You are on page 1of 25

In the Eye

of the Beholder
How College Students View Graphic Design
Katherine Hambor
Baccalaureate Honors Program
Rider University, 2014
1


In the Eye of the Beholder: How College Students View Graphic Design

Introduction
Graphic design is defined as all visual media created with “typography, illustration,
photography, [and/or] printing for the purposes of persuasion, information, or instruction”
(Livingston and Livingston 114-115). Many people do not realize how omnipresent design
actually is in their lives. It is everywhere: in our textbooks, on billboards, on the television, on our
electronic devices. Even the “plain” text in novels and studies such as this contain graphic design.
As it is such a large part of life, it is a wonder how few people realize its powerful influence on
day-to-day lives. Though non-designers are not expected to notice, graphic designers every day
are put to the task of influencing others with their design knowledge. In order to do that, they
need to know what will and won’t work based on how others view the designs with which they
are presented.
This is a quantitative study on how university and college students—non-designers and
designers alike—may view the graphic design in their everyday lives. As graphic design has been
categorized as part of the communication industry, all design work is used in order to
communicate with the public, and therefore designers must understand how the public will react
to such communications. Graphic designer Gordon Salchow explains, “[Graphic design’s] peers
are the liberal arts, such as music and literature, rather than architecture or industrial design,”
therefore stepping away from the industrial arts (Ommen 107). Graphic design has also been
2
interpreted as more primitive than the fine arts in order to be more attainable for the masses,
even if the masses do not realize such a thing is happening (Ommen 107).
In order to contextualize how students perceive design, it is first crucial to understand
what the design scholars believe to be “good” or “bad” design. This study therefore looks at the
“dos” and “don’ts” of design by looking at “how to” books with the understanding that any
techniques that are considered to be the “right” way to design is essentially the same as saying
“this is what works.”
Having surveyed background research, the second part of this study will explain the
survey of students and the survey’s results. This survey will follow the review of design scholars’
overall established design methodologies. It will then be analyzed according to design scholars’
previous studies and principles as well as students’ majors, genders, and class rankings.
Hypothesis
This study’s likely conclusion will be that non-design students will be likely to be fond of
design styles that designers consider to be bad and/or the worst design choices. This study also
hopes to better explain to non-designers what better design choices are and why these better
choices should be upheld.
Operative definitions
This study mostly focuses on how college students see and respond to typography, or the
“arrangement and specification of type in preparation for printing” (Livingston and Livingston
237). In typography, the specific design of letters and other typographical symbols make up a
typeface, or “alphabet created for the purpose of reproduction [...] [a]vailable in a wide variety of
designs and sizes” (235). The word typeface tends to be confused with font, which is a full set of
glyphs, or designs of letters, in a given size (Bringhurst 339). Put simply by Ellen Lupton, director
3
of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), “A typeface is
the design of the letterforms; a font is the delivery mechanism” (Lupton 81).
Typefaces include capital or upper case letters—those letters that will begin a sentence or
a proper noun—and lower case letters, which are the small letters in the alphabet and are used at
all other times. The very top of the capital letters is called the cap height, which determines the
total height of all the letters in the line (Lupton 37). The bottom line that the letters sit on is called
the baseline (37). Approximately halfway between these lines is the x-height, or the height of the
main body of lowercase letters, and gets its name from the height of the lowercase letter “x” (37).
Lowercase letters also have extenders, or parts of the letter that extend below the baseline—
descenders—or above the x-height—ascenders (Bringhurst 339).
When type is in a large block of text, it is called a body copy or body text, and usually
comprises of the principal mass of content (Lupton 87). When this text is white, or another light
color, on a black background, or another dark color, this is called reversed type (Lupton 104). In
large quantities, reversed type is difficult to read.
Kerning is the adjustment of space between two letters (Lupton 102). This is occasionally
needed because the space between certain letters may be too large or too small. Adding or
subtracting space between a large amount of text at once—such as an entire sentence or
paragraph—is called tracking or letterspacing (Lupton 104). Adding space in between is called
positive tracking and subtracting space is called negative tracking. Negative tracking is usually
not desirable at small text sizes as it can be difficult to read (104). Tracking is measured in
thousands of an em, or the distance equal to the type size (Bringhurst 339).
