Funded projects


Berkshire Blue Book

  • Principal Investigator: Alison Black
  • Research officer: Clare Carey

This fifteen-month project is a collaboration with Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, funded by Berkshire Primary Care Trust as part of the Dementia Partnerships Scheme

The Department of Health's 2009 National Dementia Strategy identified the need for high quality information for people diagnosed with dementia, acknowledging its role in helping them live better and stay longer in their community.

The goal of the research is to develop a user-centred, information pack to support people with dementia and their carers, from diagnosis onwards. Our research will examine what information should be provided and how it should be presented so that it is appropriate and usable at the point people need to consult it.

Our research will include working with health care professionals, charity organisations and family members of people with dementia, all of whom have different perspectives of dementia care.

Although our focus is dementia care, our findings should be generalisable to information provision for other long-term conditions. And, while the project is based in Berkshire, we hope its findings will be transferable to other regional health care trusts.

Mongolian script: from metal type to digital font

This is a two-year research project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

  • Principal investigator: Dr Jo De Baerdemaeker

The research aims to provide a comprehensive historical account of the evolution of the printed Mongolian character, and to offer practice-oriented guidance in designing and developing new digital fonts for the traditional Mongolian script. It adopts the methodology developed and tested in De Baerdemaeker's work on Tibetan typeforms, which uses an exhaustive historical survey to support critical contemporary analysis.

The prime objectives are to develop a framework for describing the visual and technical quality of Mongolian typefaces; to determine the extent of printing houses using Mongolian typefaces and the connection with the individual punchcutters/type designers or typefoundries & companies of printing material and typesetting equipment creating and/or supplying these founts; to explore how Mongolian typefaces were developed and typeset; and to set up practical guidelines for creating contemporary fonts for the traditional Mongolian script.

This Early Career Fellowship also enables the development and design of a database which facilitates the comparison, characterization and classification of the separately examined Mongolian typefaces, along with additional contextual information on their typographic use and visual, historical and theoretical analysis of Mongolian typeforms. This new resource will offer a considerable improvement to Mongolian typography.

In the initial stage of the project, a website was created to serve as the platform of this research. This website presents findings and practical guidance supported by theoretical analysis, in conjunction with the database of Mongolian typefaces, publicly available to scholars of Mongolian language and culture, to historians of print, to professional (typeface) designers, software developers, librarians, linguists, academics, and to all those who have an interest in non-Latin typography and typeface design.

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International cross-currents in typeface design: France, Britain and the US in the phototypesetting era, 1949 - 1975

A three-year project in conjunction with Musée de l'Imprimerie, Lyon, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through a Collaborative Doctoral Award from 2010.

  • Lead supervisor: Paul Luna
  • Co-supervisors: Dr Alan Marshall (Lyon), Dr Fiona Ross
  • Research student: Alice Savoie

Concentrating on the type designs produced for Lumitype-Photon, Monotype, and Linotype 1945-1975, and considering the different marketing approaches of these companies, the research will investigate the tensions and complexities of both developing designs for a new technology (phototypesetting) and for a number of different national markets, and explain how the role of designer as a supplier of product and owner of intellectual property changed in this period.

The development of phototypesetting, which substituted high-speed photography, electronics and imaging technology for hot-metal engineering, precipitated a momentous change in the international type manufacturing industry, and opened the way for computer-assisted typesetting.

This doctoral research will draw on the archives of Lumitype S.A. (France), Crosfield Electronics Ltd (United Kingdon) and Photon Inc (US) which are held in the Musée de l'Imprimerie, Lyon, those of the British Linotype company and ATypI, held at the University of Reading, the ATypI archival material held by the University of Reading and St Bride Library, UK, and the archives of the British Monotype Corporation Type Drawing Office held by Monotype Imaging, UK.

