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Many contemporary movie posters typeset the credits in an extremely thin font:

Example movie poster extract

Is this just out of convention or is there a particular reason for deliberately making the credits hard to read?

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I'm new to ux.se and I do hope that this is on-topic here -- I read the FAQ and, as I understood it, generic UX question, which are not directly related to human-computer interaction, are on-topic as well. –  Heinzi Feb 4 at 7:21
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I believe it's a historical holdover/convention mostly dictated by hollywood lawyers and agents. –  DA01 Feb 4 at 7:21
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Yes, this is an on-topic question, and a very good one if I may add. I have no clue in who's interest it is to make information illegible. –  Bart Gijssens Feb 4 at 7:28
    
I would discuss it as a topic of computer vision... if it is off-topic here may be moved to another SE site. The question has quite a point anyway. –  galegosimpatico Feb 4 at 7:41
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Star Trek: Into Darkness? –  Gusdor Feb 5 at 12:15
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2 Answers 2

up vote 178 down vote accepted

It's a legal compromise really.

From an article on the New York Times:

The design of modern billing blocks illustrates the tension between two intersecting interests: studios want uncluttered marketing materials, and industry organizations want their members prominently and fairly credited.
Thus, it is neither accidental nor for aesthetics that the text in most modern billing blocks is tall and highly condensed. To ensure that billing block credits are legible, the Directors Guild of America (D.G.A) and Writers Guild of America (W.G.A) require that their members' names are at least 15 percent of the size of the type used for the artwork title. (i.e., the name of the movie, as set in the main body of the poster). If the artwork title has words of varying size, the height of every letter is measured and an average calculated. The D.G.A and W.G.A also mandate that the credit titles (e.g., story by or directed by) be no less than half the size of the names to which they refer.

So really, in the face of legal obligations this is probably the best they can do. Still just about legible, fulfills the legal requirements to have the key names prominent while also not compromising the aesthetics of the poster artwork too much.

Unfortunately the source article linked to is an image rather than a text so not very accessible. I've transcribed the most relevant element of it above.

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+1 for citing sources –  Erics Feb 4 at 15:23
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Disregarding the spirit by following the agreement to the letter. Never fails, right? ;) –  Izkata Feb 4 at 19:23
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+1 for committ to accessibility –  Arkana Feb 5 at 11:59
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@Izkata "to the letter"—I see what you did there. –  Joshua Taylor Feb 5 at 17:05
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@Braiam I wouldn't say so really. UX involved taking many things into consideration to come up with a solution. We have to consider business requirements, budgetary limits, user needs, aesthetic and branding, and technical restrictions. Coming up with the optional user experience based on these factors (and more) is where the skill of our profession comes in. –  JonW Feb 7 at 7:12
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I think that the closest answer is: a compromise between visibility and legibility (which of course created some standard with time, or even: best practice).

The main purpose for that is the need to fit as much text as possible, while still keeping the letters quite big (this is why the letters are almost always capital here as well). Fonts used here are mainly 'condensed' subsets of bigger families, or dedicated 'condensed' fonts (you can also find extra-condensed, compressed, narrow or similar naming conventions - you can find more about taxonomy of the type here). One great example is UltraThin Condensed. If a standard font was used here, it would occupy too much space; on a contrary, decreasing the font size of the font would lead to the names being smaller and less visible).

I also believe that, with time, more and more text needed to be put on the posters (so far not-so-important actors didn't want to be excluded from official credits on the posters, and also new areas became important - special effects for example). You can feel it when you look through the posters in the Wikipedia article about film posters.

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It may also be argued that the aesthetic styling of the collateral around the movie going experience contributes to a particular state of mind and overall experience of the movie going public, and that the purpose of movie posters isn't to impart information per se, but rather to frame the referent in some emotional context and to persuade a course of action. Consequently this credits information is styled in a manner to resist attention, allowing the viewer to instead focus on the main part of the poster. Seriously, do you make movie going choices based on who the "Production Designer" is? –  Erics Feb 4 at 8:42
    
And this is the other side of the compromise: between the poster art (which aims to draw attention, refers to the movie topic etc.) and the cast and crew who want to be credited. Text does not draw your attention away from the artwork and still is quite big and quite legible even from some distance. –  Dominik Oslizlo Feb 4 at 8:47
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