nu and vee, I and l — design of physics books and modern fads for fonts

Rant.

As someone working in a technical field, I often feel like designers do not really appreciate the subtleties of notation and how to make it clear. In the title of this post, ‘I and l’ is upper case ‘eye’ and lower case ‘el’. Not that you can tell.

For example, because so many symbols are used, formulas can often contain symbols which might be mistaken for each other. The classic example is…ilb1

and here is the same formula using some sans serif fonts, using Microsoft Word…

ilb2

Now, this is not to criticise these fonts. They are just not designed for this job. It is the chooser of the font who is being a wee bit silly if these fonts are used in a mathematical document. An even trickier example is…

nuv

which I have produced in LaTeX, and the nu and vee are well-differentiated, but that is because the font was designed by someone (Knuth) with the express purpose of laying out mathematics.

If I was able to give advice to anyone out there designing a text with mathematics in it, it would be to look at the two letter/symbol pairs I have shown here, and make sure they can be told apart. If not, the font choice is a poor one and needs to be changed. And what is fashionable at the moment is irrelevant beside the need for clarity and the fight against ambiguity and lack of precision.

 

Rant over.

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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

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