There are several broad categories by which typefaces can be defined. Serif typefaces,
also known as roman, are those that possess “characteristic terminal stroke[s] normally at the
bottom of main strokes of letters,” (Livingston and Livingston 217). Some main serif typefaces
4
include Baskerville, Caslon, Garamond, and Georgia, all of which are used in this study. The first
is Baskerville, designed by John Baskerville (1706–75), which features “generous proportions and
wide, open characters” (27)
1
. Caslon, based on William Caslon’s “Caslon Old Face” designed
around 1725, is based on Dutch typefaces of the late 17
th
century
2
. Used for the first mass-
produced printing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Caslon includes characters of
generous proportions as well, and helped revive British typographic standards at the time of its
creation. The typeface also carried the axiom, “When in doubt, use Caslon,” and incidentally
was used for the first biography of John Baskerville (Garfield 102–3). Another typeface used in
this study is Garamond, designed by Claude Garamond (1480–1561), which flaunts a relatively
large x-height, and was one of many typefaces revived in the early 1920s (106)
3
. As Simon
Garfield so eloquently puts it in Just My Type, “The alphabet is full of contrast and movement but
with a precision of line and elegant serifs […] Garamond may be the first typeface many of us
encounter, being used for the Dr Seuss books and the US editions of Harry Potter” (Garfield 92).
The last serif typeface used in this study is Georgia, created by Matthew Carter (1937– ), the
most legible and adaptable screen font (Garfield 68) for Microsoft (260)
4
.
Serif’s juxtapositional counterpart, sans serif, is a “typeface characterized by letters
without serif forms and with main strokes of consistent thickness” (Livingston and Livingston
212). Possibly the most ubiquitous sans serif typeface is Helvetica, designed in 1957 by the Swiss
type foundry Haas and features a tall x-height and strokes of uniform width, rendering it easy to
read in a wide range of sizes (124)
5
. Also used in this study is Futura, a classic German typeface
designed by Paul Renner (1878–1956), featuring a bold and geometric design (105)
6
.
In addition to serif and sans serif, there is also another broad category commonly known
as decorative type, a conglomeration of typefaces that may or may not fit into the categories of
5
serif and sans serif, but are generally not used for long bodies of text as they are difficult to read.
As Seddon explains, these typefaces’ appeal relies on the “newness of its design” (Adams et al.
36). Within this category, there are at least a handful of typefaces that designers consider to be
“bad,” or generally inappropriate for use. The worst and most ubiquitous offender, Comic Sans,
is a sans serif typeface designed by Vincent Connare in 1994 based on the lettering used in 20th
century American comics. Its letters give it a “jaunty, childlike quality” that has made it popular
for informal documents, though its frequent use in professional documents has created
widespread denunciation, especially by those in the professional design community (Livingston
and Livingston 58)
7
. Comic Sans was designed for the Microsoft Bob, a word processing software
package intended to be user-friendly with a cartoon dog. Although Comic Sans was eventually
not used for Bob and instead used for Microsoft Movie Maker, Connare wished for the typeface
to be used for Microsoft’s educational software for children (Garfield 11–15). Another typeface
that draws criticism and is used in this paper is Papyrus, designed by Chris Costello for
Letraset
8
. Alone, Papyrus is not a terrible font, but it has reached the ubiquitous phase of being
so cliché for anything from schoolchildren’s reports on Egypt to restaurant menus—even the
James Cameron film Avatar—since its creation in the mid-1980s (Garfield 307).
Another decorative typeface, though not terrible like the others, is Snell Roundhand [Snell
Roundhand]
9
, another typeface by Matthew Carter. Based on the eighteenth-century
calligraphic style (Garfield 68), Snell Roundhand was chosen for this study because of its usability
as a generic calligraphic typeface. This typeface fits into the category of decorative type that
should not be used for long bodies of text. It also fits into the decorative subcategory of “script,”
meaning “any typeface that emulates handwriting, whether connected cursive or informal print”
(Coles 13). In this case, Snell Roundhand is a connected cursive typeface.
6
Significance of study
The end goal of graphic design is to communicate ideas to the public—if the public
doesn’t understand the material, then the designer has most likely failed. Of course, this is a
highly subjective topic, as one person, for example, may associate the color red with anger and
another person may associate it with hunger. Therefore if a restaurant’s red logo evokes the
feeling with anger instead of hunger, the logo designer has been unsuccessful. However, this is
not to say that graphic design is in and of itself a language, as people tend to not understand it.
Gordon Salchow suggested that he would like to change this problem by educating individuals
more about design (Ommen 108).