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The optimism of modernity: recovering modern reasoning in typography

  • Principal Investigator: Paul Stiff
  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow: Petra Cerne Oven

This is a four-year research programme, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The programme aims to tell the story of an incomplete and now almost forgotten project: that of modernity in British typography, the moment of which coincides with the political and social changes from Atlee's government to the end of the post-War settlement in 1979. Modernity in design is here taken as not a matter of style but as 'a visible form of social philosophy'. The project, a failure in many respects, left an intellectual and practical legacy to what came to be called 'information design'.

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Designing information for everyday life, 1815–1914

  • Principal Investigator: Paul Stiff
  • Post-doctoral Research Fellows: Paul Dobraszczyk, Mike Esbester

This is a four-year research programme, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) from 2006.

Some of the most inventive designing of the nineteenth century was thrown away. Many of the interactions of everyday life were conducted through, and recorded by, ephemeral printed documents. Their rich and varied configurations and texts made new demands on newly literate audiences. Victorian 'information design' is the most intelligent, but little known, ancestor of today's graphic design. This project aims to reveal and explain what can be learned from it.

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Isotype revisited

  • Principal Investigator: Eric Kindel
  • Co-Investigator: Sue Walker
  • Senior Researcher: Christopher Burke

This three-year project (2007–10) is funded by a major grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council and will use as its core archive the Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection housed in the Department.

Isotype (International system of typographic picture education) was a method for assembling, configuring, and disseminating information and statistics through pictorial means. Known first as the Vienna Method, it was developed by Otto Neurath and colleagues in 1920s Vienna to help explain social and economic issues to the general public. The Isotype 'movement', through its various offices and activities in the Netherlands, Soviet Union, United States, Britain and elsewhere, went on to play a major role in twentieth-century communication design.

The 'Isotype revisited' project is concerned with Isotype work in its representative contexts and locations. It aims to clarify better-known dimensions of the Isotype movement, explore its less well-understood interests and innovations, and evaluate its legacy up to the present day. It seeks to make known the progress of Isotype and re-calibrate its significance, and that of Otto Neurath, to communication design history and to present-day information visualization.

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The typographic design for children project

  • Principal Investigator: Sue Walker
  • Co-Investigator: Linda Reynolds
  • Research assistants: Caroline Archer, Alison Duncan, Nadja Guggi, Polly Harte

The Typographic Design for Children Project, funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2001-2006 aims to describe typographic practice in children's reading and information books from 1830 to 1950, and to find out what kind of typography works for children in today's classrooms through a series of performance and preference tests looking at typefaces and the use of horizontal and vertical space.

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Legibility on screen

  • Principal Investigator: Mary Dyson

Two projects funded by Microsoft Corporation

Experimental investigation of the effects of line length, document height and number of columns when reading from screen

  • Research Assistant: Gary Kipping

A series of experiments looked at the effect of the amount of text displayed on screen and alternative methods of moving through the text, measuring speed of reading, comprehension, and peoples' perceptions of ease of reading. Overall the results suggest that either scrolling or paging is acceptable for continuous reading, and people adapt their reading strategy according to the situation. Line length is an important factor, in terms of both performance and as a criterion for judging ease of reading. Unfortunately, these two indicators do not point to a single solution.

Effects of reading speed and line length on comprehension on screen

  • Research Assistant: Mark Haselgrove

The experiments above suggested that long line lengths can be read as fast, possibly faster, than shorter line lengths. This raised the possibility that faster reading may have been at the expense of certain types of comprehension. This project therefore developed material to test the recall and comprehension of quite different types of information within a document.

The stencilled text

  • Principal Investigator: Eric Kindel

This project is a wide-ranging investigation into the history of stencils as used principally for lettering and marking out texts. The aim is to establish a broader historical account of this basic printing method.

'The stencilled text' includes two main areas of work. 'Reconstructing stencil letters, c.1700' has involved the reconstruction of equipment for stencilling texts, as described in a late 17th-century manuscript compiled by Gilles Filleau des Billettes for the French Royal Academy of Sciences. 'Jean Gabriel Bery, maker of letters, Paris' is an investigation into the life and work of this Paris stencil maker from whom Benjamin Franklin purchased a large collection of stencils in 1781. Both areas of work have drawn on partnerships and collaborations with Prof James Mosley and Dutch scholar and type designer Fred Smeijers; each area will form the basis of forthcoming monographs.

