist font, while the other showed a 9.1 percent
This article is confusing. It would have been instructive to get the actual glance times of men and of women, when viewing the two font types. As written, the only thing I can conclude is that the simpler font has a more beneficial impact on men. What I cannot tell is whether women are having to look longer regardless of font.
Here's the issue:
"For women, the figures were equivalent in the first group and showed a 3.3 percent improvement in the second group."
The way I read this, women's glance times are about the same as men's for the Eurostyle font, the bad one, and hardly improve at all with the good font. To me, that sounds like women are spending less time looking at the road, overall. Yet, the article says:
"It's possible women are…more efficient at moving information" that is displayed, he said "It could also be a neurobiological difference."
Which makes me think that something is missing somewhere in the explanation?
This kind of strikes me as a bit of a "blinding flash of the obvious." Helvetica/Ariel is known to be one of the more readable fonts. Old english and script type fonts are much more difficult to read.
I wouldn't even have to run a study to conclude that people will read faster, get the meaning faster and thus be distracted for less time with an easy to read font vs a difficult to read font.
Duane, you didn't look at the fonts sufficiently carefully before commenting. Helvetica is an example of a "grotesque" font, at least if Wikipedia is to be believed. Follow the links in the article, quite revealing.
As an aging driver I have noticed over the last decade that it takes significantly longer to “acquire” the data and “see” what is in the scene. This may account for a number of accidents where fast moving vehicles are missed by aging drivers exiting side roads. As eyesight deteriorates the ability to change focus from infinity [as when looking straight ahead] to shorter distances as little as 60 cm [called accommodation] for reading displays and instruments also deteriorate. Correct prescription glasses will help, but the impact of the contrast ratio of font to background and light level are also important.