In order for the designs to be successful, it is important for the designer to know the rules
of color theory (though not included in this study), typography, and overall design techniques, all
of which have been honed through the years. Designer Jonathan Branbrook proposes that
graphic design “is and always will be about solving a communication problem; it’s just that the
definition of the problem and the many differing ways of communicating have changed”
(Ommen 109). Thousands of books—ranging from how-to books to textbooks—have been
published to define such rules for potential designers to communicate. Though there are few
academic studies conducted with which to fill these books, their content derives mostly from
years of trial and error.
But although designers widely know the rules of design, the average consumer tends to be
bewildered by the motivation behind the designs they see every day. As Michael Bierut explains,
“the purpose of graphic design is to provide graphic designers with a medium of self expression
(great for designers with something to express, not-so-great for designers with access to a lot of
Photoshop filters)… to change the world by subverting the goals of its corporate patrons… [or] to
7
provide a medium for designers to act as ‘authors’” (Bierut 64). He then points out, “For what is
great about Swiss modernism [a design style with a lot of Helvetica] was that anyone could do it.
You didn’t have to have an authorial point of view, political conviction, or even be particularly
talented” (64). Therefore graphic design is there for everyone to create and experience, even
without any formal training. Consumers and amateur designers may then enjoy what designers
would consider unacceptable, such as the typeface Comic Sans (there is even a book titled Thou
Shall Not Use Comic Sans) or typing long paragraphs in all capital letters. As consumers are prone to
these amateurish graphic design practices, designers may try to take it upon themselves to fix
such wrongdoings and teach non-designers why certain techniques should or shouldn’t be used.
As a result, non-designers could hopefully learn how to better communicate visual ideas to others
in a more professional and appealing manner.
Survey of literature
The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst is one of the most important books
about typography. First published in 1992 and now in its fourth edition, the book sports a review
by Hermann Zapf, German typeface designer, as he states, “I wish to see this book become the
Typographers’ Bible” (Bringhurst). The manual acts as a style guide, a history lesson, and an
encyclopedia on typographic concepts and symbols. This book has been an important part of this
study as it helps explain the fundamentals of the craft and why certain styles should or should not
be used.
If The Elements of Typographic Style is the typographers’ Bible, then Thou Shall Not Use Comic
Sans by Sean Adams, Peter Dawson, John Foster, and Tony Seddon is the Ten Commandments.
However, this book does not stop at ten and rather continues to 365 examples of graphic design
“sins and virtues.”
8

Another typography handbook used in this study is Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton of
Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. Lupton uses this book in courses she
teaches and acts as an invaluable resource and textbook for design students. The resource was
used to understand the “proper” way to design with type which was then translated into the
study’s survey.
Another two books that aided this study by defining graphic design concepts are The
Anatomy of Type, by Stephen Coles, and The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Graphic Design and
Designers by Alan and Isabella Livingston. The Anatomy of Type also examines letterforms closely
and in-depth. The Dictionary of Graphic Design and Designers is part of a series of books from Thames
& Hudson’s art and design history and reference books.
In Just My Type, Simon Garfield provides an in-depth history of typography styles and
specific typefaces, giving insight to how design trends have shaped the world. This book has
proved useful for defining the typefaces used in this study and especially gives context to the
history of Comic Sans, as Comic Sans is generally not acceptable enough to be included in
graphic design manuals, due to its unacceptability in the graphic design world.
Get Real: The Need for Effective Design Research by Christopher Nemeth helped contextualize
graphic design with the act of research. As graphic design is grouped with communications, it
tends to be the “practice of visualization in order to inform and/or persuade” (Nemeth 94).
Nemeth explains that there are many design philosophies that guide how designers make design
decisions, one of which stems from semiotics, or the study, understanding, and interpretation of
what the audience sees (94). Designers also use their knowledge of human factors, or human
limits and abilities of perception, cognition, and visual sensation (such as the inability to read
small text from far away) to cater to viewers’ needs (95).
