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A graphic designer I hired to do my company's collateral (a very accomplished and successful designer) told me once that all lower case is often more readable than mixed case. As an example she made my last name all lower case on my business card...my last name in standard form is DesLonde...on the business card she made it deslonde.

I have to admit, it DOES seem more readable.

I'm developing a productivity app where I want the efficiency to be as high as possible, every little distraction taken away, every inefficiency eliminated. I want it to be as easy to use as possible. Even a fraction of a second eliminated would be desired.

Would the app benefit from making button text all lower case, group headings all lower case, etc.?

Would it benefit from some parts being all lower case? Does it even help? Some help here from ux people who know more than me. :-) Thanks!

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Letter case is not merely a visual or utility aspect - it carries meaning. English language is more flexible, but in some languages it is just plain wrong or alters the meaning if you ignore letter case. –  kontur Jan 29 '13 at 7:25
    
@kontur Interesting. Can you provide an example? –  user1757436 Jan 29 '13 at 18:52
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@user1757436 In german language, for example, "Sie" is the polite form of "you", whereas "sie" is plural for "they". The same goes for many adjectives: "neue" is the adjective "new", while "Neue" is the subject "the new ones". –  kontur Jan 29 '13 at 19:33
    
You'd really be okay with someone thinking your surname was DeSlonde rather than DesLonde? –  icc97 Jan 29 '13 at 21:33
    
The major study I know of done on readability was for UK road signs back in the 60s. They were changed from all capitals to mixed case (not that I know if they considered lower case too) . Beyond that you have that people are expecting mixed case on buttons, so you'd be breaking one of the first rules of UX of familiarity. –  icc97 Jan 29 '13 at 21:45
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7 Answers

I would not remove the capital letters.

Proper casing of text should not be considered to be a distraction, and capital letters help with the comprehension of text. I feel the absence of expected capitals would amount to more of a distraction as users pause to wonder where the capital letters went.

A comprehension example: Is your name "de slonde", "desl onde" or "des lon de"? With your graphic designer's logic, I wouldn't know how to pronounce your name!

I think graphic designers (and I'm one of them) propose lowercase occasionally because it looks casual and provides a bit of an edge, but I would be skeptical with anyone trying to draw a connection between their elimination and efficiency.

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There is not much research to support the statement 'capital letters help with comprehension of text' as applied to reading text passages. Nor is the pronunciation of the author's name (DesLonde) relevant to this question - unless unfamiliar proper nouns are common in the user interface. It is unlikely that the text in the productivity app contains many unfamiliar words. If it does contain unfamiliar words, the unfamiliarity will affect reading speed more than letter case. Also, see microsoft.com/typography/ctfonts/wordrecognition.aspx for a nice summary of models of reading. –  user1757436 Jan 29 '13 at 11:57
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This is fuzzy stuff and I'm not aware of definitive data. Nonetheless, I'll speak to what I've found in my work.

Mixed case can aid in visual scanning. Where there are known terms in use for actions (Submit, Cancel, Apply, etc) the caps can serve a cognitive purpose: Help the user jump to the first letter of a key action and delineate multiple words in an action. If they have an action in mind that aligns with your application's language, finding that first letter in their peripheral vision will help them make the decision faster.

Unfortunately, there's never a sure answer until you've tested. I would try some user testing and carefully measure to see if you find any advantages.

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I may be misinterpreting this statement 'Help the user jump to the first letter of a key action' but eye tracking studies of reading do not support that statement. Most eye movements are to the middle of a word rather than the beginning of a word. Nor has research on reading speed of mixed case text shown a consistent superiority effect over upper case text. –  user1757436 Jan 29 '13 at 19:00
    
The actual position of the eye's rest can be misleading. The eye takes in groups of letters by extending to the comfortable edges of foveal (pin focus) vision. There is some speculation (I have no proof) that initial caps in limited use may help target the foveal point on discrete blocks of letters. Unfortunately, research in all areas of legibility and reader movement involves too many variables. For one thing, most studies focus on the reading and comprehension of texts. A reader's movement among UI elements doesn't fit the immersive or even casual reading model at all. –  plainclothes Jan 29 '13 at 21:03
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It depends on the circumstances, but I look at lower case text as a "style" more than UX solution.

