Typographic algorithm could reduce government costs, by reducing letters

Typographic algorithm could reduce government costs, by reducing letters

Inspired by the student who discovered a change of fonts would save the government $370 million a year, Rockhill Design announces its own cost-savings typographic algorithm.

Dubbed the Font Optimization/Optional Letters algorithm, the system could save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars by omitting certain less-essential letters. The system would have little effect on the general citizenry because they skip over much of what the government prints anyway.

Backed by science

The new algorithm takes advantage of the brain’s tendency to fall into an “inattentional blindness,” according to Rockhill Design typographic engineer Kelly Matthews, who created the algorithm. Inattentional blindness occurs when the brain “fills in” what it expects to see, rather than what is actually right in front of its own face, if it’s logical to say the brain has a face. Remaining in a state of high attention is especially difficult when reading government documents.

“Remember the video that asked you to count how many times a basketball is passed?” asked Matthews. “But then you didn’t see the gorilla? Same thing goes with written language. As the old saying goes, you sometimes miss the letters for the words.”

“Did you see the gorilla in my last sentence? There wasn’t one. Never mind.”

The algorithm also recalls the rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, wihch syas it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae.

The rscheearch has been confirmed as true by the number of times it was shared on social media.

Rockhill’s algorithm already has years of real-world testing.

“Thanks to the ubiquitousness of SMS,” Matthews said, “we have a ready-made data set showing how readers interpret reductions and shortenings of words, and even of omissions of parts of speech. Because texting.”

How the algorithm works

Through a complex series of GREP commands searching for word length and consonant-to-vowel ratios, the Font Optimization/Optional Letters algorithm omits one interior letter, typically a vowel, for every five letters of a word.

“Vowels have been found to be the least important letters of the alphabet when it comes to word comprehension,” Matthews said. “Consonants are most important. And as usual, the letter ‘y’ is impossible to pin down.”

Baked into the algorithm are some important exceptions to aid reader comprehension. The algorithm first seeks out double letters, such as the o‘s and s‘s in “foolishness.” It then chooses the vowel that creates the schwa sound, and then the vowel in the suffixes -ed and -ing.

Although the algorithm concentrates on interior letters, occasional exceptions arise when a word begins with a silent letter, such as “psych.”

Savings could reach hundreds of millions

Thanks to the tendency for federal employees to use long words that are not read by anyone but their own colleagues, the savings for government would be substantial: About $185 million per year. This is more modest than what the student’s font change would net, but even these meager savings would fund the federal government for a full 25 minutes.

“I’m a dreamer,” said Matthews. “If this experiment is successfully implemented, in the far future we may even be able to save much more, by eliminating optional government departments.”

“I mean, one is even called the ‘Department of the Interior.’ It’s like it’s begging for deletion.”

See the results of the algorithm

To see the FO/OL algorithm in action, click the button to read a random Wikipedia article that was fed through the algorithm:

View the FO/OL test page

Readers are welcome to test the article for readability and ink/toner savings on whatever printer may be available.

Rockhill Design intends to release the algorithm as an open-source project in the near future.

Rockhill Design is a print and web creative studio and marketing consultancy. For more information, contact president and chief creative office Jon Swerens via the contact form. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchnge.

‘Just deserts’: Why you’ve always spelled it wrong

‘Just deserts’: Why you’ve always spelled it wrong

It’s spelled “just deserts.” Not “desserts.”

One “s.” Really.

fixit-covers-FINAL-desertsSo why did so many smart people who saw the cover to the right as part of the upcoming “Fix It! Grammar” textbooks think it was wrong?

Because we’re dealing with three different words, spelled similarly or even identically, and with the only difference in pronunciation being the emphasis. But all three come from different etymological directions and with different meanings.

Let’s take them one at a time:

Dessert /dez-ZERT/

By far the yummiest word on this list, dessert comes from the Middle French desservir, meaning to clear the table. The servir part is the root word for serve. So, dessert is the last meal you are served at a meal.

Desert /DEZ-zert/ or /dez-ZERT/

Put the emphasis on the first syllable, and it’s the arid and usually sandy land. If the emphasis is on the second syllable, we’re talking about the act of leaving a place where you would have been of help. Thus: The soldier deserted his desert post.

Both definitions come from the same root word: serere means to join together. To desert means you’re no longer together with a place or a group of people, and a desert is no longer joined to signs of visible life.

Desert /dez-ZERT/

Finally, we arrive at the third meaning, which has fallen out of general use, except for its being preserved in the phrase “just deserts.” The meaning is not a meal, nor is it to leave one’s place. Instead, it means “the quality or fact of meriting reward or punishment.” The root is the Anglo-French deservir, the same as our modern English word deserve. So, for the same reason deserve has only one “s,” desert in the phrase “just deserts” also has one “s.”

