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What is the recommended use for all capitals titles? For example: THIS IS A TITLE.

The website http://camvine.com/ has all capital titles, e.g. MARKET SECTORS.

Good, bad?

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It screams CHEAP and UNPROFESSIONAL to me. (And btw, so does the carroussel ux.stackexchange.com/questions/10312/are-carousels-effective ) –  Inca Sep 9 '11 at 15:59
    
@Inca - Not all carousels are unprofessional. They can be done in a tasteful manner. –  Matt Rockwell Sep 9 '11 at 16:19
    
@Matt: although the carousel in the camvine.com site do look cheap and unprofessional, IMHO. –  Lie Ryan Sep 9 '11 at 22:38
    
All caps reminds me Cobol. –  Luc M Sep 10 '11 at 2:36
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Good in this case for "MARKET SECTORS", but bad for "CLOUD-BASED DIGITAL SIGNAGE". –  DesignerGuy Sep 10 '11 at 8:22
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9 Answers 9

up vote 40 down vote accepted

It depends on how you are using it.

All caps can be the perfect choice when used correctly. The site you have referenced does look slightly odd to me, this could be because of the typeface itself. Certain typefaces such as Trajan Pro and Bebas consist of only all caps characters. These types of typefaces are usually used very successfully in headers and titles. The main issue here in your example is the current type being uses is not as suitable as others for all caps. A designer should be able to help you with this in your interface. They should be able to know the right way to pull it off and make it look professional.

Anyone use Photoshop CS4 or CS5? All of the predefined workspaces and windows use all caps and it works well here. It is used to help distinguish these elements from their content, which is in normal casing:

enter image description here

Update Visual Studio 2012 is using all caps to help distinguish the menu from the rest of the content.

enter image description here

Another example would be with movie posters. A majority of them use all caps titles very successfully. Google image search movie titles to see a good display of this. Book and magazine covers in at least half of the cases use all caps for titles. Again, I am not advocating to use it for plain text, but for titles and words or short phrases it can work out great.

Newspapers often us all caps for their titles:

enter image description here enter image description here

Book covers (UX relevant):

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

The navigation of LukeW's site and the cover of one of his books:

enter image description here

Another resource from Typography for Lawyers states:

"All-caps text — mean­ing text with all the let­ters cap­i­tal­ized — is best used spar­ingly. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use caps. Just use them judi­ciously. Caps are suit­able for head­ings shorter than one line (e.g., “Table of Author­i­ties”), head­ers, foot­ers, cap­tions, or other labels. Caps work at small point sizes. Caps work well on let­ter­head and busi­ness cards. Always add let­ter-spac­ing to caps to make them eas­ier to read, and make sure kern­ing is turned on."

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I would upvote this twice, if I could. The bottom line is - it strongly depends on the context and intent. –  Roland Tepp Sep 13 '11 at 20:29
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This should be the marked answer. –  Qix Oct 22 '12 at 0:21
    
@Di-0xide Thanks, I very much agree :) –  Matt Rockwell Oct 22 '12 at 11:19
    
I would upvote it 7 times! –  iconoclast 2 days ago
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UPPERCASE text is harder to read because the shapes of all the uppercase letters are all rectangular and users are not used to reading text that way. Therefore it is harder to scan, less efficient, and consequently a bad thing for readability.

See also this article from UXMovement: Why Text in All Caps is Hard for Users to Read. And quoting from that article also:

When is it okay to use all caps? All caps are fine in contexts that don’t involve reading, such as logos and acronyms. But when your message involves reading, don’t force users to read it with bad shape contrast. The caps lock key is a key that designer’s should rarely use. In emails, using all caps is a sign of bad manners. In design, using all caps is a sign of bad readability.

On wikipedia for All Caps:

Miles Tinker, for his landmark work, Legibility of Print, performed scientific studies on the legibility and readability of all-capital print. His findings were as follows: All-capital print greatly retards speed of reading in comparison with lower-case type. Also, most readers judge all capitals to be less legible. Faster reading of the lower-case print is due to the characteristic word forms furnished by this type. This permits reading by word units, while all capitals tend to be read letter by letter. Furthermore, since all-capital printing takes at least one-third more space than lower case, more fixation pauses are required for reading the same amount of material. The use of all capitals should be dispensed with in every printing situation.

