April 16, 2007
Blog Entry

Yeah! Great Research Discovered on Typefaces That Work Best Online

SUMMARY: No summary available.
By Anne Holland, President

Two weeks ago I asked if you knew of any research into online typography that dug beyond general understandings from usability and eyetracking studies.

The problem is that while these studies are very valuable in their place, they don't completely resolve nitty-gritty typeface disputes that marketers often find themselves in with the Web and email design departments. Such as, which is better for body copy: Times New Roman or a sans serif font, such as Arial or Verdana?

Sherpa reader Sarah Naasko of Market Strategies Inc. wrote to let me know about a great collection of related studies placed online by the folks at The Wichita State University Software Usability Research Laboratory. The studies don't resolve all my questions (such as ragged right vs justified right or 10 point vs 12 point vs 14 point), but at least they are a pretty good starting point.

The most interesting findings from my perspective across several of the studies listed in this collection are:

o Web surfers like Times New Roman and read it roughly as quickly as a sans serif font. So the "sans serif is better online because people read it more quickly" argument many Web designers have tried out on me isn't true all the time.

o Researchers almost invariably used type in 10 or 12 point size for the reading comprehension tests. Few seem to have tested much smaller fonts, such as 8 or 9, mainly because they assumed that small wouldn’t be a good idea (i.e., no one will be dumb enough to put type that small, so why test it?).

o Researchers also didn’t test color type such as pale gray vs black on white. Again, I assume because they knew from offline type tests anything that's not black on white is harder to read, so what Web designer would think putting body copy in other colors is a good idea?

Obviously, most of these tests were conducted before blogs made tiny gray type fashionable. And, just as obviously, what's fashionable is not always what's comfortable. Not for my feet, nor for my eyes.

In my opinion, using type smaller than 10 points and/or body copy that's not black on white is the equivalent of asking your Web visitors to wear extremely pointy shoes with 5-inch spike heels as they walk around your site. Sure, some young women (my stepdaughter in particular) would be more than happy to. But she does not represent the vast majority of the Web population.

Anyway, rant over. Here's a link to that useful collection of font studies:

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