9
A dissertation by Brett Richard Ommen, The Protocol of Display: Graphic Design and Public
Imagination, gave more academic insight to graphic design for this study. When it comes to the
differences between graphic design and art, Ommen explains, “It is a paradoxical position for
graphic design, in that it is disparaged for engaging an audience that is too broad to be
appropriately appreciative of the presumed complexities of fine art, and that the only way to
solve this problem is to refine its visual practices so that meaning becomes clearer” (Ommen
104). Because much of the audience consists of non-designers, the beautiful designs made are
essentially “dumbed down” for those who are not well versed in design, such as those who may
enjoy Comic Sans. Ommen also explains that designs work best when the designer can predict
what viewers will feel and think of while viewing a design. As there are so many different types of
people with different viewpoints, this concept rarely succeeds (Ommen 192). Understanding this
concept is essential to this study, as it is important to remember that everyone has his or her own
biases when it comes to seeing or reading anything, including design.
A study by Sofie Beier and Kevin Larson, How does typeface familiarity affect reading performance
and reader preference? focuses on how the familiarity of each letter we read may have developed
from a lifetime of exposure to common letter shapes. The study also posits that by spending time
reading from a particular typeface, a person would become more familiar and thus read more
efficiently. The study found that common letter shapes are not, in fact, important to reading as
unfamiliar letter shapes were. The study also found that reading speed would improve through
exposure (Beier and Larson 29).
Emotion in Typographic Design: An Empirical Examination by Beth Koch studies forty-two
participants’ examinations of six typographic alphabets to determine whether typefaces produce
emotional response, whether these emotional responses are the same from person to person, and
whether certain emotions are associated with particular parts of the typeface design (such as
10
serifs) (Koch 208). The participants viewed a typeface in the form of an alphabet while looking at
twelve cartoons portraying a range of emotions, and they were told to choose which emotion fit
the typeface. The typefaces used were five types of Helvetica in varying weights (thickness) and
one serif typeface for comparison (210-211). The study found that subjects did respond to
typefaces in a “statistically significant” level of emotion (216). There were significant differences
between typefaces with heavy weights (thicker lines) and lighter weights (thinner lines). Overall,
Helvetica Ultra Light (a very thin line) was associated with desire, Helvetica Bold (slightly thicker
than the usual Helvetica) with fear, Helvetica Condensed Bold (narrow letters with thick lines)
with joy, and Helvetica Bold Extended (wider letters with thick lines) with fear and sadness (216).
The study concluded by saying that designers should acknowledge and study how their designs
can affect human emotions (226).
Procedure
To conduct research in how students view design, a survey was presented to college and
university students with the use of Google Docs, an online service provided by Google. All
responses were given within a two-week period, and could have been answered by using a
computer or mobile device. The survey began with five questions that identify the students’
gender, year in college or university (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, or graduate student),
major(s) and minor(s), whether or not they have taken a course in graphic design, and if they
have, to explain what general type of courses. The survey then went on to ask eight questions
about students’ design preferences in “this or that” scenarios. In each question, the respondent
was shown two versions of a body of text, with each version in a different style.
The first set of design examples exhibited the sentence “The quick, brown fox jumps over
a lazy dog” in the typefaces Comic Sans (option A) and Helvetica (option B). The respondents
11
were asked which body of text was most appealing. Comic Sans is one of the most terrible
typefaces according to designers—considered to be so bad that its creator, Connare, believes so
many people enjoy it because it’s “not like a typeface” (Adams et al. 13)— that pairing it with a
generally more likable and omnipresent typeface such as Helvetica would be a good way to
gauge Comic Sans’ likability.
The second set of design examples presented the same sentence, “The quick, brown fox
jumps over a lazy dog” in Baskerville (option A) and Papyrus (option B). The respondents were
again asked which body of text was most appealing. Like Comic Sans, Papyrus is a typeface that
has become overused in inappropriate ways, with multiple websites dedicated to explaining its
awful design
10
. This is an example of what Adams calls a “trendy typeface,” and as such it will
not always triumph over other typefaces (Adams et al. 21).
The third set of design examples exhibited the same sentence, “The quick, brown fox
jumps over a lazy dog” in Baskerville (option A) and Helvetica (option B). Unlike the previous
two questions, the choices are not between an unsatisfactory typeface and a superior typeface;
rather, the choices are between two superior typefaces, one serif and one sans serif. The
respondents were also asked which body of text was most appealing. Though there is no “right”
answer in this case, as the survey was given via the web, the sans serif Helvetica would be
considered the appropriate choice as it fits into Bringhurst’s explanation of what variety of
typefaces are best for computers: “faces with low contrast,”—Helvetica has little to no contrast
between each stroke or line—“a large torso, open counters, sturdy terminals”—endpoints of each
letter—“and slab serifs”—serifs with horizontal lines on the top and bottom—“or no serifs at all”
(Bringhurst 194).
