- Author: Cynthia Kintigh
One of the easiest mistakes to make in designing Web pages, or printed pieces for that matter, is using a lot of fonts thinking that they are design elements. Now don't get me wrong, in the right hands, fonts can be used as design elements, but this is best left to designers. For most of us, the role of fonts is to make your words easily read and understood.
There is a lot of study and debate about fonts (really!)
On the Web, best practices are somewhat different than for printed pieces. This is primarily because good Web writing is in short, concise paragraphs with space (also called leading) between them.
A good rule of thumb is to choose no more than two or three fonts and stick with those throughout your Web site. Choose one font that you will use for headlines, and another that will be used for the body of the text. Save the third font for text you want to draw attention to - sort of like putting on a cocktail dress or a tuxedo - save it for situations where you want to be noticed.
Visitors to your Web site use this consistency of fonts (and color) as a guidepost to let them know they're still on the same Web site. If one of your program pages suddenly shifts fonts and color schemes, visitors think they've left your site and have mysteriously arrived someplace else.
To Serif or Not to Serif?
Serifs are the non-structural lines and curves on the tops and bottoms of letters. A font that sports these features, like Times New Roman, is called a serif font. Fonts like Ariel, without these marks, are called sans-serif fonts.
In print, it is generally thought that large blocks of text are more easily readable in a serif font because the serif helps the eye move from letter to letter. But on the Web, you're not writing in large blocks of text, right? On the Web, the use of serif vs. non-serif fonts is really a matter of taste.
In Web design, a common practice is to use a serif font for headlines, and a sans-serif font for text. Maybe this is the Google effect?
IT IS GENERALLY AGREED THAT ALL CAPS IS DIFFICULT TO READ. And to make matters worse, the use of all caps in e-mails and on the Web is generally thought to be the same thing as shouting.
Likewise, decorative fonts are difficult to read, so use them with caution and only as design elements.
Ragged Right, Ragged Left
"Ragged left" text is generally considered to lower comprehension rates. Use this alignment with extreme caution.
Likewise, centered text should be used with caution.
Centered text is also difficult to read and comprehend. It should be saved for headlines and wedding invitations.
"Ragged right" text is easiest to read. The bulk of this blog is in ragged right text.
I want to talk about color at length in a later posting - but as it relates to text, it's simple: Black on white is easiest to read.
If you must use color, choose a dark shade. The higher the contrast between the text and the background the better. Few things are harder to read than yellow text on white. Red and green are also surprisingly difficult to read. (Sorry 4-H, it's true) If you're choosing to use color - test! test! test!