Enhancing site readability
You want people to read the useful content provided on your site. Aside from your choice in font family, there are additional things you can do to improve the readability of your text.
As a designer, one needs to decide how or whether to mix and match fonts. Most of the time, one typeface will do, especially if it’s one of the workhorses with many different weights that work together. If we reach a point where we want to add a second face to the mix, it’s always good to observe this simple rule: keep it the same, or change it a lot — avoid incremental, meaningless variations.
Now that you’ve chosen your fonts, it’s time to establish the size of your main body text, headings, sub-headings, and other text elements. Suggested font sizes for these text elements are:
- Text: 10px or 12px
- Main Headings: 14px, 16px or 18px
- Sub-Headings: 12px or 14px
- Captions: 8px, 9px or 10px
Better though is to use relative measurements like % or em. Relative measurements allow anyone to increase or decrease the size to one they find more readable. It’s a good idea for accessibility to assist those with poorer eyesight. Books have come in oversized print for years for a reason. Not everyone can read smaller print. Be kind and allow visitors to resize your text.
1.0em should be equivalent to 16px. Most people find a font size of about 14px or 0.90em to be comfortable to read, but everyone has different preferences. To be on the safe side, set your default font size to something between 0.8em and 1.0em (12px – 16px) and then let your visitors adjust the size to their wishes.
One essential thing is the contrast between the color of your text and the color of the background behind it. The more the two contrast, the easier the text will be to read. Black text on a white background will always be best, but it’s ok to use different colors. Just make sure your text color stands out against your background color.
Line length is another issue in readability. Too many words on one line make it hard to follow a block of text. With the increase in fluid designs and the lack of support for the max-width property in Internet Explorer, more and more sites are displaying long lines of text that are difficult to read. You can usually get away with a long line of text online than in print, but try to keep those lines from getting too long. 60-70 characters ought to be the maximum.
Your font choices, font size, contrast, and line length will make a huge difference in the readability of your site. And a sure way to lose visitors is to provide content they have trouble reading. How to manage your use of fonts You can add style and interest to your text by using “attributes.” These stylistic elements introduce variety and help you better convey your message. The most common font attributes are plain, bold, italic, underline, capitals, and color. When used, these elements become part of your site’s overall design. If used sparingly, they can be effective. When overused, your page can look cluttered and unprofessional. Be consistent when applying attributes, and always remember that “less is more.”
- Plain: Use for main body text on white or light backgrounds and large headings.
- Bold: Use for emphases, such as headings and sub-headings, keywords, and small blocks of words. Use sparingly.
- Italic: Use for emphases, such as keywords, quotes, photo credits, captions, and titles. Too much italic is difficult to read, so use sparingly.
- Capital letters: Use basic rules of grammar in applying capital letters in your text. Avoid using all capital letters except for concise words.
- Underline: I totally avoid using underlines on web pages because underlined words can be confused with links.
- Color: Use color sparingly to attract attention, emphasize a word, or select a group of words. Make sure your color choices complement your overall web design.
Research and apply the results
Consider the message you want your site to convey. Look at other websites in your industry that appeal to you and see if you can recognize the fonts. [Author’s note: Right-click on a page and choose “View source” to find out if you are right. Use the Edit/Find commands and look for “font.”] Chances are they will use one of the fonts from the recommended shortlist. When you view your site as an image, fonts are simply part of the overall “look” of the site. Remembering this will help you better decide which font will fit best with your site. In simple terms, do you like it? Does it convey the right feeling for the subject matter? One of the more interesting ways to explore fonts is to look at what fonts are used on some of your favorite sites and ask yourself why you like them.
- Facebook: font-family:”lucida grande”,tahoma,verdana,arial,sans-serif
- LearnWebDevelopment: Droid Sans, a Google sans serif typeface
- Fox News: Lora, a Google serif typeface
- Gmail: font-family:Arial,sans-serif
- nytimes.com: font-family:Georgia,”times new roman”,Times,serif
- Wikipedia: font-family:sans-serif
- PragmaticWebDesigner: font-family:Tahoma,Arial,Helvetica,Sans-serif
You’ve done your research and have chosen your font(s). How did you arrive at your decision? Is it a factor of the rest of the page design? Why are there so many variations on these websites? What defines readability?
Dr. John Elcik is a Pragmatic Web Designer. He is passionate about the application of web technologies to marketing communication issues. His specialties include web design, social media, and customer relationship management technologies. His search for the “right” font has been a pragmatic one. It has never been about looking for something unique and distinctive that expresses his particular aesthetic taste. Rather, “appropriateness” is the acid test that guides his choice of font. His favorite fonts are: Takoma, among the san serif, faces for body text, and Georgia, among the serif faces for headings. Typefaces that have several weights (light, regular, bold, etc.) and/or cuts (italic, condensed, etc.) work are good choices to become your personal “workhorse.”