American Apparel, Staples, Knoll Furniture, and Lufthansa Airlines all share a common denominator with the New York subway system: each of these diverse organizations uses the same popular typeface in its signage: Helvetica. A book called Helvetica and the New York City Subway System describes why their decision makers chose the font style:
For years, the signs in the New York City subway system were a bewildering hodge-podge of lettering styles, sizes, shapes, materials, colors, and messages. The original mosaics (dating from as early as 1904), displaying a variety of serif and sans serif letters and decorative elements, were supplemented by signs in terracotta and cut stone... Efforts to untangle this visual mess began in the mid-1960s, when the city transit authority hired the design firm Unimark International to create a clear and consistent sign system. We can see the results today in the white-on-black signs throughout the subway system, displaying station names, directions, and instructions in crisp Helvetica.
Helvetica is best suited for signage because it is a sans serif font which, with its clean, straight strokes, commands attention. In fact, sans serif is used for two of the most universally familiar signs: EXIT and STOP.
Serif font, with little hooks at the ends of the lines, is better suited for text documents because the hooks help a reader’s eyes to distinguish individual letters.
This distinction was validated in a book called Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read by Stanislas Dehaenev, a neuroscientist at the Collège de France in Paris. In a review of the book for the Wall Street Journal, Jonah Lehrer, the author of the newspaper’s “Head Case” column, explained why raising the bar of difficulty in visual information improves retention.
Unusual sentences with complex clauses and odd punctuation tend to require more conscious effort, which leads to more activation in the dorsal pathway. All the extra cognitive work wakes us up; we read more slowly, but we notice more. Psychologists call this the "levels-of-processing" effect, since sentences that require extra levels of analysis are more likely to get remembered.
The point here for presenters is to draw an indelible boundary between documents that are meant to be read and graphics that are meant to illustrate. If you are creating a document, by all means use the “unusual sentences with complex clauses and odd punctuation” that Mr. Lehrer described. And use serif font.
But if you are creating presentation graphics, treat the text in your slides as signage or headlines. Look at any newspaper or magazine and you’ll see that headlines are composed mainly of key words such as nouns, verbs, and modifiers, with very few articles, conjunctions, and prepositions; the latter are only needed for complete sentences in reading text.
Unlike readers of text, your presentation audiences cannot process your ideas if you assault their eyes with dense information on your slides. And unlike readers, your presentation audiences must process not only what you are showing but simultaneously what you are saying. Their eyes, ears and, ultimately, their brains go into sensory overload. Instead, compose the text in your slides as headlines and do so in san serif font—then provide the body text in your narrative.You are the presentation; your slides are the signage.
Special Offer: Order Jerry Weissman's new book, Presentations in Action, between May 20 and June 10 to receive a free copy of the In the Line of Fire: How to Handle Tough Questions DVD and 40% off another Weissman publication from FT Press.
About Jerry Weissman:
Jerry Weissman is among the world's foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who's who of the world's best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intel, Intuit, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Netflix and many others.
Jerry founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. One of his earliest efforts was the Cisco Systems IPO road show. Following its successful launch, Don Valentine, of Sequoia Capital, and then chairman of Cisco's Board of Directors, attributed "at least two to three dollars" of the offering price to Jerry's coaching. That endorsement led to more than 500 other IPO road show presentations that have raised hundreds of billions of dollars in the stock market.Categories: guest_post, powerpoint
April 2003 | May 2003 | December 2003 | January 2004 | February 2004 | March 2004 | April 2004 | May 2004 | June 2004 | July 2004 | August 2004 | September 2004 | October 2004 | November 2004 | December 2004 | January 2005 | February 2005 | March 2005 | April 2005 | May 2005 | June 2005 | July 2005 | August 2005 | September 2005 | October 2005 | November 2005 | December 2005 | January 2006 | February 2006 | March 2006 | April 2006 | May 2006 | June 2006 | July 2006 | August 2006 | September 2006 | October 2006 | November 2006 | December 2006 | January 2007 | February 2007 | March 2007 | April 2007 | May 2007 | June 2007 | July 2007 | August 2007 | September 2007 | October 2007 | November 2007 | December 2007 | January 2008 | February 2008 | March 2008 | April 2008 | May 2008 | June 2008 | July 2008 | August 2008 | September 2008 | October 2008 | November 2008 | December 2008 | January 2009 | February 2009 | March 2009 | April 2009 | May 2009 | June 2009 | July 2009 | August 2009 | September 2009 | October 2009 | November 2009 | December 2009 | January 2010 | February 2010 | March 2010 | April 2010 | May 2010 | June 2010 | July 2010 | August 2010 | September 2010 | October 2010 | November 2010 | December 2010 | January 2011 | February 2011 | March 2011 | April 2011 | May 2011 | June 2011 | July 2011 | August 2011 | September 2011 | October 2011 | November 2011 | December 2011 | January 2012 | February 2012 | March 2012 | April 2012 | May 2012 | June 2012 | July 2012 | August 2012 | September 2012 | October 2012 | November 2012 | December 2012 | January 2013 | February 2013 | March 2013 | April 2013 | May 2013 | June 2013 | July 2013 | August 2013 | September 2013 | October 2013 | November 2013 | December 2013 | January 2014 | February 2014 | March 2014 | April 2014 | May 2014 | June 2014 | July 2014 | August 2014 | September 2014 | October 2014 | November 2014 | December 2014 | January 2015 | February 2015 | March 2015 | April 2015 | May 2015 | June 2015 | July 2015 | August 2015 | September 2015 | October 2015 | November 2015 | December 2015 | January 2016 | February 2016 | March 2016 | April 2016 | May 2016 | June 2016 | July 2016 | August 2016 | September 2016 | October 2016 |
Microsoft and the Office logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.