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Can You Read Me Now: Choosing Fonts for Cataract Patients

Man reading a book and drinking coffee

All over the country, doctors and their teams work hard to restore vision for their patients. The ophthalmologist’s toolbox is outfitted with trusted, life-changing procedures and techniques like advanced cataract surgery with lenses that help patients rely less on their glasses. Eye care professionals help change their patients’ perspective by making the world brighter and clearer.

At MJM, we help provide clinics with educational tools, brochures, ads and websites that cater to people with cataracts. One of the tools in the designer’s toolbox is typography. From signage and directions to brochure and website fonts, legible type can set the tone for a patient’s experience.

Here are a few things we keep in mind when we make typography decisions for audiences with limited vision:

1. Choose high-contrast colors

Cataracts prevent some light from reaching parts of the eye that create an image. When text color is too similar to background color, letters and words may become muddled and difficult to distinguish. Black or very dark text on a white background is most legible.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - choose high contrast colors

2. Choose full-bodied letters

Fonts with a tall x-height, wide letters and long descenders and ascenders are easier to discern because they take up more space and create shapes that are easily recognizable.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - choose full-bodied letters

3. Used mixed-case type

ALL CAPS not only appears to shout, but it also can make text harder to read. So can italics. Our brains read words as shapes rather than identifying individual letters. And since we are more used to reading in sentence case, our minds can process those words more quickly.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - use mixed-case type

4. Choose moderate stroke contrast

Find a happy medium between uniform thickness (like Futura and other trendy sans serif fonts) and super high contrast. To someone with blurred vision, an ultra-thin stem can virtually disappear from the page.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - choose moderate stroke contrast

5. Avoid condensed fonts

They narrow the natural shape of letter forms to take up less space. But, this also means that they are more difficult to read.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - avoid condensed fonts

6. Use serifs for paragraphs

Serifs are like little signposts telling our eyes where a letter begins and ends. In a paragraph, they direct our eye traffic as we dig into longer copy.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - use serifs for paragraphs

7. Stay positive

Negative text (white on a dark background) gives the illusion that the letters are thinner than they actually are, making them more difficult to read.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - stay positive

8. Size matters

Twelve-point font looks different for Futura than it does for Brandon Grotesque. Printing an example proof can help tell if the font is going to be large enough.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - size matters

9. Embrace space

Without enough space between lines, letters and around the text block, legibility is compromised. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Increase leading (space between lines) to about 1.5 times the normal amount.
  • Increase tracking (space between letters) so letters are less likely to visually run into one another.
  • Increase the margins to appropriately frame the text.
  • Write concise copy. Adding content to a limited space can compromise legibility. Shorter copy can be compelling, especially when it gets read.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - embrace space

Like most rules in design, there are always exceptions. A font with uniform line thickness and low x-height like Brandon Grotesque compensates by increasing the leading (space between lines) without manual adjustment. The font that populates a brochure may not be the best for an outdoor parking lot sign.

Reference: http://www.aiga.org/typography-and-the-aging-eye

Alison is a graphic designer at MJM.
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