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What about small caps? I am pretty partial to them. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_caps) –  Matt Lavoie Sep 9 '11 at 15:56
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And this version, which is equally legible, if not more (at least to me): "AOCCDRNIG TO A RSCHEEARCH AT CMABRIGDE UINERVTISY, 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 RSET CAN BE A TOATL MSES AND YOU CAN SITLL RAED IT WOUTHIT PORBELM. TIHS IS BCUSEAE THE HUAMN MNID DEOS NOT RAED ERVEY LTETER BY ISTLEF, BUT THE WROD AS A WLOHE." –  Matt Rockwell Sep 9 '11 at 17:37
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@Matt Fun fact: that's just a meme, not citing any actual research, and its claims are easily falsifiable. –  Jon Purdy Sep 9 '11 at 20:17
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-1. Everyone would unanimously agree all caps in body is bad. However, the OP specifically asks about all caps in title. AFAIK there is no (widely known?) research about the use of all caps for heading or menu text, on which all caps may perhaps be validly used to grab attention. –  Lie Ryan Sep 9 '11 at 22:45
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@Jon Purdy - I don't see any problem with that - it's quite clear what your trying to say there: 'I savoury donut chicken-and-egg surviving romancing permanently zero loonies (crucifying not nudely the sore infantryman) is so sponge. If your cheesecake is time, then toes crumpet orbit to poke you no dishonesty', and I completely agree. –  Roger Attrill Sep 12 '11 at 14:58
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I hate to be this guy, but The W Blog has an article digesting some research suggesting that the presumed "letter shape" theory is incorrect on why CAPS LOCK is harder to read. It's a good article that cites real research you can delve into as deeply as you like, it suggests that the presumed reasons (letter shape ect.) for why UPPERCASE is hard to read are incorrect.

All capital (uppercase) letters are slower for people to read, but only because they aren’t used to them. Mixed case text is only faster to read than uppercase letters because of practice. Most of what you read is mixed case, and so you are used to it. If people practice reading text that is in all capital letters they can get to the point where they are reading that text as fast as they usually read mixed case.

Bottom line though, it is harder to read if only because it's uncommon, you're breaking the paradigm of how letters are meant to be cased. There may or may not be a shape-recognition related reason why UPPERCASE is inherently harder to read in a naive context, but in any real context it certainly seems to be so.

More subjectively it LOOKS TERRIBLE. You're drawing attention in an inappropriate way (it draws one's eyes almost as much as bold text) and, even more subjectively, it just "looks sloppy" and many users associate it with "stupid" internet commenters, advertisements and general bad writting. Just imagine if you got an email with the subject: RE:CLOUD BASED DIGITAL SIGNAGE. Looks like spam, doesn't it?

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Awesome link. I have heard all other arguments before but have never seen this. Very interesting! –  Matt Rockwell Sep 9 '11 at 17:20
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@Matt I thought it was interesting but I almost wish I didn't know it, I'm so biased against UPPERCASE in any context. I figured it needs to be said though. –  Ben Brocka Sep 9 '11 at 18:21
    
@BenBrocka In response to this research I removed the reference to word shape from my answer. Interesting find - Susan Weinschenk is very well respected. –  Roger Attrill Sep 9 '11 at 19:39
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Thanks for being that guy. –  Patrick McElhaney Sep 9 '11 at 20:27
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+1 for providing alternative research. Although a phrase like "Cloud Based Digital Signage" would trigger my spam-senses regardless of casing. :P –  HostileFork Sep 9 '11 at 21:53
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Old fonts were created in a single case, which is now considered to be capital letters. That's when tradition of writing all caps started and that's why people are using all caps fonts like Trajan to make "older" look to text.

We don't read each letter, we recognize words really fast by it's shape. Some of letters are above baseline(i,k,l), some of them are below (g, q, p), some of them are wider (w, m), some of them are narrow(i, l). It all helps to create more recognizable shape and simplify reading.

