Article review: Studies of the efficiency of drug labeling (Hailstone & Foster, 1967).

Reference
Hailstone M. & Foster J. J., (1967). Studies of the efficiency of drug labeling. The Journal of Typographic Research, 1(3), 275–284.

Experiment 1

In one sentence
Participants identified drug labels that were type-written significantly faster than compared to drug labels that were hand-written with no significant difference in accuracy.

What did they change?
Writing style: Type-written versus hand-written

What did they measure?
Search time
Accuracy of selection

Who did they test?
24 students (age and gender not reported)

What experimental design was used?
Repeated measures, within subject

Why did they do this?
To determine the effects of hand-written compared to type-written drug labels on search time and accuracy.

What did they do?
24 students (age and gender not reported) were asked to identify specific drug labels from a boards containing 100 labels arranged in a 10 × 10 array. There were two different boards; one contained labels that were hand written, and another that were type-written. The 100 labels on each board consisted of 10 different instructions, such as “One tablet three times a day”, each of which were repeated 10 times. On the hand-written board, each group of 10 labels was written by a different person, resulting in a board with 10 different styles of hand writing. The 100 labels were arranged in the form of a Latin square so that each label appeared only once in each row and in each column (like a Sudoku puzzle of sorts).

Each trial began with a practice where participants were asked to search for a symbol by scanning each row in a systematic fashion in an attempt to ensure that all participants used similar search strategies. The design of the materials for the practice were not reported.

Following the practice, participants were asked to write down one of the 10 different instructions described previously. Participants were then given 10 brass rings and exposed to one of the boards. Their task was to place the rings on top of the labels that contained the same instruction they had just written down. The task was repeated twice for each board. The order in which participants were exposed to the boards was determined by a random number table.

What did they find?
Participants located type-written drug labels significantly faster than hand-written drug labels. There were fewer errors when identifying labels in the type-written condition, but the difference was not statistically significant.

What does this mean?
You’ll be able to find drugs in your medicine cabinet faster if the labels are type-written, and there might be a greater chance you’ll take the wrong drug and die if it’s labeled with hand writing.

 

Experiment 2

In one sentence
Drug labels set in 10 point type were located significantly faster compared to drug labels set in 6 point type, and, at a size of 6 points, drug labels set in capital letters were located significantly faster compared to drug labels set in upper and lower case letters.

What did they change?
Case
Size
Range

What did they measure?
Search time
Search accuracy

Who did they test?
33 nurses (age and gender not reported)

What experimental design was used?
Repeated measures, within subject

Why did they do this?
To determine the effects of the typographic design of drug labels on search time and accuracy.

What did they do?
33 nurses (age and gender not reported) were asked to identify specific drug labels from eight different boards. Each board contained ten different drug names such as “Hydroxyzinc & Phentolamine” each of which were printed ten times and arranged in a 10 × 10 array for a total of 100 labels. The 100 labels were arranged in the form of a Latin square so that each label appeared only once in each row and in each column. The parameters and results for the labels are described in Table 1.

Each trial began with a practice where participants were asked to search for a symbol by scanning each row in a systematic fashion in an attempt to ensure that all participants used similar search strategies. The materials for this portion of the study were not reported.
Following the practice, participants were asked to write down one of the 10 different drug names. They were then given ten brass rings and exposed to one of the boards. Their task was to place the rings on top of the labels that contained the same instruction as the one they had just written down. The task was repeated twice for each board. The order in which they were exposed to the boards was determined by a random number table.

The size of the label was adjusted proportionately with the size of the type, while the size of the board remained the same. This resulted in more space between labels set in 6 point type compared to labels set in 10 point type.

 

Table 1
Typographic parameters and mean selection time in seconds for the eight different boards.

 

LabelType size (pt)RangeCaseTime (sec)*
16LeftUpper24.5
26CenteredUpper24.5
36LeftUpper and lower26.2
46CenteredUpper and lower26.2
510LeftUpper22.45
610CenteredUpper22.45
710LeftUpper and lower22.78
810CenteredUpper and lower22.78

* The difference between flush-left and centered was not statistically significant, so the times were combined.

 

What did they find?
a) Range had no significant effect on search time.
b) Collapsed across range and case, labels set 10 point type were located significantly faster than labels set in 6 point type.
c) Collapsed across range and size, labels set in capital letters were located significantly faster than labels set in upper and lower case letters.
d) At 10 points, there is no significant difference in search time between labels set in set in capital letters compared to labels set in upper and lower case letters.
e) At 6 points, labels set in capital letters were located significantly faster than labels set in upper and lower case letters.
f) No errors were made by any participants.

General observations
Of particular interest to typographers is the interaction between case and size at 6 points, resulting in labels set in capital letters being located faster compared to labels set in upper and lower case letters. This refutes the Bouma model of word recognition which hypothesizes that people tend to read by recognizing unique words shapes as opposed to individual characters, as when text is set in capital letters, word-shapes are reduced to similar recto-linear forms making them harder to discriminate from one another. This is a highly debated topic in the field of typographic design, cognitive psychology, and reading comprehension

What does this mean?
The results of this study demonstrate that certain aspects of the typographic design of drug labels make a significant difference in the time it takes to discriminate amongst them. To the healthcare system this could assist a nurse or pharmacist in taking less time to locating and administer a patient’s medication.

If time is money, typography can save tax dollars by reducing the administrative costs required to run an important part of our healthcare systems (Dean, C.T. 2010).”

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