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.

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