Just as Gino has pointed out with your name, I found DesLonde easier to understand than deslonde. The caps provides a helpful indicator with the pronunciation.

However, this doesn't mean you can't use lower case text in combination of upper case text to create a contrast difference with your content.

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This can be a double-edge sword. If something (like the readability of text of different styles) has been tested to be beneficial in some cases, the fact that it is unconventional can incur a penalty. For instance using all lowercase letters might be read faster than other capitalization styles, the fact that it is unconventional for it to appear on a button on a computer screen may cause people to double take, wonder why things are done unconventionally, and completely negate any advantage it might have in another context.

My point is to be skeptical about tests done in contexts removed from that which you'll be applying it to. For instance, serif fonts are faster to read in print, but but sans serif fonts are easier to read on computer monitors. But if the computer monitor has an extremely high resolution (e.g. Retina displays) then serif fonts read faster.

My other point is to wary when being unconventional.

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'sans serif fonts are easier to read on computer monitors' may be true - or not. The research is equivocal. Here are four examples: (add academic.research.microsoft.com to the front of all of these) (1) /Publication/33696171/high-and-low-luminance-letters-acuity-reserve-and-font-eff‌​ects-on-reading-speed (2) /Publication/42645978/keeping-your-readers-eyes-on-the-screen-an-eye-tracking-st‌​udy-comparing-sans-serif-and-serif (3) /Publication/272676/performance-differences-between-times-and-helvetica-in-a-rea‌​ding-task (4) /Publication/3733587/serifs-and-font-legibility –  user1757436 Jan 29 '13 at 12:02
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Well from my work experience I can say that yes the Designer was right. But it cannot be applied in every place.

Small case do look good and can be easily read but if we are only dealing with words then it is not advised. So when we write a label we can use lower case as it gives good contours and help in understanding the work without going through each letter but when it comes to single or double work action item, it helps to have first work Capital.

Capital letters are easy to be found in a bunch of works and when user is in a app screen he is able to distinguish between different action buttons easily.

While studying for my certification, i read one research done where it was proved that when user is reading a sentence, he only seems first and last letter and based on the contour and shape of the word the user is able to understand what WORD is written. But this only worked when we have all small or first letter capital pattern for letter and didn't worked when we had continuous Capital letter.

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There is some research on this question - sort of. See the third paper in this issue of Vision Research.

In the first experiment, participants identified words and random strings of letters presented in either all upper case, all lower case, and mixed case letters. Words presented in all upper case were recognized at smaller sizes than words presented in all lower case or mixed case. There was no difference between mixed case and all lower case.

In the second experiment, participants read text passages presented in all upper case or mixed case. The participants' reading speed was faster when reading all upper case than mixed case text.

Unfortunately, the second experiment did not compare reading speed for mixed case to reading speed to all lower case. Given the results of the first experiment, one might conclude reading speed for all lower case would be, at best, the same as mixed case but not as good as all upper case.

That last sentence is a big leap of logic. Anybody with research suggesting something else, feel free to correct me - please!

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Your name is actually the perfect example why this is a bad idea. Looking at "deslonde" it can be multiple things from my perspective:

  • D'eslonde - you might be from the hood;
  • DeSlonde - you might be of Dutch heritage (De Slonde);
  • DesLonde - feels more French to me.

In certain cases it would make sense to not capitalize letters for the sake of clarity. A lowercase L looks like an uppercase I (see: "I or l"), depending on which font you use. If you're using abbreviated labels for, say, table headers, you might want to use all lowercase or all uppercase formatting.

But please, for the sake of all that is good in this world: If in any way possible, make it a styling decision. In CSS you can do this:

th.toLowercase { text-transform: lowercase; }

That way, your table headers (or whatever else) can remain well-formatted, whilst still being displayed the way you want it to be displayed. And it can easily be reverted if necessary.

Personal note: I'd take a good look around the internet and figure out why large e-commerce sites don't do this. They don't do this because they have probably tested it in one way or another. I personally never did test it when I worked at a large e-commerce website, but I seriously doubt it would have a positive impact on conversion or sales.

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