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The Right Dashboard Font Could Make Driving Safer

MIT’s AgeLab (better known for their age empathy suit) worked with text and graphic company Monotype Imaging to figure out what worked and what didn’t when it comes to fonts used in car displays, like GPS

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The team’s white paper shows characteristics that improve legibility. Image: MIT AgeLab/Monotype Imaging

Scientists at CERN learned that the hard way that font choice is important after they were roundly mocked for using Comic Sans in their presentation on the discovery of the Higgs boson particle. But in some situations—a fast-moving car, for instance—proper font choices can not only save you from ridicule, they could also save your life.

Working with text and graphic company Monotype Imaging, scientists at MIT’s AgeLab (the outfit responsible for the age empathy suit) looked at what worked and what didn’t in fonts used in car displays, like GPS. They found that, when they made the letters cleaner and more easily distinguishable, men spent 10.6 percent less time looking at the screen. That’s a significant difference, and it represents time that can be spent watching the road instead of the dashboard. Women, interestingly enough, were not affected by the font change.

So what does this mean for your car? Not much yet. But in an article for Popular Science, David Gould, Monotype’s director of product marketing, said the company was pitching the idea to carmakers. They just need to find a font that works better and fits the image their products project :

Reimer and Gould have already taken these findings to Detroit to share them with carmakers, and this research could have equal application for cell phone or other device manufacturers. All of these companies could use either an existing humanist typeface, or design new ones based on these same principles of legibility. Carmakers, Gould suspects, will likely want to find typefaces that communicate a unified sense of their brand. This sounds a little surprising. But, yes, the text on your dashboard LCD display is an integral part of the design of your car’s interior, too.

“Automobile companies are very big on their brand,” Gould says. “When you get in that car, you need to feel and have that emotion in that particular vehicle. They want to make sure that’s consistently represented on everything in the car, including on the screen.”

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