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I am playing with ideas for a menu that I want to add to some site designs and was wondering: How usable is vertical text in any portion of a site (specifically menus)?

For example

You can have text like this:

enter image description here

or you can have text like this:

enter image description here

Any input? Is horizontal text always best?

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Related: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/14745/… –  3nafish Mar 14 '13 at 17:30
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It's worth noting that there's a strong cultural difference in vertically-oriented text; in the US and the Commonwealth, text on book and CD spines goes top-to-bottom whereas in mainland Europe and Latin America, it goes bottom-to-top. –  Kit Grose Mar 20 '13 at 0:19
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3 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Your example shows left-to-right languages, and its better to keep the rotation of the letters the same since we see words as shapes rather than reading letter by letter.

That's probably why you see more feedback signs where the word is rotated 90 degrees rather than each letter:

enter image description here

When we read - we read the shape the word gives us, which also answers the question why you should use lower case letter rather than upper case letters in long texts. Humans recognize the - which we where tought from the very beginning.

enter image description here enter image description here

Reference: The Science of Word Recognition


Edit

This knowledge has been true for a very long time until Ph. D Susan Weinschenk informed the community in her article 100 Things You Should Know About People: #19 — It’s a Myth That All Capital Letters Are Inherently Harder to Read that the shape theory is wrong:

It’s parallel letter recognition, not word shape — The old theory on word shapes comes from a psycholinguist named Cattell who came up with that theory in 1886. There was some evidence for it, but more recent research shows that it is letters you are recognizing and anticipating. You don’t recognize words by the shape of the word. You recognize familiar letter sequences. The research strongly suggests that you recognize all the letters in a word at the same time, and then you use the recognition of those letters to recognize the word.

Still, reading a word as a shape or in parallell, suggest that you should organize letter as you read them - not on top of each other.

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This is GREAT information! Thanks so much! –  The Sheek Geek Mar 14 '13 at 17:28
    
@TheSheekGeek You're welcome! –  Benny Skogberg Mar 14 '13 at 17:29
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It's worth reading Susan Weinscenks article about this subject –  Roger Attrill Mar 14 '13 at 17:47
    
@RogerAttrill Thanks! I've updated my answer accordingly! –  Benny Skogberg Mar 14 '13 at 19:32
    
Indeed, the problem with most readability research is that it's sparse, dated, and often contradictory. –  DA01 Mar 15 '13 at 2:59
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Text in it's conventional orientation (horizontal for English, etc.) is always faster and more efficiently processed than an unconventional orientation, but optimal efficiency isn't always required.

For instance if there were 3 or 4 vertical menu options it wouldn't be so much of a burden, but as the number increases so does the difficulty of comprehension.

It's a balancing act: a vertically oriented text might save valuable space the benefit of which may be greater than the increased difficulty of comprehension.

My intuition says to use vertically oriented text very judiciously (or sparingly).

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Like for example in an Excel worksheet with many narrow columns, setting the headers vertically can save the user from having to scroll horizontally, which is worse than reading vertical text. Additionally, users might need to read the vertically set labels only once in a session, which is very different from reading an article or a book. Benny is right and obelia too. –  Juan Lanus Mar 19 '13 at 20:06
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It turns out that reading vertically rotated text (the first example) is not much slower, as reported in this academic research (Laarnia, Simolaa, Kojoa & Ristob, 2007). They claim English readers are practiced at this to begin with, when they read from collections of upright items, like books and video tapes (for those of you who can remember). They measured the speed of reading vertical text, and reported that it is not much slower.

I remind you what @Benny Skogberg wrote about the fact that we read words as a whole (be it shapes or letter collection). I add to that another psychological phenomenon called mental rotation (Sheprad & Metzler, 1992), which shows we can rotate images in our imagination at a constant rotational velocity. By inference, we can stipulate that people can read vertically rotated words in an efficient manner, though not as that of horizontal oriented ones.

In contrast, and as Benny noted, words which contain vertically stacked letters (the second example from the question) should be harder to read. To mentally transform these words to their original form, one has to mentally re-align the letters, before the word can be recognized, and I suppose this takes a greater mental effort.

Bottom line - people would be able to efficiently read vertically oriented words, but of course not as fast as horizontal ones.

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