The fourth set of design examples featured a longer section of text. Both examples were
written in the serif typeface Georgia, the first in reversed type, or white text on a black
12
background (option A), and the second in regular type (option B), both with a sentence from The
Wizard of Oz
11
. The respondents were asked which paragraph they would rather read. In this
case, the option B would be the correct response as option A is more difficult to read. Foster
explains, “There are few truths as self-evident as the fact that black text on a white background is
the easiest way for the eye to digest information and communicate it back to our brain” (Adams
et al. 56). This question seeks to determine if this “self-evident” truth holds up when the average
student is given the choice of black on white or white on black.
The fifth set of design examples featured five short lines of text, the first in Garamond
(option A) and the second in a decorative typeface, Snell Roundhand (option B). The text given
was from The Wizard of Oz
12
. The respondents were again asked which paragraph they would
rather read. In this case, option B is more difficult to read. Seddon explains, using decorative
typefaces for body copy “breaks all the rules of legibility and readability (and taste, quite frankly)”
(Adams et al. 34–36).
The sixth set of design examples featured another long section of text from The Wizard of
Oz
13
, with option A written in mixed uppercase & lowercase letters, as it would be read in a book,
and option B in all capital letters. Both examples were written in Futura, a sans serif typeface.
The respondents were asked which of these paragraphs they would rather read. Dawson explains
that it is easier to read text with mixed lowercase and uppercase as all capital letters do not have
ascenders and descenders. The ascenders and descenders of lowercase letters help the reader
distinguish specific letters more easily, resulting in faster reading, whereas all capital letters have
the same general shape (Adams et al. 55).
The seventh set of design examples featured five short lines of text, again from The Wizard
of Oz
14
. The letters in option B were written as normal, and the letters in option A had its
tracking at -50 thousanths of an em. Both examples were written in the serif Adobe Caslon Pro.
13
The respondents were again asked which of these paragraphs they would rather read. The use of
negative tracking, or negative letter spacing, should not be done as the letters have not been
designed that way and therefore will be difficult to read (Adams et al. 74).
The eighth and final set of design examples featured partial résumés of a fictional student.
Option A was designed from a sample provided by Rider University’s Career Services, and
option B was designed in a more “appealing” and less generic way
15
. The respondents were
asked which example they found more appealing and effective.
Findings, analysis, and interpretation of data
There were a total of
101 university/college student
respondents. Of all
respondents, 35.6% (36
respondents) were male, 63.4%
(64 respondents) were female,
1% (1 respondent) identified as
a non-binary gender, and 0%
did not wish to answer (Figure
1). Of all respondents, 13.9% (14 respondents)
were freshmen in college, 6.9% (7
respondents) were sophomores in college,
20.8% (21 respondents) were juniors in
college, 55.4% (56 respondents) were seniors
in college, and 3% (3 respondents) were
Figure 2
Figure 1
14
graduate students. Of all respondents, 32.7% (33 respondents) said they had taken a graphic
design course before and 67.3% (68 respondents) said they had not (Figure 2). For those who had
taken a course before, their experience in graphic design ranged between classes in high school,
beginner classes as a part of their communication degree at Rider University, and more in-depth
design classes as a graphic or web design major and/or minor.
When asked for their
preference between Comic Sans and
Helvetica, 37.6% (38 respondents)
preferred Comic Sans and 62.4% (63
respondents) preferred Helvetica
(Figure 3). Helvetica is therefore the
majority choice, a fact that designers
would applaud, however the
prevalence of Comic Sans is higher
than those who would rather have the typeface banished would like. Of those who have not
taken a design course, 36.8% (25 respondents) said they preferred Comic Sans and 63.2% (43
respondents) said they preferred Helvetica. These percentages are almost identical to the overall
total, suggesting that design education will
not necessarily sway a person’s tastes into
the direction of their design superiors.
When asked for their preference
between Baskerville and Papyrus, 53.5% (54
respondents) preferred Baskerville and
Figure 4
Figure 3
15
46.5% (47 respondents) preferred Papyrus (Figure 4). Though not as taboo as Comic Sans,
Papyrus’ popularity is much higher than anti-Papyrus designers would like. Of those who have
not taken a design course, the results were even closer, split evenly at 34 respondents each. When
asked for their preference between the serif typeface Baskerville and the sans serif typeface
Helvetica, 36.6% (37 respondents) preferred Baskerville and 63.4% (64 respondents) preferred
Helvetica. Of non-designers, 40% (27 respondents) chose Baskerville and 60% (41 respondents)
chose Helvetica (Figure 5). It makes
sense that Helvetica would be more
appealing as the survey was given via
an electronic device, having lacked
serifs and thus being more readable.
