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Read the room

Nour Sulaiman


The Signage Design Manual published by Lars Muller, a graphic designer, allows us an insight into the concerns of one of the many people and other professions who can affect the gallery environment other than the curator and the exhibiting photographer.

The book is about visual design and leads the reader step by step through the individual phases of signage design. More than 800 illustrations guide the readers through the demanding process . The combination of wide coverage and precise, detailed information makes this book accessible to a broad spectrum of readers, from information and graphic designers to architects and professionals of every stripe who are involved with signal design on any level. To preview a sample of the book there is a sample online, which allows you to read and browse through chapters. For example, the book includes screen type, size, font and signal design which all link to the curating photography module.

Readability is how easy it is to read words, phrases such as books or articles. Legibility is a measure of how easy it is to distinguish one letter from another in a particular typeface. For example smaller text size, enough line to maximise readability.

Legibility is important due to the way the text is displayed which makes the text easier to read and more interesting.

In the text Smitshijzen states “readability is a slightly more complex process than is a, because its likely that most of us read, not by recognising strings of individual letters…” .

His opinions are further explained by the plethora of evidence he shrewdly interrogates.

However, Smiitshijzen suggests that viewers are able to read what looks closest to what we learnt, or accustomed to read.

Serif and sans are two different types of typeface. Sans has shown through significant research to increase both the readability and how fast a text is read, due to guiding the way the eye travels across a line, in particular when there is relatively open word spacing. Others dispute this view point, suggesting what we read most - serif typefaces and fonts - benefit viewers best, such as is the case in lengthy tracts of text in printed books and newspapers.

Typefaces are not all designed to be legible. For example, some legibility text design anticipates to hold the reader's attention for the length of the copy, due to conveying a certain type of mood when viewing the paper. All caps could be a disadvantage when reading a text due to the lack of ascenders and descenders, sticking to upper and lowercase when reading is suitable and beneficial.

The rest of the book, Smitshuijzen identifies all the parties possibly responsible for the signage project, for example from the psychologist to the architectures. The different groups explain how the signage design can be used in each department effectively, due to layout and typography options, production techniques,mixed media and pictogram style. The design can come in handy when used correctly, as an actual checklist.

Typography is the use of type and typeface is the making of the type. For example, typeface is the overall design of lettering which includes variations such as bold, regular, light, italic etc. Typography plays a vital role in setting the overall tone of the website, and ensures a great user experience. Typeface and typography include general aspects, visual order and spacing. Smitshuijzen states that the general aspects has four major factors : psychological that deals with style and identity, physiological that deals with visual perception, a practical function and a technical function.

The book explains that the fundamental characteristic of typography links to visual design, as the letters work together to complete the text, hence being linked to musical harmony.

The visual order must be clear and sophisticated, refined and consistent to work, as a professional form. For example, by size, spacing, stroke thickness and colour.

I completely agree with Smitshuijzen point that typography link to visual design, as particularly when viewing the text our eyes adapt quicker when reading an effective visual order that's aesthetically pleasing.


Sulaiman, N. (2020) 'Read the room' in Curating Photography: Poolside. TU Dublin: BA Photography [Online]. Available at


Smitshuijzen, E. (2007). ‘Creating visual design: legibility and readability’ in Signage design manual. Baden: Lars Muller Publishers.

Smitshuijzen, E. (2007). ‘Creating visual design: typography and typefaces’ in Signage design manual. Baden: Lars Muller Publishers.


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