We forget how much we take the process of reading for granted, and how type and typography has developed over the past 550 years to make it as easy as possible for us to recognize the shapes of letters and words.
Typographic techniques like equal word-spacing in a line of text, or avoiding the use of only capital letters, give our visual system the cue it needs to make sense of dirty marks on a piece of shredded tree, or dots turned different colors on a screen.
Remember, the human “reading system” is a high-speed scanning, analysis and parsing machine. When it’s moving rapidly across a line of text, it’s scanning about four consecutive targets per second.
It’s a 600ppi scanning machine, which normally deals with type between one-eighth and one-sixth of an inch high. And it doesn’t take much to throw it off. The difference between automatic scanning you don’t have to think about, and conscious parsing, is fractions of an inch (obviously proportionally more when you’re reading larger text at a distance).
I pass by this road sign most days at the moment. It’s on a tree just before a narrow bridge which is an obvious accident hazard. You don’t have much time to read the sign, which is hand-painted in red. You just glance to the side, your brain takes a snapshot. You’re past it before you realize your brain is trying to decode a puzzle as a result of data collected subconsciously by your peripheral vision.
Who is Dr. Iveslow, and can’t he afford a better sign than that? Doctors are quite well paid, after all. And he seems pretty paranoid…
Then the penny drops.
DRIVE SLOW, not DR IVESLOW