'The stencilled text' has also included several spin-off strands, including a close study of the 'Adjustable Stencil', an important and enduring invention of 1870s Chicago (Journal of the Printing Historical Society, new series, no. 9, 2006); a review of the 'Plaque Découpée Universelle', a stencil guide for constructing geometric sanserif characters, unveiled at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1878 (Typography Papers 7, 2007); and a detailed examination of a new method of printing based on stencilling, invented by the eminent Dutch physicist and mathematician Christiaan Huygens in the late 1660s (forthcoming).

The two main areas of work have been variously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the American Philosophical Society, the Printing Historical Society, and the University of Reading's Research Endowment Trust Fund.

Printing and typesetting in film

  • Principal Investigator: Rob Banham

Design has always been influenced by methods of production. Over the past 120 years and a great deal of print production technology has come and gone: almost all of the equipment and machinery in use between 1900 and 1980 is now obsolete. Rob is directing an AHRC-funded project that surveys films of printing and typesetting. It investigates the extent to which the capture of these processes on film extends our understanding of them. A detailed listing of the films will enable other educators and researchers to locate films which may be of use to them.

A new look at typefaces: what characterises designers' perceptual abilities?

  • Principal Investigator: Mary Dyson

Research funded by the University of Reading's Research Endowment Trust Fund to support pilot work on the categorical perception of typefaces by design students. An undergraduate research assistant (Sarah Nadin) was funded by Reading University's Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in Applied Undergraduate Research Skills. The innovative application of this well-established psychological method to the study of student designers' perception of typefaces was described at the third International conference in Typography & Visual Communication 2007, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki. Preliminary results show interesting individual differences and highlight the analytical strategies used by the students.

Perception of symbols on screen and methods of retrieval from a database

  • Principal Investigator: Mary Dyson
  • Co-investigators: Hilary Box and Michael Twyman

Project funded by British Library Research and Development Department with Hilary Box as Research Assistant, in two parts.

In Part 1 a series of experiments explored discrimination of symbols on screen which varied in terms of size, resolution and complexity. Further work examined the effect of two types of modifications made to graphically simple and complex symbols.

Part 2 addressed the problem of retrieving symbols from large databases when the symbol cannot be named. A number of tasks explored the way in which people describe, sort and define categories of symbols. A prototype system was developed and tested which used shape as a retrieval cue.


Dyson, M., Box, H., Twyman, M. (1994), "The perceptions of symbols on screen and methods of retrieval from a database", British Library Research and Development Department BLRD Report, Vol. 6163 pp.1-89.

Evaluation of current staff and student use of Blackboard at Reading

  • Principal Investigator: Mary Dyson
  • Co-Investigator: Maria Papaefthimiou
  • Postgraduate researcher: Maria dos Santos Lonsdale

Project funded by The University of Reading's Teaching and Learning Development Fund working with Maria dos Santos Lonsdale (Typography) and Maria Papaefthimiou (Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning) .

The project described, analysed and evaluated how Blackboard is being used at Reading, in advance of the change to Blackboard Academic Suite in October 2006. This created a baseline set of data for comparison with future developments and identified existing good practice. The data came from students, staff and the courses themselves using system logs, questionnaire, small group discussions, and individual interviews.

Evaluation of web interfaces to on-line collections

  • Principal Investigator: Mary Dyson

Designation Challenge Fund grant from Museums and Galleries Commission awarded to Rural History Centre at the University of Reading to make collections within the Centre more accessible. Mary Dyson worked on the preparatory stages of the project with Kevin Moran as a Research Assistant to assess the situation on the web with regard to access to collections at the time, and carried out an evaluation of a sample of web sites which shared some features with the proposed site.

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