Optical illusion: Straightening lines that are bend?

optical illusions lines

The builders in ancient times already knew it; something that is exactly right does not look right in our eyes. What is especially admired in the old Greek temples is the technique of building. Which is absolutely spectacular. With drag slopes, slaves, and later cranes, the huge stone blocks were put in place. (Mind you, I don’t consider the use of slaves as a spectacular fact!)

But equally important is the insight that the Greek architects had in the way our eyes fool us. They took that very smartly into account. Although all directions in such a temple seem horizontal and vertical, there is not one exactly straight line.

Parthenon-secrets

proven optical illusionThe course Perspective Sketching at the Academy in Tilburg, where I did my major in art, was given by a very enthusiastic man, always full of stories. He had specifically traveled to Greece to gather evidence for the statement that no straight line in the ancient temples was really straight. He had put his hat on top of the stylobate (the last step of the base) and then walked to the other side.
And indeed, when he held his head close to the top step, his hat was no longer visible. The floor was slightly convex!

Is there a link between this Parthenon phenomenon and typography?

bad typography
An example of bad typography

A similar optical illusion occurs in typography. In the past I have expressed my annoyance about the very bad lettering that can be found on some buildings.
The example on the right could be seen at an office building in Breda, the Netherlands.
The fortuyn letters are made with a (digital) compass and ruler. If you compare them with a well-designed letter, it almost seems as if the straight lines run inwards. Especially the transition between round and right is bad.

Fortuin03

Box of optical tricks

I guess you too can see that the thickness of the O in the curves is not correct. By using only a compass and not WATCHING, a mistake like this are easily made.

If I put both letters on top of each other, another visual trick of the typographer is clearly visible: round letters extend slightly further than the baseline. If the letter designer fails to do this, round letters seem to be smaller than straight letters.

The right knowledge increases your possibilities

good typography
An example of good typography

If a facade letterer has knowledge of these and other visual challenges in typography, he / she will make different choices. He can still choose to draw the letters himself with a compass and ruler, but curve the vertical lines slightly. Or she can choose to use an existing font.

Daily stuff?

Everyone uses letters nowadays. Your computer is packed with them. Fortunately, you do not have to design them yourself because of a wide choice in your Office program or because you bought them in a fontshop.

You can put any questions about typography you have in the commentbox or email me

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.