Re: Font Selection Process (Was: Fonts used in print)

Subject: Re: Font Selection Process (Was: Fonts used in print)
From: "Dick Margulis " <margulis -at- mail -dot- fiam -dot- net>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2002 13:06:19 -0500


Let me repeat to you a caution I have expressed here more than once already. Beware of "research" that purports to prove one font is more readable than another.

Readability has long been studied by type foundries and typographers, and much is known about it. Yes, some fonts, in and of themselves, are more readable than others. But the simplistic, undergraduate-psychology-major-level studies that have been done since the advent of do-it-yourself desktop publishing have been uniformly worthless.

Readability depends first on page layout considerations--point size, leading, column width, spacing--second on font metrics--condensed/expanded, x-height/ascenders/descenders,etc.--and only to a minor degree on actual font choice, as long as you are working with fonts designed for use in text (as opposed to advertising display fonts).

Having said that, for most company documents, anywhere I have worked, I have mostly stayed with default system fonts. As others have said, this greatly simplifies things for most users. For marketing collateral, posters, promotional items, logos, etc., I've used whatever the hell I wanted, because what was going to leave my desk was finished art, and nobody else had to have the fonts in question.

Finally, font choice is an esthetic decision. There are certain cultural cues that readers respond to (in general, whether a particular reader happens to or not). Certain fonts have characteristics that set an expectation that the material is technical in nature, for example. I'd be unlikely to choose something as calligraphic as Palatino for an engineering text. And I'd be unlikely to set a book of 18th century poetry in Helvetica.

So if you happen to be less than confident of your familiarity with font esthetics, my standing recommendation is to talk with a designer before committing to a font selection that is going to have a long life in a lot of documents. It's better to admit that you don't have an eye for fonts than it is to produce something that looks like a ransom note.


Steven Brown <stevenabrown -at- yahoo -dot- com> wrote:

>To those of you using "non-standard" fonts (i.e.,
>fonts that aren't as common as Times New Roman or
>Arial), how did you come to select them? Was the
>choice supported by research or usability testing, or
>were the fonts chosen simply because someone liked the
>way they look?
>I don't mean to sound antagonistic, but given that so
>many other product and workflow choices are made very
>deliberately (e.g., authoring tools, Web design,
>operating systems, corporate logo), I wonder if the
>same consideration is given to fonts.

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