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Never Mind the Order

I was refraining to post this, because it has been covered all over the place (Typographica, Typophile and Metafilter are only a few worth mentioning) but I have gotten a few requests to discuss it — I’ll oblige.

“Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.”

What I think is worth discussing as designers is how does this affect us (if at all)? We work with words all the time, careful to never have the slightest letter misplaced to avoid client ire. Maybe it doesn’t matter after all… I konw it mtartes I’m jsut syanig.

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ARCHIVE ID 1610 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON Sep.26.2003 BY Armin
Sam Sherwood’s comment is:

They spelled "iprmoetnt" wrong. Ionry!

Nevertheless, I think designers are anal about spelling because of the minority, not the majority. The majority of my company's readership would never notice a spelling error in our copy, much less a typo -- it's that 1% that have the balls to email on every single grammatical and spelling error that makes it necessary. They always think they're brilliant, too... But I digress.

On Sep.26.2003 at 10:05 AM
Rebecca C.’s comment is:


My former boss was the anal one: I once kept her on pins & needles for an entire afternoon simply by claiming that "against" was mis-spelled on a convention booth. She checked that booth 40+ times. Hilarious.

Only the marketing people at my last job cared. And me, of course...

On Sep.26.2003 at 10:13 AM
Sarah B’s comment is:

prtety itnersetnig... maybe it could even possibly become a new trend...I have seen it in a few places, first to mind the fcuk (French Connection) brand... as long as you can understand it, and make it work...it works.

On Sep.26.2003 at 10:26 AM
Armin’s comment is:

There is absolutely nothing worse than a typo on a printed piece. Hence the anal behavior.

On Sep.26.2003 at 10:47 AM
brook’s comment is:

that's absolutely the reason.

not to mention that i'm sure most of us are just all around nerds...and very capable writers and communicators.

On Sep.26.2003 at 10:50 AM
eric’s comment is:

"In this dizzying age of the Internet, the most neglected aspect of the English language is spelling. This author cannot begin to count the number of times people have written to him to set him straight on one point or another, only to expose their own inability to fashion words together correctly. �Poor spelling reflects badly upon the writer and publisher alike." - from the American Partisan.

Language, like design, is a tool to effect communication. if you're too lazy to be concerned with its form then shouldn’t we reassess the importance of what it is you’re really saying? I'm a terrible speller and I'm very concerned with it all the time.

It should also be noted, despite our prowess at mastering word symbols into English, that mostly we Americans are poorly educated, overweight and watch too much tv.

On Sep.26.2003 at 10:56 AM
Sergio’s comment is:

Proper spelling is extremely important. I've seen misspelled words in giant billboards. "How the hell could an error go all the way through THAT printing process?" is my first thought. It sends a terrible message. That they don't care.

That said, this thing looks like a hoax. The transpositions are very simple and usually keep the form of the word mostly intact, which I think explains the readability of the text. Tests with true random word scramblers that keep the first and last letters produce far less readable results.

On Sep.26.2003 at 11:02 AM
Tan’s comment is:

I'm no expert, but I remember in biology that there's a part of your brain that tells you an apple is an apple, not a loaf of bread. Written language recognition is more complex, but not dissimilar. This study has more to do with language recognition than comprehension. It tells me that people learn to read words as a group, which of course, requires that you must first learn to read things properly initially.

So to get back to design -- this study sort of relates to another study last year that found kids today are processing visual images something like 10 times faster and in far greater amounts than 50 years ago. I'm sure that written language recognition is related to that fact -- as well as related to the proliferation of writing due to the internet, and so on.

I have clients who frequently ask why designers love to use such goddamn small type. First, I mock their old age. Then, I tell them that today's readers process more information, with greater visual acuity than ever before -- and that's why the text is 6 points dammit.

On Sep.26.2003 at 11:16 AM
Sam Sherwood’s comment is:

Just to clarify, I wasn't saying that spelling wasn't important. Just that mistakes can and will happen in projects. Even great editors can make mistakes -- it's part of being human!

That said, I proof my print pieces to oblivion, as they generally get sent to 1,000,000+ people. The same sinking feeling exists when mispelling a word in an email, just on a lesser scale.

Anyhow, there are plenty of studies that back up the whole ascender/descender recognization theory. This is a bit of an exageration, but the concept is straight forward enough.

On Sep.26.2003 at 11:19 AM
joy olivia’s comment is:

This is being discussed on the UCDA mailing list today. In the most recent post on this topic, someone wrote in the following:

"Aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe."