When asked for their
preference between reversed type
(white text on a black background) or
black text on a white background, 27.7% (28 respondents) preferred reversed type and 72.3% (73
respondents) preferred black text on white (Figure 6). Of non-designers, 31% (21 respondents)
chose reversed type and 69% (47
respondents) chose black text on a
white background. The prevalence of
black text on white holds true to Thou
Shall Not Use Comic Sans’ lesson to not
have excessive reversed type, as the
Figure 6
Figure 5
16
majority would rather not read in such a way (Adams et al. 56).
When asked for their preference
between the serif typeface Garamond and the
decorative script Snell Roundhand, 97.03%
(98 respondents) preferred Garamond and
2.97% (3 respondents) preferred Snell
Roundhand. This was the expected response,
as respondents were expected to choose the
more readable choice, Garamond (Figure 7).
Non-designers’ responses also hold true to this
theory, as 96% (65 respondents) chose Garamond and 4% (3 respondents) chose Snell
Roundhand. Of designers, no respondents chose the script typeface.
When asked for their preference between uppercase and lowercase letters together or all
capital letters, 94.06% (95 respondents) preferred uppercase/lowercase and 5.94% (6
respondents) preferred all capitals (Figure 8). This was also the respected response, as
uppercase/lowercase is more
legible. Like the previous
question, 96% respondents chose
uppercase/lowercase and 4% (3
respondents) chose all capitals.
However, the three respondents
who chose Snell Roundhand and
the three respondents who chose
Figure 7
Figure 8
17
all capital letters were not the same three people, they were six different people.
When asked for their preference
between tight tracking and normal
tracking, 12.9% (13 respondents)
preferred tight tracking and 87.1% (88
respondents) preferred normal tracking
(Figure 9). Of non-designers, 13% (9
respondents) chose tight tracking and
87% (59 respondents) chose normal
tracking. This corresponds with the Thou
Shall Not Use Comic Sans’ commandment to not use excessive tight tracking, so it is clear that this
rule is sound when put into practice for others to read (Adams et al. 74).
When asked for their preference between a generic résumé and a designed résumé,
61.4% (62 respondents) preferred the generic and 38.6% (39 respondents) preferred the designed.
Of non-designers, 63% (43
respondents) preferred the
non-designed résumé and 37%
(25 respondents) chose the one
better designed. It is also
interesting to note that it would
make sense for designers to
choose a better-designed and
non-generic résumé. However, of designers, 58% (19 respondents) preferred the generic résumé
Figure 10
Figure 9
18
and 42% (14 respondents) preferred the designed one. This seems odd, as graphic designers must
convey their design expertise through their résumés to potential employers. Of course, not all
“designers” in this category would necessarily consider themselves to be designers. If those
students who have only taken an entry-level course in design and are not planning on being
designers are eliminated from this total, the numbers largely do not change. We are then left with
only 16 designers, and 63% of them (10 respondents) prefer the generic and 38% (6 respondents)
prefer the designed. However, the total number is very low which does not give much room for
error.
Implications of findings
Graphic designers will find these results most interesting. By knowing what the non-
designers of the world like, they may take that into consideration and design to these tastes.
Designers may otherwise take it upon themselves to try to change non-designers’ minds about
certain types of design—Anti-Comic Sans designers have already been trying to do this.
Businesses that create any type of visual material to persuade or communicate with
consumers will also find this information interesting and useful because knowing what consumers
think will always help facilitate communication.
Non-designers can look at this study and learn more about graphic design principles so
they too can communicate better visually with others. Even if they do not know much about
design, learning more about design with these findings is a good place to start so they can learn
what not to do.
