The classic book that changed how we think about readability

“Inclusive

Type & Layout, by Colin Wheildon, is one of those books that helped change the way a lot of people thought about design.

I discovered it not long after it was first published in 1995. I worked at The Domain Group, and the book used a print ad we had created as an example — fortunately, a mostly good example.

We all read the book, and we quickly realized there was something in it more important than that ego-stroking advertisement: A whole section about reading-comprehension and print design.

It reported on a 1990 readability study by the Newspaper Advertising Bureau of Australia (You can download a PDF of the original study here; there’s more detail on the study and some additional findings worth seeing.)

The study looked at various font and design choices and rated them by “comprehension.” Many of the findings were shocking: the loss or gain in comprehension was so huge in some cases that it made us think again about nearly everything we’d every designed.

Here’s what we found in Type and Layout:

Serif type
Good comprehension 67%
Poor comprehension 14%

San-serif type
Good comprehension 12%
Poor comprehension 65%

Black type on white background
Good comprehension 70%
Poor compression 11%

White type on black background
Good comprehension 0%
Poor comprehension 88%

Black type on a colored tint background
Good comprehension 38%
Poor comprehension 43%

Black on 30% gray background
Good comprehension 3%
Poor comprehension 87%

Black type on 10% gray background
Good comprehension 63%
Poor comprehension 15%

Blue type on white background
Good comprehension 10%
Poor comprehension 81%

The lightbulb thought for many of us was this: Font choice really matters. Leaving it up to a designer who isn’t considering readability is a big mistake.

Given that the audience of donors tilts heavily toward people over 60 — which means a very high percentage of visual acuity issues — I have to wonder how much more money has been raised by even a small number of fundraisers who have been thinking about readability.

Type & Layout is still available. If you haven’t read it, it’s not too late!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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