12 July 2023

Font rant

You read a lot of conflicting information, most of it not evidence based, with precious little reference to actual scientific studies on the subject of which is more readable (or legible, which is more technically defined): serif or sans serif fonts. So the choice has a significant proportion of subjective esthetic judgement involved. 

So, here's my take. Sans serif fonts like Helvetica and Arial arose out of the Bauhaus or Brutalist architectural esthetic of the early to mid 20th century. The dogma that they are "cleaner" and "easier to read" is, in my view, largely false. They were probably adopted for computer screens because, at low resolution, they are easier to reproduce and easier to decipher. But there actually is considerable evidence that not only are serif fonts, when accurately imaged, are at least as easy to read for large amounts of text, and they are generally preferred by readers in such formats as books, journals, and magazines. 

I personally despise the Brutalist esthetic whole cloth, and dislike sans serif fonts for most purposes. Where they are marginally better, I find semi-serif fonts, like Asul or Optima, are even better... such as for screen fonts. But even for e-mail I prefer a nice serif font, like Palatino or (a new favorite) Caladea. Fonts that have genuine italics (which are completely different, not merely algorithmically derived slant).  

I find most people barely notice these differences, but, as someone who had to prepare "camera ready" legal copy for 35 years using ordinary word processing applications, I have strong, and likely unshakeable views on the subject. Down with Arial! Grind it into the dust! Helvetica is only marginally better. It looks and feels anti-human, machinelike, indifferent to emotion, flying in the face of beauty. (By the way, the skinny and really quite ugly Times New Roman is very probably my least favorite serif font). 

I rest my case, and if you are unconvinced I banish you to the virtual realm of the Philistines! You can come out when activities are not textual! 

(G-mail does not offer a full range of fonts. This e-mail should appear in most browsers and e-mail apps in a generic serif font, based on my choices, but many programs substitute fonts willy nilly). 

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