Which font to use? All of them?

New research from Adobe shows we have to re-think optimum fonts and typefaces.

Example of typefaces images.

First, font is not the same thing as typeface. What’s the difference? Typeface is a group of letters and numbers in the same design, such as Times New Roman. Font is a specific style of typeface, such as Italic or Bold, and in a particular size, for example, 10 or 16.

By simply changing the font readers can gain incredible reading speed. But there is no one-size-fits-all “best” font.

A woman is reading a book reader device similar to Kindle.

While reading speed is not something usually considered as a universal design concept, it is a related aspect. Ease of use and comfort for all is one of the tenets. And if you want to extend the attention span of readers then speed and comfort will help.

The study looked at a group of 352 participants aged 18-71 years. Forty-six percent were female, 22 percent bilingual and all self reporting they are comfortable reading English.

The study measured 16 common typefaces and their effects on reading speeds, preferences and comprehension scores. Similarly to an optometrists eye test they toggled letters to ask participants their preferred font.

Different readers read fastest in different fonts without losing comprehension. That means personalisation is the key.

a man is reading a tablet device.

On average an individual read 35 percent faster with their fastest font than with their slowest font. Comprehension was retained across all fonts. But no font was a clear winner for all participants. This means that devices will need to allow reader to personalise their font choices.

The other finding was that the fonts people say they prefer aren’t often the ones with which they read fastest. While there is no best font, there was some typefaces that worked best for older participants. This could be due to familiarity, or visual properties.

The title of the article is, The need to personalize fonts for each individual reader. It has some surprising results everyone should consider in their written and online communication. The title of the research paper is, Towards Individuated Reading Experiences: Different Fonts Increase Reading Speed for Different Individuals

From the abstract

In the context of Interlude Reading, we consider if manipulating font choice can improve adult readers’ reading outcomes. Our studies normalize font size by human perception and provide a foundation for understanding which fonts people prefer and which fonts make them more effective readers.

Participants’ reading speeds (measured in words-per-minute (WPM)) increased by 35% when comparing fastest and slowest fonts without affecting reading comprehension. High WPM variability across fonts suggests that one font does not fit all. We provide font recommendations related to higher reading speed and discuss the need for individuation, allowing digital devices to match their readers’ needs in the moment.

The art of typography for digital access

logo for Vision Australia Digital Access webinars.

Every time you write something you have an opportunity to consider typography for digital access. This is the technique of choosing and arranging type to make written language understandable and readable. The problem is, some typefaces make it difficult to distinguish separate letters. For example, 5AM can look like SAM, clear looks like dear, and turn looks like tum. Fortunately, Vision Australia has some practical help.

Writing for an app, a website, an email, or a presentation requires thought about the most readable typeface or font. And we have to consider things like payment terminals, keypads and logos. Several people might be involved in making and designing typography. For example, human resource teams and brand and marketing teams.

Vision Australia has a one hour digital access webinar divided into handy chapters so you don’t have to consume it all at once. The chapters are:

  1. Introduction to typography
  2. An inclusive lens on typography
  3. What to look for
  4. 8 accessible typeface tips
  5. Which font should I use?
  6. Typographic layout and styling
  7. Design with people with disability

8 Typeface Tips

  1. Choose fonts that have more space for lower case letters so that the main body of a lowercase letter has more room. 
  2. Choose typefaces that are more open – for example a bigger gap between the end curves of a ‘c’. 
  3. Fonts with larger white spaces between letters are really helpful.
  4. Typefaces with joined letters to look like script are confusing and difficult for screen readers.
  5. Some typefaces have letters and numbers that look the same such as upper case “i” and the number “1” and lower case “l”.
  6. Look at the horizontal spaces between all letters in a word of body of text. They can be too close or too spaced. 
  7. Limit using ALL CAPS text. This is due to the shape of the letters and the way we recognise text. Sentence case gives the word it’s shape.
  8. Avoid images of text because when you zoom in they get pixilated and fuzzy. Photos of text can’t be read by screen readers either.

One amusing point about screen readers trying to decipher the acronym FAQ’s: if the apostrophe is left out it reads “farq yous”. However, it emphasises the point of testing with screen readers.

Vision Australia’s advice is there is no one right font. You have to consider context, tone, audience and the content. And of course, the advice in the following chapter in the webinar.

An excellent webinar – one of a series that includes mobile app accessibility, online access policies, and more. 

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