Don’t use all caps. A case study.

If you use either Instagram or Twitter, you may have seen that Kayne West recently had a revelation about using all caps in his posts.

I’ve learned that using all caps makes people feel like I’m screaming at them.

Kanye West, 2022

In addition to seeming like you are always angry or shouting, using only capital letters can have a negative impact on the legibility of your content.

Content in all caps is less accessible.

This is a quick post about why you shouldn’t use all caps.

Instagram comment from Kayne West’s deleted post: “I’ve learned that using all caps makes people feel like I’m screaming at them. I’m working on my communication. I can benefit from a team of creative professionals, organisers, mobilisers and community leaders. Thank you everybody for supporting me. I know sharing screen shots was jarring and came off as harassing Kim. I take accountability. I’m still learning in real time. I don’t have all the answers. To be a good leader is to be a good listener.”

A case for accessibility

Both typography and hand-written text using the latin alphabet make use of ascenders and descenders. These are small parts of letters like ‘d’ or ‘y’ that appear above the mean line or below the base line.

These shapes increase the readability of words, through making more recognisable shapes and patterns.

Using all caps means that words are mostly uniform in shape and size, including the amount of space each character uses.

Readability

When using all caps, words lack the ascenders and descenders that we learn to recognise subconsciously. This reduces readability when used in headings, long-form content or more than 2-3 consecutive words.

USING ALL CAPS MEANS WORDS ARE UNIFORM IN SHAPE AND SIZE.

Imagine reading a whole page in all caps. It’s much harder to read, it takes more effort than you would expect.

In fact, usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, found that reading speed is 10% slower when content is in all caps.

However, another study from Norman Nielsen Group has shown that this is not always the case. For really quick interactions such as glancing at a smart watch or your phone, micro-sessions or ‘glanceable fonts’ can be improved by the use of all caps.

Bigger is better when using one or two words.

Conclusions

As ever, context is key. Consider how your users are accessing your content, what devices are being used and what they are trying to do.

In most cases (pun intended) avoid using all caps for longer content. This includes titles, sub-headings and paragraphs.

For short, glanceable, interactions, all caps may be used, sparingly.

While I wouldn’t usually seek counsel from Kanye, I think we can all apply his learnings to our accessibility efforts.

Take accountability. Keep learning. Listen.

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