Re: Font readability?

Subject: Re: Font readability?
From: Laura Lemay <lemay -at- LNE -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 7 Apr 1995 17:45:11 -0700

> Okay, here's a question for you usability types. An engineer
> in our company is trying to make us change the font we use
> from a sans serif to a serif type. He claims that serif is
> more readable. Does anyone have some data (studies, hard
> evidence) to back one style or the other?

Rolf F. Rehe, in "Typography" (Design Research International), my
favourite source for type information, has this to say:


One of the most often asked questions concerns the comparative
legibility of sans-serif to serif type face designs. Numerous studies
have investigated the problem, most always without finding a
significantly valuable answer. Robinson, Abbamonte and Evans, in an
extensive study, suggested that "the neurological structure of the
human visual system benefits from serifs in the preservation of the
main features of letters." It seems that, since words are perceived
by their outline shape, single letters with serifs, having a more
distinctive outline shape over sans-serif letters, may also be more
easily perceptible than sans-serif letters.

A study by Hvistendahl and Kahl found that, on a marginal rate, serif
type faces are more legible than sans-serif designs. Two high similar
trial stories were presented in both serif and sans-serif type. From
the trial story set in serif type, subjects were able to read between
7 to 10 more words per minute in comparison to the trial story set in
sans-serif type. The majority of the readers, almost two thirds of
them, when given a choice, preferred serif type over sans-serif
designs. This coincides with earlier findings by Tinker/Paterson that
what is most legible is also preferred by readers.

These findings, of course, are not to signal the disappearance of
sans-serif type faces. For one, the legibility differences between
the two type categories, although scientifically significant, are often
of a minimal nature. Secondly, the type face design needs to relate
to, needs to support the "tone" of the message.

++ Serif type faces seem to be more legible and are preferred by
readers over sans-serif type. Where they are not contradictory but
supportive to the "tone" of the message, they should be made first


If you can find Rehe's book (I can't, unfortunately, the copy I have is
a photocopy and I've been looking for years for a real version), its
a great reference for most typographic questions.

type nerd

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