Further research
The hypothesis that non-design students are fond of unsatisfactory design styles has
proven to be true to some extent. Some questions—such as the serif vs. script and
19
uppercase/lowercase vs. all capital letters—had an overwhelming majority of responses that are
consistent with the “correct” way to design. Other questions were much closer, such as the choice
between Baskerville and Papyrus. Though the results of the majority of questions were congruous
with what designers have established as what should generally be done, the last question about
résumés proved to be opposite of expectations. However, as the question asked which was “most
appealing and, most of all, effective,” respondents may have taken the effectiveness to correspond
with what businesses and colleges might tell them is effective, especially as the non-designed
résumé is adapted directly from a sample from Rider University’s Career Services. At least one
non-designer respondent thought exactly this, as she later voluntarily explained, “[the designed
résumé] was very theater major … I just sat through a whole panel on résumé writing where they
basically went ‘don’t get cute it’s a résumé.’”
As respondents were not asked why they chose the way they did, there is no way to gain
insight in how those who responded adversely to designers’ expectations chose the “wrong
answer” without further research. There is also no way to tell if any respondents randomly chose
answers, thereby rendering some answers unusable.
Were I to do this research again, the last question about résumés would be changed or
omitted. I would also try to have more respondents. Adding questions that relate to color theory
may also prove useful, though computer screen calibrations and respondents with color blindness
would have to be taken into account. Asking respondents why they responded the way they did
and other open-ended questions would also help gain more insight to the consumers’ minds when
it comes to design. Asking questions such as “Do you like [Typeface A]?” instead of “Which
typeface do you like better?” may also prove useful, as respondents may have chosen one option
simply because they hate the other, and may not actually like the one they chose.

20



1
This paper is written in Baskerville.
2
This study uses a slight variation of Caslon, titled “Adobe Caslon Pro,” which is designed as
follows: “Te quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.”
3
Garamond is as follows: “The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.”
4
Georgia is as follows: “The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.”
5
Helvetica is as follows: “The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.”
6
Futura is as follows: “The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.”
7
The ubiquitous Comic Sans is as follows: “The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog,
upset it was associated with Comic Sans.”
8
Papyrus is as follows: “The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.”
9
Snell Roundhand is as follows: “The quick brown fox jumped over a lazy dog.”
10
One such website is papyruswatch.com. Similar Comic Sans websites include
bancomicsans.com and comicsanscriminal.com.
11
The text for the fourth question read:
From the far north they heard a low wail of the wind, and Uncle Henry and Dorothy could see
where the long grass bowed in waves before the coming storm.
12
The text for the fifth question read:
“And now, said Dorothy, “how am I to get back to Kansas?” “We shall have to think about
that,” replied the little man. “Give me two or three days to consider the matter and I’ll try to find
a way to carry you over the desert.”
13
The text for the sixth question read:
Next morning the Scarecrow said to his friends: “Congratulate me. I am going to Oz to get my
brains at last. When I return I shall be as other men are.” “I have always liked you as you were,”
said Dorothy simply.
14
The text for the seventh question read:
“Have you brains?” asked the Scarecrow. “I suppose so. I’ve never looked to see,” replied the
Lion. “I am going to the Great Oz to ask him to give me some,” remarked the Scarecrow, “for
my head is stuffed with straw.”
15
Examples of these résumé styles can be found on the attached copy of the original survey.







21

Annotated Bibliography
Adams, Sean, et al. Thou Shall Not Use Comic Sans: 365 Graphic Design Sins and Virtues : a Designer's
Almanac of Dos and Don'ts. Berkeley: Peachpit, 2012. Print. This typography book outlines
365 graphic design examples of what to do and what not to do.
Beier, Sofie, and Kevin Larson. "How Does Typeface Familiarity Affect Reading Performance
And Reader Preference?."Information Design Journal (IDJ) 20.1 (2013): 16-31. Communication
& Mass Media Complete. Web. 22 Apr. 2014. This study focuses on the familiarity of
letterforms and whether or not their familiarity affects readability.
Bierut, Michael. Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007.
Print. A collection of essays by Bierut relating to graphic design and a vast range of topics.
Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. 4th ed. Seattle: Hartley & Marks, 1992. Print.
The manual acts as a style guide, a history lesson, and an encyclopedia on typographic
concepts and symbols.
Coles, Stephen. The Anatomy of Type: A Graphic Guide to 100 Typefaces. New York: Harper Design,
2012. Print. This book examines typographical letterforms up-close and in-depth,
comparing each with letterforms of other typefaces.
Garfield, Simon. Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.
Provides an in-depth history of typography styles and specific typefaces, giving insight to
how design trends have shaped the world.
