Sight Experiment

Lately I've noticed rather extreme eye fatigue while reading on the computer screen. Hadn't happened before that I can remember, unless I was reading lots and lots of text for a long period of time. Part of me figured I'm just getting old (which is absolutely not true!), or still drinking too much on the job.

But! I was reading a book on typography last night (while lying down - bad for your eyes), I came across visual comparisons of aliased and anti-aliased text, and I read that the way computers approximate the lovely curves of printed type is to blur pixels to 'suggest' the correct shape.

Shocking? No, of course not. Anyone who uses computers enough--and certainly designers--know that that's how it works. However, what I hadn't put together was that this actually blurs the edges of the type, and as you read, it can produce eye fatigue.

After poking around a bit today, I discovered a setting on my Mac that allows me to "Turn off text smoothing for font sizes XX and smaller." I've engaged that option for font sizes 12 and smaller. The result? It's like my lovely modern applications have been smacked with an ugly stick. But a very clear ugly stick.

Dear readers, I'll keep you posted on the state of my eyes during this experiment, and if next time you see me I'm wearing coke-bottle glasses which have slid down to the point of my nose, you won't have to ask. Bottoms up!

Editors, May 31 2005 9:54PM

We hear you when it comes to eye strain. As a matter of fact we have spent a good portion of the last few years trying to find ways to make websites easier to read.

Whether or not we've had any success, you might be happy to know that over the weekend we made every article on GUTSY printable.

Hope that helps ease your peepers.

David, Jun 1 2005 11:52AM

A friend of mine recently told me about a new monitor that displays at 300dpi. Albeit very costly ($10K), this new technology might be the answer to your eye fatigue. Maybe it will be available at a reasonable price within the next decade? I imagine that all typefaces specifically designed for screen (i.e. Verdana) will have to be revised if the technology becomes widely used. Perhaps they will become obsolete and the classics will prevail!!!

mark, Jun 1 2005 12:20PM

right now there are very limited choices for typefaces that render well on screen. actually, there are 3 that are universally available; arial, georgia and verdana.

microsoft has announced that in their next version of windows 6 new fonts will be included that are specifically designed for web. no word on how or if apple will be able to use.

David, Jun 1 2005 12:46PM

Arial was designed in 1982. Was it later modified for screen or is it just *so* versatile that it works in any medium? Quite frankly, it should remain a screen-only typeface!!!!

Sandie, Jun 1 2005 1:31PM

I would like to fine my students $50 every time they use Arial because they "don't have Univers" (Univers is the typeface I assign most often for projects). I'd be rich! It's very hard for them to understand the difference between typefaces designed for screen and those designed for print.

mark, Jun 2 2005 10:12AM

david, microsoft did indeed make modifications to arial as they digitized it in the mid-90s. it became their screen face as they brought out the first windows as well as the office suite. the changes were probably minor since it already had a generous x-height and wide stance.

there is one other matthew carter designed web typeface that i forgot: tahoma.