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Typefaces: on not practising what you preach

1 July 2013

Someone drew my attention to an interesting article on why it is important to choose the right typeface to communicate effectively.

Unfortunately the effect was spoilt, because the body of the article was written in an ugly and difficult-to-read font.

Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

badfontI’ve no idea what font it is, but the main reason that it is difficult to read is that the space between the letters is too small, and the letter i, particularly, tends to get lost among the surrounding letters.

Perhaps that was deliberate, and they wanted to show how difficult it is to read the wrong typeface. But if that was their intention, they should have said so. Given the subject of the article, the typeface chosen certainly gives the impression that the article is not to be taken seriously, because the publishers so obviously don’t take it seriously themselves.

What they also don’t say clearly enough is what different typefaces are good for.

They are down on Comic Sans MS, and, in the example they give, rightly so.

Comic Sans is a very bad font to choose for multi-line text in paragraphs.

But it works quite well when used for one-line text, as in a presentation slide, for example, where points are made in one line. It is then quite readable, more so than many other fonts. But no one would want to read a book set in it.

Microsoft did the world a disservice when they made Times New Roman the default font for their word processor, because it was never designed for the page size that most people use to write stuff. It was designed for newspaper columns.

If you are writing on an A4 page split into three columns, by all means use Times New Roman. That’s where it works best. But if you are writing across the whole width of an A4 page, Bookman Old Style 12 point is much more readable.

Check any published book, and you will never find any that is set in Times New Roman. A book is usually somewhere between a newspaper column and a full-width A4 page, and the publishers usually choose a typeface that is easy to read at that page width.

What the article says is quite interesting — it’s just a pity the publishers did not see fit to take their own advice.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 July 2013 12:22 pm

    Good post Steve. Also worth noting that font selection is critical for those reading with smaller screens. My laptop has an 11″ display and your article excerpt is virtually unreadable.

  2. 1 July 2013 5:15 pm

    Could also be that the excerpt is an image! 🙂

    • 1 July 2013 7:24 pm

      Yes it is an image, though not a lot smaller than the original. Since I didn’t know what font it was using, that was the only way I could show it, but you can probably follow the link to see what it looked like on site.

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