What the Oscars Can Learn from VisionAware About Print Legibility and Effective Lighting for Reading

the Oscar statuette

As many news outlets have reported by now, actors Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced the incorrect Best Picture winner at the 89th Academy Awards ceremony on February 26, 2017. Mr. Beatty opened the envelope and Ms. Dunaway read the winning picture as La La Land instead of Moonlight, the actual winner.

How did this happen? Many explanations have been advanced, including human error by a tweeting and distracted Brian Cullinan, the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant who handed the incorrect envelope to Warren Beatty backstage.

Another possibility, however, is that the envelope – which was redesigned this year – was difficult to read, due to a combination of poor contrast, poor print legibility, and insufficient lighting backstage.

Here’s more about that possibility from Was Oscar’s best picture disaster simply the result of poor envelope design?, via the Los Angeles Times:

One of the most epic mix-ups in the history of the Academy Awards could have been the result of a faulty envelope design as much as bad backstage distribution.

Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway were there to present the last award of the night, the Oscar for best picture. However, instead of the envelope for best picture, they were given a second envelope for lead actress, which was won by Emma Stone of “La La Land,” causing Dunaway to announce that “La La Land” had won best picture, instead of “Moonlight.”

A new envelope design — red with the category embossed on the front in gold lettering — could have been a factor.

This was the first year since 2011 that Marc Friedland Couture Communications of Los Angeles did not design and print the Oscar envelopes. Said Friedland, “I can’t say our envelope would have prevented it, but we put measures in place to make it as foolproof as possible, such as really legible, very big type.”

Friedland’s envelopes were gold, affixed with large ecru labels stating the categories in a proprietary typeface that provided contrast and legibility. This year’s new cards, with the lower contrast gold printing on red envelopes, could have been hard to read in the lighting backstage.

“We always were concerned about the fact the presenters could get them out of the envelope easily and that they were easily legible,” Friedland said. “I think it’s … a flaw in the design and human error that contributed to this.”

Examples of Academy Award Envelopes

This is the gold Oscar envelope from the 2016 ceremony. The award title is in large print, with good contrast between the print and background:

Oscar 2016 gold envelope

This is the red Oscar envelope from this year’s ceremony, held by presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway:

Oscar 2017 red envelope

This is a close-up view of this year’s red Oscar envelope. Note the very poor contrast between the deep red envelope and the burnished gold print:

Oscar 2017 red envelope close-up

What the Academy Awards Can Learn from VisionAware About Print Legibility

Use Large Print and Strong Contrast

The standard font size for large print is 18 point. When advising your employer, senior center, or church, for example, on how to make brochures, newsletters, schedules, menus, programs, and other materials accessible for you, the best size type for these items is generally 18 point, which can be produced by regular printers.

It’s also best to use bold black print on a matte (not glossy or shiny) white or cream background and limit the use of graphics. Also, avoid using italics or all capital letters. Generally, lower-case lettering is easier to read.

Use plain, simple, “sans-serif” fonts, such as Arial or APHont (available online through the American Printing House for the Blind).

Serifs are details on the ends of some strokes that comprise letters and symbols. A typeface with these strokes and details is called “serif.” A typeface without these details is called “sans-serif,” from the French “sans,” meaning “without.” In many cases, the use of fonts with serifs can reduce the readability of print for people with low vision. Therefore, sans-serif fonts are the recommended print options.

This is an illustration and comparison of serif and sans-serif fonts:

Comparison of sans-serif fonts

Strong contrast between the print and background is very important. Light lettering, such as white or light yellow, on a dark background may sometimes be easier to read than black lettering on a white or light-colored background. To enhance print contrast, you can also use a yellow acetate overlay, or filter to enhance the contrast between the print and page color.

You can learn more about large print and print legibility at Getting Started Kit: Tips for Making Print More Readable (PDF) and Using Large Print at VisionAware.org.

