Canadian bus company switches to mixed case

Andy Dewhurst

If you have ever waited for a bus and don’t know the right number, you have probably strained to read the destination displayed on incoming buses before hailing them. A Canadian bus company in Ottawa has started using a simple way to alleviate this, though, by switching its LED destination signs from all caps to mixed case.

This may seem counterintuitive, because it seems logical that because capital letters are larger, they are also easier to read. However, according to David Bromley, who designed a logo for the same bus company back in the 1980s and is co-ordinator of the graphic design programme at Algonquin College, the move to mixed case will help everybody to read bus destinations faster.

He explains this by saying that capital letters are more difficult to read because they are thinner and closer together, while lowercase letters produce more space in a word and are rounder. This was backed up by Andrea Emery, a teacher of typography at Algonquin College, who said:

“Studies have shown that setting text in all capitals slows down reading.”

She explains this by saying that people tend to read capitals on a letter-by-letter basis, while mixed-case words have a more distinctive shape that people come to recognise as a whole, such as the names of frequently visited destinations.

This could have important implications for custom vehicle lettering as well, because it could make the difference between a potential customer comprehending the information on your vehicles or not.

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