Take a look at blured word "english" written in uppercase and lowercase. Which one is more readable for you?

uppercase text

I see only three reasons why uppercase text is used:

  • To create "pretty" perfectly rectangular shape, which is much harder to create by using lowercase type.
  • To create unique look to page by using all-caps fonts like Trajan.
  • To create less recognizable text or hide it from reader (often used in legal documents).
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I believed the word shape thing too, but apparently it's not true. It seems the brain is looking at the letters but in a fairly complex way. microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/wordrecognition.aspx –  Peter Bagnall Jun 3 '13 at 17:41
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All caps is generally not in fashion in designs these days, except in some logotypes. There are arguments that can be made from a readability standpoint, but I think the reasons to avoid them on the Internet are as much cultural as they are technical.

First of all, computer systems that could only display capital letters existed for a while and so today all-caps text has an air of primitivism. On a similar note, there's also the stereotype that people who type in all caps are doing so because they are poor typists and using the Caps-Lock key. More sophisticated internet users utilize caps for emotions, e.g. "Wait a minute, WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!?!", so the indiscriminate use of them is mocked as "shouting".

On a slightly-tangential sidenote, I've found that reserving capital letters can give you an extra "style" to apply in addition to bold, italic, underline, etc. And it works in plain text. In fact, a programming language I use does not discriminate between upper and lower case, so in order to talk about language keywords one puts keywords like FOREACH or REDUCE in all caps in the middle of one's writing.

(StackOverflow fortunately has the ability to enclose code in backquotes to look like foreach and reduce, but this isn't always available elsewhere.)

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You use them in the page titles on your site, why don't you explain how you used them and why to help add depth to your answer? –  Matt Rockwell Sep 9 '11 at 19:20
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@Matt: Thanks for looking at my site! But the only places I use caps is in what might be considered logotypes (the header of course, and for a project name in order to call out a separation from the description, for instance "BLACKHIGHLIGHTER: Protected Public Discussions in Django ") The latter is largely a technical limitation of using a very old version of Wordpress--I cannot use a better typographical cue in my "pages" list in the sidebar as it just repeats the plain titles. I'll find the time to redesign the blog someday as a proper website, but blogging doesn't pay the bills, so... :) –  HostileFork Sep 9 '11 at 21:50
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Our alphabet is designed with distinct shapes for recognition, even the capitals. Readability isn't an issue, this is a question of typography and aesthetics. In this case it is a cleaner look to avoid descenders due to the rule placed below the title. I would recommend using a single font-size for the titles though, the variance in height makes it look unprofessional and works against the clean aesthetic you are trying to achieve with the caps and underscore.

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Headings are a very different animal from body text, nearly approaching being graphic elements. Their larger size and shorter length offer much more styling latitude. Don't get hung up on the readability issue - that principle applies to long stretches of multi-line copy, and is not a law for all situations.

All caps headings can really look great, depending on the branding guidelines and type choices with which you're working.

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For readability full caps are generally not as good as traditional capitalisation. I wouldn't dismiss using full caps in some cases, but it needs to be carefully considered.

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You can find a bit of information on this topic from an accessibility point of view on webaim here: webaim.org/techniques/fonts/#caps –  Sheff Sep 9 '11 at 15:18
    
You use them on your site, why don't you explain how you used them and why to help add depth to your answer? –  Matt Rockwell Sep 9 '11 at 19:20
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I dislike all caps, because they do feel like shouting - that is agressive and pushy. It is not a good thing on a web site, which I prefer to feel welcoming and friendly.

I can see that small caps, used carefully, could work, but only for short labels. But labels need to be read easily and quickly, so maybe not. The problem is that I am not sure of any situation where all capitals would serve the requirements best - for emphasis, there are other and better ways of doing this. For grabbing attention, there are better ways. So why would you use them with the negative connortations that it has.

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Generally, it is a nice idea to explain why you are downvoting. –  Schroedingers Cat Sep 12 '11 at 8:54
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Your question isn't based on data or references. By using words like "I dislike" and "I prefer", you're offering your opinion, which anyone can do. UX.SE answers are useful because they contain expert opinions backed up by data, not just opinions. –  Rahul Sep 12 '11 at 12:48
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