History of the eye chart, through the lens of typography
June 20, 2020 10:13 PM   Subscribe

Lorrie Frear for I Love Typography: "My graphic design students love to design posters using the classic eye chart composition, and they frequently ask “What typeface should I use for this?” Not having a definitive answer has always been frustrating, so I decided to investigate to find out what typeface is used on eye charts." Looking for an artistic, global take on the classic Snellen chart (Wikipedia)? See the World: A multilingual eye chart features characters from more than 25 languages, selected for aesthetic and linguistic distinctiveness, described in the legend. (Byte Level Research)

Here are some actual eye charts from countries and regions that don't use the Latin alphabet:
  • Таблица Головина-Сивцева (Golovin–Sivtsev Table) (Wikipedia) is a standardized table for testing visual acuity, which was developed in 1923 by Soviet ophthalmologists Sergei Golovin and D. A. Sivtsev. In the USSR It was the most common table of its kind, and as of 2008 its use is still widespread in several post-Soviet states.
  • Landolt C (Wikipedia), also known as a Landolt ring, Landolt broken ring or Japanese vision test (Access J), is an optotype, i.e. a standardized symbol used for testing vision. It was developed by the Swiss-born ophthalmologist Edmund Landolt.
  • LEA Vision Test System (Wikipedia) is a series of pediatric vision tests designed specifically for children who do not know how to read the letters of the alphabet that are typically used in eye charts, developed by Finnish pediatric ophthalmologist Lea Hyvärinen, MD, PhD.
Bonus facts:
  • The representation of visual acuity in the form of a fraction (e.g. 6/6 (20/20), 6/24 (20/80), etc.) is known as the Snellen fraction (Free Dictionary Medical Dictionary), after the Dutch ophthalmologist Herman Snellen (Euro Times), who developed the chart and its use in 1862. He also invented optotypes, fonts designed specifically for eye tests instead of typical printing applications.
  • Though still common, the Snellen chart has been improved upon with the LogMAR Chart (Wikipedia), which stands for Logarithm of the Minimum Angle of Resolution. Designed by Ian Bailey and Jan E Lovie-Kitchin at the National Vision Research Institute of Australia
  • Sloan letters (Wikipedia), designed by Louise Sloan, an American ophthalmologist and vision scientist in 1959, are a set of optotypes used to test visual acuity generally used in Snellen charts and LogMAR charts.
posted by filthy light thief (8 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
This is super fascinating. Thank you.
posted by Kitchen Witch at 11:18 PM on June 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Multilingual Eye Chart is a clever visual gag. Love it.
posted by demiurge at 11:18 PM on June 20, 2020

I worked in Pakistan about 15 years ago. While there I broke my glasses and needed new ones urgently. I went to an ophthalmologist/optician in Islamabad. They had a series of eye charts for people who were illiterate and had pictures only. I've searched the interwebs and been unable to find it. The optometrist was London trained, the prices were for Pakistan. I had an eye test for $3 and selected several pairs of designer for $25 a pop!

Meanwhile, I did find several items of interest. The first relates to Pakistan here. While the second is a series of downloadable eye test charts to be found here.
posted by IndelibleUnderpants at 12:07 AM on June 21, 2020

I remember getting an eye test when I was very young, and it was like the Tumbling E: I was given a shape, and I had to hold it up in the orientation that the screen showed. This would've been a few years before (and in a country far from) the Tumbling E test was developed, though.

I remember getting a barage of tests for Something Unknown around age 5.
posted by scruss at 4:40 AM on June 21, 2020

Heh. I have always been a little distracted at my eye exams in that my brain keeps trying to identify the font being used in the chart. And, it's always been a little frustrating that I never could come up with a suitable solution.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:48 AM on June 21, 2020

For people who really want a digital font based on both the Sloan optotype designs: Optician Sans (open-source) has you covered! There is also a companion blog post about its development (on Medium).
posted by Martijn at 5:11 AM on June 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

Wow, I was scrolling through the main article and just got hit with a memory I'd absolutely forgotten about - I remember the Tumbling E chart from my childhood! I believe it's what they used when they tested my entire elementary school, which of course would have included lots of kids who didn't know all their letters yet. Now I'm a nearsighted adult so I've only seen the multi-letter versions for decades now.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:47 AM on June 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

Here's design podcast 99% Invisible on the Snellen chart, and a better designed alternative (the LogMAR chart from the post).

TL;DR: the better design would take up more space and is harder to memorise, so doctors opt for the devil they know.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:19 PM on June 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

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