“Desert” is not the only otherwise-obsolete word that is preserved for us in the 21st century. Check out these top 12 words that are still in use, only because of a turn of phrase.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Snopes

Photos via Flickr by JettaJet and Aschevogal

Four common locator map errors that make cartographers cringe

Four common locator map errors that make cartographers cringe

Costco-mapHaving someone design a small, simplified map for your customers makes a lot of sense for new businesses. Your location is so new, it’s not in the phone book, in Google Maps or in GPS systems. If you’re a big enough business like Costco, your street might even be brand new.

But I’ve seen enough of these little maps to detect a pattern of small errors that creep their way in. Evidently, good designers are rarely good map editors.

You can fight four kinds of map mishaps by watching for these common errors:

Mislabeled streets

Here is a map from a flyer for the new Costco in Fort Wayne. But Interstate 69 is completely mislabeled as “Lincoln Highway.” Everyone in Fort Wayne knows I-69 was never Lincoln Highway, and, considering its history, Lincoln Highway was never even a four-lane freeway.

If you are tasked with designing a map for an unfamiliar area, consider contracting with someone in that town who can check for obvious errors such as this. You don’t want to look like some out-of-town carpetbagger and don’t know what you’re doing, do you?

Imprecise drawings

The map says Costco’s access road, Value Drive, runs to the west of the store. True enough. But there’s another, better access road from Progress Drive directly to the south of the store. It’s not on the map at all.

Designers, please note how this adds confusion to the shopper trying to drive to your location for the first time. Be as precise as possible when locating entrances and major roads.

Incorrect shields

69-30The shape used for the Interstate 69 shield on the Costco map is incorrect. That six-pointed shape is used for U.S. routes, not interstates. Interstate shields are the red-white-and-blue four-pointed shields. Of course, if color is not available, a one-color shield is acceptable.

If you are designing a map, look through your font of cartography dingbats and find the different shields. If the font is any good at all, both will be represented.

Out-of-date route numbers

Thankfully, this error isn’t found in the Costco map. But it’s extremely common. Fort Wayne and other cities of its size and larger often have built bypasses over the years to carry U.S. and state routes. Local residents often still use those route numbers colloquially, though, which adds to the confusion.

In Fort Wayne, U.S. 33, 30, and 24, and Indiana routes 37 and 14, no longer venture inside the “loop” created by I-69 and I-469. U.S. 27 and Indiana 930 are the only official route numbers that cross the interior of Fort Wayne.

And one bonus point for online:

Non-updated web sites

Even now, with the Fort Wane Costco ready to open in a few days, it’s still not listed in any way on the Costco.com web site.

Study these points well — or ask a map nerd like myself — to make sure that your locator map ends up pretty and precise.

Create a universal QR code for Android Market and iOS App Store

Create a universal QR code for Android Market and iOS App Store

It’s easy enough to create a QR code for a URL using a free online tool. (URLs are web addresses, my non-geeky friends.) There are dozens of them, although this QR code generator from the ZXing Project is a favorite of mine.

But what if you are offering apps for different mobile platforms, such as iOS and Android? How do you make a QR code that somehow “knows” what kind of device is scanning the code?

Thankfully, you have an array of free online tools to help you do just that. Here are the steps I took to create a QR code for the app offered by The Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce:

1. Gather your app links

Make sure you have the proper, complete links to your apps.

A link to the Android store begins like this: https://play.google.com.

For example, here is the link for The Chamber’s Android app: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.moblico.chamber2go.FWChamber2go

A link to the iOS store — that’s iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch — begins http://itunes.apple.com.

For example, the link to The Chamber’s app is this: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fwchamber2go/id503214934?mt=8

2. Shorten the links

The shorter the links, the less complex the QR code becomes. Thus, theoretically, it’s easier to be read by your QR scanner. Compare the two codes to the left. The code on the left uses the original URLs I listed above. The one on the right uses shortened URLs.

If you don’t currently use a URL shortener, or if you’re unsure how to shorten a URL, I recommend the URL shortener called Bitly. You’ll be able to shorten the link and keep track of how many times the link is scanned or clicked on.

3. Copy your links into this QR code generator

Copy those shortened URLs you created and paste them into the proper slots on the form here: http://qrappdownload.appspot.com/

Important! Be sure to delete the sample URLs in the online form!

Then download the QR code you generated somewhere you can find it again. You might want to save those links that the generator creates, just in case you lose your QR code image.

4. Test, test, test!

Before you plaster that QR code all over town, be sure to test, test, and test again that code on as many devices and code readers as you can. For better advice than I can give, check out “Testing QR Codes for Scan-ability” by Kevin Mullett at Cirrus ABS.

That’s it! If you use these tools, let me know how they worked for you, especially if they didn’t work for you.