Audience: Computer users. Programmers. User experience designers (UXD).
Every computer-user has a different strategy for choosing the best font for long
periods working at the computer. They all involve many metrics, strategies, and
rubrics. Based on that, they are probably all wrong. Well not really, they are
right based upon experience, and experience is really all that matters.
I was curious about whether my experience had any basis in reality, and I really
wanted to dig into what is the “right way” to choose a font for any particular
user or situation. The following are notes and ultimately a decision on what is
the best for me. Hopefully the notes alone are revealing and help you reach your
own conclusion, too. At the very least you ought to be educated, informed, and
probably surprised, too, about some of the factors involved in font selection.
Serifs are tips for the reader’s eyes for flow.
San-serifs are better for low-res.
Simultaneously states that is no difference between serif and san-serif.
Designed for digital, Hermann Zapf’s Optima, or as a backup Verdana
Designed for digital, Open Sans
San-serifs are easier on the eyes as you get older, citing retinal tears
Designed for screen: Verdana, Trebuchet MS, and (the serif) Georgia.
Easy to read, available on virtually all machines.
Let go of times new roman, Arial, and Helvetica.
Traditionally a serif font was used for the main body of a document, and
sans-serif for headings. Today, those principles are often reversed.
Popular serif fonts are Times New Roman, Palatino, Georgia, Courier,
Bookman and Garamond.
Some popular San Serif fonts are Helvetica, Arial, Calibri, Century
Gothic and Verdana.
It’s been said that serif fonts are for “readability,” while sans-serif
fonts are for “legibility.”
Best fonts for online: go with sans-serif.
2002 study by the Software Usability and Research Laboratory:
- The most legible fonts were Arial, Courier, and Verdana.
- At 10-point size, participants preferred Verdana. Times New Roman was
the least preferred.
- At 12-point size, Arial was preferred and Times New Roman was the
- The preferred font overall was Verdana, and Times New Roman was the
For easiest online reading, use Arial 12-point size and larger. If
you’re going smaller than 12 points, Verdana at 10 points is your best
choice. If you’re after a formal look, use the font “Georgia.” And for
older readers, use at least a 14-point font.
Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, an e-commerce consultant, did a series of tests in 2001. He also came to the conclusion that the sans-serif fonts are more suited to the computer screen.Some of the highlights of the test results
were that at 12 points, respondents showed a preference for Arial over
Verdana – 53% to 43% (with 4% not being able to distinguish between the
two).Two-thirds of respondents found that Verdana at 12 points was too
large for body text, but Verdana at 10 points was voted more readable
than Arial at 10 points by a 2 to 1 margin.In conclusion, for the best
font readability, use Arial 12 point or Verdana at 10 points and 9
points for body text. For headlines, he suggests using larger bold
My comments: no links to cited papers
Post: Advice to use san-serif is outdated and inappropriate for today’s
high resolution screens. San-serif or not is irrelevant; instead the
measure of success is to use a large font that was specifically designed
for on-screen usage. For inspiration, look at the free fonts listed at
the Google Web Fonts directory, especially Vollkorn or the Droid Serif
font which was particularly developed with small font size in mind.
GCR: That post is confusing because he later explains that we are not
there yet, but rather getting close.
Post: Sans-serif are best for on-screen.
Legibility refers to being able to read a text in bad conditions.
“Legibility is concerned with the very fine details of typeface design,
and in an operational context this usually means the ability to
recognize individual letters or words. Readability however concerns the
optimum arrangement and layout of whole bodies of text”
Studies that contrast serif vs. non-serif fonts seem to be
There are some ground rules one can find, like:
- Don’t make long lines nor too long paragraphs
- Use wide fonts such as Palatino or Verdana for small fonts
- Use spaces between lines, e.g. about 1.2 at least. E.g. in Word 2007,
1.15 is the default I believe. to be controversial.
Sans serif: Verdana (a humanist font) or Arial
Some references for studies and research done on fonts.
“two roles for type: a functional role (relating to legibility) and an
aesthetic/semantic role, which impacts the “apparent ‘fitness’ or
‘suitability’ for different functions, and which imbue it with the power
to evoke in the perceiver certain emotional and cognitive response” (p.
In her study: Calibri came out as a winner against Courier New and Curlz.
GCR: Very exciting and interesting with good links
People take Calibri seriously via this study.
Study showing how people emotionally react to certain fonts.
Young people like serif; older like sans-serif.
Links to papers on font readability.
Serif: Georgia. It was designed especially for screen. Other options are
Sans-Serif: Tahoma. Geneva, Tahoma, and Verdana were designed especially
for the screen. Tahoma in particular is cited for legibility. Another
pick: Lucida Sans Unicode: Cited as remarkably legible for some reason.
Monospaced: Monaco/Lucida Console.
GCR: Great article.
Another study, unsure what to conclude from it.
Tahoma and Verdana, sans-serifs, were designed specifically for viewing
on computer screens. J, I, and 1 were made distinguishable. Tahoma is
wider than Verdana.
Great article but leaves so many questions and stuff unanswered and
Big fonts generally don’t matter and are easy to read.
Tahoma is well-read.
Verdana and Georgia have good legibility.
Whole other range of evaluations: personality, elegant, youthful and
Most legible: Courier, Comic, Verdana, Georgia, and Times.