What the Academy Awards Can Learn from VisionAware About Effective Lighting for Reading

There are a number of different types of light, each with its own characteristics. When you go to the store to purchase a new lightbulb, it’s helpful to pay attention to three terms that you can find on every lightbulb box:

  • Lumens: the amount of light that a lightbulb produces. The higher the lumen number, the more light the bulb will produce.
  • Wattage: the amount of electricity a lightbulb uses. The higher the wattage number, the more electricity the bulb will use.
  • Kelvin or K rating: a measure of “color temperature.” A Kelvin or K rating of 2,700 produces a warm, or yellowish, light; a K rating of 4,500 produces a white light that is closest to true daylight; and a K rating of 5,000 or above produces a cool or “bluish” light.
  • For most people with low vision, a Kelvin rating of under 5,000 is usually recommended. This is partly because there will not be any blue light or ultraviolet if a lamp is under 5,000 K. Also, the lamp will probably be better contrast if it is under 5,000 K.
  • The most important terms for people with low vision are lumens and Kelvin rating.

Incandescent Light (Basic Light Bulbs)

Incandescent light emphasizes the red/yellow end of the visible light spectrum, which is closer to natural sunlight. The light from an incandescent light bulb is also very concentrated. That makes it best for “spot” illumination on close work, such as reading, sewing, and crafts. It is not recommended for overall room lighting, since, like sunlight, it tends to create glare spots and shadowy areas.

Please note: At the end of 2014, the United States phased out production of all incandescent bulbs. Until supplies run out, these bulbs will remain on store shelves alongside the energy-saving alternatives that are replacing them.

Fluorescent Light and Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs)

Fluorescent light and CFLs produce less heat, use less energy, and are more cost-effective than incandescent bulbs. Fluorescents are usually recommended for overall room lighting because they don’t create glare spots and shadows. A CFL is a compact version of a fluorescent tube that is curved or folded to fit into the space of a standard bulb. Look for CFLs with a K rating of around 4,200 but under 5,000.

CFLs have some drawbacks, however:

  • CFLs take time to warm up and achieve full brightness.
  • Some models can’t be used with a dimmer switch.
  • Because they contain a small amount of mercury, CFLs must be recycled at a hazardous materials facility. Also, it’s not easy to avoid mercury contamination when cleaning up broken CFLs.

Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

LED bulbs produce minimal heat, are very energy-efficient, and achieve full brightness instantaneously. The energy-producing part of the light, the diode, is encased in a hard plastic cover that looks like a standard bulb and will not break easily. LED bulbs do not contain mercury, have a life expectancy of 50,000 hours, and work best for concentrated lighting on close work in a flexible-arm lamp with a shade that directs the light downward. They are not recommended for overall room lighting. Look for LEDs with a K rating of around 4,200 but under 5,000.

Halogen Light

Some people prefer halogen light because it is brighter, “whiter,” and very concentrated. It is used in lamps, track lighting, and ceiling fixtures, and it is also available in adjustable gooseneck and flex-arm lamps.

There are some disadvantages to halogen light, however:

  • Since it is hotter and more focused than other types of light, it is not recommended for prolonged close work.
  • When used in a reading lamp, the bulb must be shielded by a piece of protective Plexiglas or durable plastic.
  • It produces intense heat and can cause fire and severe burns if used incorrectly. Always follow the manufacturer’s safety precautions when using halogen lighting fixtures.

Combination Lighting

This type of lighting contains some combination of CFL, LED, and fluorescent light. For example, some lamps combine CFL, LED, and fluorescent lighting in the same fixture. Some adjustable flex-arm lamps contain a fluorescent “ring” (called a Circline bulb) that surrounds a CFL or LED light. Combination lighting is usually the most comfortable light for everyday activities because it provides a fuller-spectrum light that more closely resembles natural sunlight.

For more information about helpful lighting for reading, you can read Lighting for Reading and view the Better Lighting for Better Sight video series at VisionAware.org.

Are you listening, Oscars? We hope so!