GDES-210 fall 2023 / David Ramos, American University Design

Readability and legibility

October 11

Critique Poster / Start Type specimen book




In-class readability and legibility exercise

This exercise lets you test the effects of font choice, type size, and leading on legibility.

As sample text, use a quote from Elizabeth Coleman about design:

The arts of taking things in—seeing, reading, drawing—assume a central role as do those of communicating what has been seen with power and economy. Rhetoric, the art of organizing the world of words to have maximum effect, re-emerges as fundamental; design, the art of organizing the world of things so that structures are compatible with the purposes they are meant to serve, assumes an equal importance.

(This is one of the more incisive statements about what design is and should be. Coleman, then the president of Bennington College), used it in a talk at the Conference on World Affairs, Boulder, Colo., April 4, 2011.)

Part 1

Set up test pages in InDesign, on letter-sized paper (8.5 × 11 in.). Experiment with different ways of setting the text. You can view text on screen at first, working at 100% zoom, but print your later versions and check readability on paper. Exactly how many versions you print will depend on what kind of a mood our printers are in.


Details: Assume that you are setting text for a book. Turn hyphenation off and set the text left-aligned (flush left/rag right). You’re working with body copy, and you’ll want to use a measure (line length) that places 45–90 characters on each line.

Part 2

(If time allows.) Do this again, but for a viewing distance of six feet—like text mounted on a wall in an exhibit.

Fonts for this exercise