Koch, Beth E. "Emotion In Typographic Design: An Empirical Examination." Visible Language
46.3 (2012): 206-227.OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Web. 23 Apr. 2014. A study
that surveyed how people emotionally feel when viewing certain typefaces.
22

Livingston, Alan, and Isabella Livingston. The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Graphic Design and
Designers. 3rd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2012. Print. Part of a series of books from
Thames & Hudson’s art and design history and reference books. This particular book is a
dictionary of topics related to graphic design.
Lupton, Ellen. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students. 2nd ed.
New York: Princeton Architectural, 2010. Print. A typography manual for graphic design
students.
Nemeth, Christopher. "Get Real: The Need For Effective Design Research." Visible Language 37.1
(2003): 92-109. OmniFile Full Text Mega (H.W. Wilson). Web. 26 Feb. 2014. This paper
addresses recent influences on the practice of graphic design, the opportunity for
graphic design to evolve in such a professional direction, and the methods that will
support that change towards professionalism.
Ommen, Brett Richard. The Protocol of Display: Graphic Design and Public Imagination. Ann Arbor:
Northwestern University, 2007. ProQuest. Web. 8 Mar. 2014.
<http://library.rider.edu:4048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/304816
086?accountid=37385>. This project examines the relationship between public life and
graphic design in order to understand how graphic design functions as a form of
education. The study was a dissertation for partial fulfillment of the requirements for a
doctorate in philosophy at Northwestern University.


Page 1 of 2
Graphic Design Research Survey
Please take the time to complete this short survey regarding how students view design.
1. Your major(s) and minor(s): ________________________________________________
2. Are you a: □ Freshman □ Sophomore □ Junior □ Senior □ Graduate Student
3. What is your gender? □ Male □ Female □ Non-binary □ Do not wish to answer
4. Have you ever taken a course in graphic design? □ Yes □ No
5. If so, please explain. __________________________________________________________________
6. Which body of text is most appealing?
a. The quick, brown fox jumps over a lazy dog. b. The quick, brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.
7. Which body of text is most appealing?
a. The quick, brown fox jumps over a lazy dog. b. The quick, brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.
8. Which body of text is most appealing?
a. The quick, brown fox jumps over a lazy dog. b. The quick, brown fox jumps over a lazy dog.
9. What paragraph would you rather read?
a. From the far north they heard a low wail of the
wind, and Uncle Henry and Dorothy could see
where the long grass bowed in waves before the
coming storm.
b. From the far north they heard a low wail of the
wind, and Uncle Henry and Dorothy could see
where the long grass bowed in waves before the
coming storm.
10. What paragraph would you rather read?
a. “And now,” said Dorothy, “how am I to get back
to Kansas?” “We shall have to think about that,”
replied the little man. “Give me two or three days to
consider the matter and I’ll try to fnd a way to carry
you over the desert.
b. “And now,” said Dorothy, “how am I to get back to
Kansas?” “We shall have to think about that,” replied
the little man. “Give me two or three days to consider the
matter and I’ll try to fnd a way to carry you over the
desert.
Page 2 of 2
11. What paragraph would you rather read?
a. Next morning the Scarecrow said to his friends:
“Congratulate me. I am going to Oz to get my
brains at last. When I return I shall be as other
men are.” “I have always liked you as you
were,” said Dorothy simply.
b. NEXT MORNING THE SCARECROW SAID TO
HIS FRIENDS: “CONGRATULATE ME. I AM
GOING TO OZ TO GET MY BRAINS AT LAST.
WHEN I RETURN I SHALL BE AS OTHER MEN
ARE.” “I HAVE ALWAYS LIKED YOU AS YOU
WERE,” SAID DOROTHY SIMPLY.
12. What paragraph would you rather read?
a. “Have you brains?” asked the Scarecrow. “I suppose
so. I’ve never looked to see,” replied the Lion. “I
am going to the Great Oz to ask him to give me
some,” remarked the Scarecrow, “for my head is
stufed with straw.”
b. “Have you brains?” asked the Scarecrow. “I suppose
so. I’ve never looked to see,” replied the Lion. “I
am going to the Great Oz to ask him to give me
some,” remarked the Scarecrow, “for my head is
stufed with straw.”
13. Of these two partial résumés, which do you fnd to be more appealing and, most of all, efective?
a. b.
Please share this with other Rider students online at dft.ba/-RiderGDSurvey. If you’ve already taken the survey,
please do not take it again! If you have any questions, contact Katie Hambor (hambork@rider.edu)