Interesting stuff. Has anyone heard of this study (or rumor)?

On Sep.26.2003 at 11:56 AM
David W’s comment is:

Oh no! The junk chain emails that I get way too often have now become Speak Up topics.

On Sep.26.2003 at 12:12 PM
renee’s comment is:

I guess the word thing is sort of like running by a wooden fence and seeing the whole yard due to cracks in the slats, your brain just puts the whole image together. Interesting.

On Sep.26.2003 at 12:13 PM
joy olivia’s comment is:

Hmm, I suppose I should have realized that Armin's English University and the Cambridge University listed in the thread I saw on UCDA had to be one in the same hoax.

Here's a link to the paper on "sublexical units and the split fovea" -- the supposed original work that has been twisted by email and is now causing all the hoopla.

On Sep.26.2003 at 12:42 PM
Tan’s comment is:

that's some hoax. It made NPR this morning or yesterday's. funny.

On Sep.26.2003 at 12:50 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

This is *so* last week.


On Sep.26.2003 at 01:05 PM
Armin’s comment is:


On Sep.26.2003 at 01:10 PM
Christopher May’s comment is:

I tell them that today's readers process more information, with greater visual acuity than ever before -- and that's why the text is 6 points dammit.

Tan you are awesome! that is by far the best justification I have ever read for the use of 6pt type! I'm putting this one in my bag of tricks!

On Sep.26.2003 at 01:43 PM
eric’s comment is:

Tan, shut up! you don't actually say "visual acuity" do you?

On Sep.26.2003 at 01:49 PM
James Craig’s comment is:

With the trend (well, among web designers, not print designers) toward accessibility, I must make the obligitory notice that screen readers completely choke on misspelled words. While we sighted users have no trouble reading most of the jumbled text, screen readers pronounce them as they're spelled. Yuck!

Also, does anyone reading this have dyslexia? I’d be interested in hearing if they have the same experience with the forementioned paragraph.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to fix a typo on a web site than on a printed piece.

PS. If there are any language geeks reading this, you may be interested in my post about phonemes and context. Actually, if you're a linguistic geek, you probably already that stuff so nevermind. ;)

On Sep.26.2003 at 02:40 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> you don't actually say "visual acuity" do you?

only when I'm trying to impress women. it never works.

On Sep.26.2003 at 03:27 PM
eric’s comment is:

Tan, right. like you really need more 30+ year old men in your fan club. god bless your wife.

On Sep.26.2003 at 03:31 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> god bless your wife.

Well actually, she's not that big of a fan. After 10 years, I can't impress her with shit anymore...*sigh*.

so eric, this bully will take all the love he can get.

On Sep.26.2003 at 03:45 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

> you don't actually say "visual acuity" do you?

>only when I'm trying to impress women. it never works.

Now, now boys. Look who's talking, Mr. Larsen? You of the "rubric of intelligencia."

I love it when men talk smarty.

(Even if the letters are rearranged.)

On Sep.26.2003 at 03:51 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> so eric, this bully will take all the love he can get.

We'll spoon at the AIGA conference Tan.

On Sep.26.2003 at 04:17 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Once again dude. NOT. IN. PUBLIC.

On Sep.26.2003 at 04:19 PM
debbie millman’s comment is:

Dare I repeat myself?

On Sep.26.2003 at 04:27 PM
Christopher May’s comment is:

We'll spoon at the AIGA conference Tan.

GOD NOOOOO!!!... Armin i can't get that visual out of my head!

On Sep.26.2003 at 04:28 PM
Armin’s comment is:

I don't know what you are complaining about Chris, I would have spooned with you at TypeCon if you had just asked... I would have.

On Sep.26.2003 at 04:36 PM
brook’s comment is:

what's with all the spooning and why am i not aware of it?

On Sep.26.2003 at 07:38 PM
Bradley’s comment is:

To be totally morbid and inappropriate...

Like Uncle Joe Stalin always used to say, one death is a tragedy, a million a statistic.

This nifty experiment only works when most of the words are mispelled; you notice it, but you read it anyway because they're all fucked up. ONE TYPO though, that can be glaring to fresh eyes, and it does send a bad message. There's no reason to mis-spell in the context of otherwise good spelling.

Intentional mis-spelling throughout...well, who cares. It'll read fine anyway. Now, how well will readers be able to recall it?

On Sep.26.2003 at 09:51 PM