Lena Groeger: How Typography Can Save Your Life

An argument I’ve made a lot in the past (as have others) is that as important as we think typography might be, no one ever died because of a bit of bad kerning.

It’s a deliberately flippant and incendiary comment, designed to focus people’s attention on what really matters in design rather than navel gazing and obsessing about serifs and ligatures. But it turns out that typography has more impact on health and safety than you might think, as Lena Groeger points out in this fascinating article:

Even NASA clearly understands the importance of typography — they have a whole report about it. It’s called “On the Typography of Flight-Deck Documentation.” In it, NASA scientist Asaf Degani notes, “Although flight-deck documentation are an important (and sometimes critical) form of display in the modern cockpit, there is a dearth of information on how to effectively design these displays.” Effectively designing those displays can indeed be critical. The report describes an incident on May 26, 1987, when Air New Orleans Flight 962 took off for Florida. Before the plane could reach even a few hundred feet, the captain had to make an emergency landing — and in the process managed to roll onto into a nearby highway and crash into several vehicles. It turned out that the aircrew had forgotten to advance the engine levers, which the National Transportation Safety Board said indicated “a lack of checklist discipline.” But also possibly to blame? The bad design of that checklist.

Read the rest of the story here. I’ll need to be a bit more careful when I dismiss type in the future.

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