This entry is part 16 of 43 in the series Words

I was just a few seconds ago scanning a page of possible tests in the program DocuTAP, a list of about fifty items, to enter an order for an EKG. On the list, everything is in ALL CAPS. Even though I knew the approximate location of what I was looking for, it took me a long time to find “EKG.” I think if all the other entries on the page, things likeALLCAPS


WERE (whoops, sorry, need to hit the CapsLock key) were in Mixed Case, it would have been much easier to find.

As a standard part of netiquette, one is NOT SUPPOSED TO SHOUT. So simply from a viewpoint of politeness, this list should be in mixed case. Coders: don’t make your computer program SHOUT AT THE USERS ALL THE TIME. And, we have known since 1914 that ALL CAPS is harder to read than Mixed Case.

DocuTAPThere are rules of typography, most succinctly and eruditely expressed in Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style.

Most of these rules are designed to make type easier and more pleasurable to read.

Modern typography sometimes uses

A L L   C A P S 


for certain artistic purposes, particularly in headings. But it’s usually used with extra letter-spacing, and extra white space above and below, to allow readability. This is most emphatically not the case in the DocuTAP list.  Lest I seem to be singling out DocuTAP (which also violates other rules of typography by sometimes having three different sans-serif typefaces on a single page), let me say that many medical programs have  typography that is even worse.

The book The Ten Commandments of Typography/Type Heresy says about allcaps that “THE TEXT MAY MAKE MORE OF A DEMAND ON THE READER BUT WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH THAT?”

This is OK if you’re creating something that is designed to make demands on the reader, like a website or poster for the Holocaust museum.Holocaust Museum Poster

It is most emphatically not OK if you’re coding a program that I have to use over and over again, when I’m very busy, and often distracted by lots of interruptions.

Want to make an improvement in usability without altering a line of actual code? Change your ALLCAPS to MixedCase.

Knowledge is knowing the rules.

Understanding is knowing how to break the rules.

Wisdom is knowing WHEN (and when not) to break the rules.

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This entry was posted by kconover on Wednesday, February 8th, 2012 at 12:35 pm and is filed under Tutorials . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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