Making a case for letter case

John Saito
Jul 29, 2016 · 6 min read

A little thing like capitalization can be a big deal

Can you spot the differences with the messages above? The left side has a few more capital letters than the right side. Big O, little o. Who cares, right?

Well, if you write for an app or website, you should care. A little thing like capitalization can actually be a big deal. Capitalization affects readability, comprehension, and usability. It even impacts how people view your brand.

We’ll get to the juicy stuff in a bit, but first, let’s start with a little more background about capitalization.

Title case vs. sentence case

  • Title case: Capitalize every word. This Is Title Case.
  • Sentence case: Capitalize the first word. This is sentence case.

If you’re an Apple user, you’ll notice a lot of title case throughout their products. That’s because Apple’s design guidelines recommend title case for many UI elements, including alert titles, menu items, and buttons.

If you’re a Google user, you’ll see a lot more sentence case throughout their products. And that’s because Google’s design guidelines recommend sentence case for almost everything.

Whether you’re on Team Apple or Team Google, Team iPhone or Team Android, it’s good to know what you’re getting into when you use title case or sentence case. Let’s take a closer look at each style.

What’s good about title case?

More symmetry

There’s beauty in symmetry, and sometimes that’s a good enough reason for a designer or writer to choose title case over sentence case.

More visual prominence

Notice how the title on the left pops out more than the title on the right? The more it stands out, the more likely someone will actually read it.

More “gravitas”

Using title case is like dressing your words up in a suit. For certain brands, you might want your words to look like they mean business. If you’re in the business of security, for example, title case is more likely to feel professional and trustworthy compared to sentence case.

Imagine you’re a company exec. Which version feels more professional?

What’s good about sentence case?

Easier to read

That’s why it baffles me to see the screenshot below in Apple’s guidelines. (In case you were wondering, it’s the same screenshot I used earlier on.)

It pains me to read that alert title!

Easier to define

On top of that, there are multiple ways to do title case. Do you capitalize prepositions like “from” or “through”? How about articles like “the” or “an”? Depending on which style guide you follow, the exact rules for title case can be different. Below are the title case rules according to Apple:

OK, pop quiz. Should you capitalize the word “about”?

If you have multiple people writing for your product or website, it’s easy for people to forget all the rules when writing in title case. You can avoid this confusion by just using sentence case everywhere. There’s only one way to do sentence case, so it’s harder to goof up.

Friendlier

Can you feel the love?

Easier to spot proper nouns

A lot of companies nowadays give their features and products descriptive names like “Inbox” or “Calendar,” as opposed to whimsical names like “Spark” or “Fantastical.” If you use title case in all your buttons, it becomes unclear whether certain things are proper nouns or not—and that can affect usability.

Any other cases?

Case in point: On Windows Phone 8, Microsoft used a lot of lowercase text throughout their interface, even for titles and buttons.

Lowercase aplenty in Windows Phone 8

Then there’s GIPHY, one of my favorite sites ever. Their site uses uppercase all over the place, which makes sense for them because meme text is usually written in all caps.

GIPHY: ALL CAPS FTW

Making a case for yourself

Once your users start noticing inconsistencies, that’s when they start losing trust in your brand.

Case closed?

Whatever the case, I’d love to know what you think. Share your thoughts, rants, or questions by leaving a comment below.

John Saito

Written by

Words @Dropbox Paper. Games at home. Previously at YouTube, Google, and Konami.