One of the reasons architects and engineers have used only uppercase may have been the difficulty of learning to letter. I don't know what today's students think about lettering, but when I was in architecture school, developing a "hand" was seen as a critical part of the architect's identity.
|Baudot keyboard - no lowercase letters!|
But for some reason, perhaps just laziness, mastery of uppercase letters was as far as most of us got; I recall only a few who extended their lettering skills to include lowercase. Otherwise, given the advantages of using mixed case, I can't imagine why architects and engineers have limited their writing to uppercase.
There are many studies and many opinions regarding the benefits of using mixed case lettering. Many claim the shape of the words affects recognition, the theory being that uppercase letters have no shape, while lowercase letters have parts that stick up above or down below the rest of the letters, making words easier to recognize. Others dispute that theory, yet still see evidence that comprehension is enhanced with mixed case text.
Some suggest that the effect is largely based on familiarity. Because we're accustomed to reading in mixed case, we do it well, but if we read uppercase all the time, we would read just as well. That makes sense; early in my career, when I frequently met with clients, I would orient the drawings for the client, and I eventually was able to read upside down text nearly as fast as right side up. Even so, we are surrounded by mixed case text, so why not take advantage of its familiarity?
The US government is convinced that uppercase makes reading needlessly difficult. The Federal Highway Administration has decreed that when road signs are replaced, the new ones must use mixed case. And, in April of this year, the US Navy announced a number of changes intended to improve communication, among them being the introduction of lowercase letters in the body of messages. It turns out that there once was good reason for the use of uppercase letters in military messages; early teletypes had no way to send lowercase!
I often wonder about the inconsistent logic applied to drawings and to text. Architects readily accept the importance of using line weight, poché, and white space to make drawings easier to understand. They correctly would reject the notion of using but one line weight, no poché, and crowding details together; after all, those actions would make the drawings harder to read! Yet many of those same architects care nothing about the fonts, line spacing, line length, and white space used in project manuals. Worse, a few of them see written text as another means of artistic expression, and choose fonts that are difficult to read. They simply fail to understand that poor text layout can interfere with comprehension.
Please - unlock that caps lock! Use mixed case!
And be consistent! If you use capitalization for defined terms, do not use it for terms that are not defined. More at Capital idea!
Photo credit: By John Nagle (talk) (Transferred by Valepert/Originally uploaded by Nagle) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons