[NTLK] Grant, Grant, he's our man!

Andrei Chichak newton at chichak.ca
Fri Nov 5 19:05:53 EDT 2010

On 2010-November-05, at 4:20 PM, Lord Groundhog wrote:

> ~~~ On 2010/11/05 21:37, David Kendal at davidpk212 at gmail.com wrote ~~~
>> On 5 Nov 2010, at 21:34, Lord Groundhog wrote:
>>> ~~~ On 2010/11/05 20:55, Andrei Chichak at newton at chichak.ca wrote ~~~
>>>> Grant, Grant, 
>>>> He's our man!
>>>> If he can't explain why arial is a lousy font for body text,
>>>> No one can!
>>> If you can explain it for me, Grant, I'm all ears -- er, I mean, eyes.
>> I'm not Grant, but most of the problem with Arial are summed up excellently
>> here:
>> http://www.ms-studio.com/articles.html
> Oddly, it doesn't actually explain why Arial makes my eyes bleed to look at
> it.  Subjectively, I'm a calligrapher and that causes me to look at
> lettering of any kind in a certain way, and it's true that I'm fussy at the
> best of times.  But in many ways I look at letters from a different
> perspective than a typesetter would, and Arial is one of the fonts that just
> plain irritates me to look at.
> I just hoped somebody could tell me why.

I am but a colour blind software geek, but the way I understand typography is first, it depends on context. There is text for looking at and text for reading. 

Text evokes a response from the reader, and the response should be congruous with the situation. 

With text for looking at, it prompts an emotional response. For instance I am putting together my bicycle from 40 years ago for my son, it's going to be a single speed skinny tyre road bike, but it needed a set of decals for the down tube. After looking through hundreds of fonts, some too fat and slow for a road bike, some too techy for a bicycle, some too identifiable with a particular brand that isn't very nice, I came across a clone of the font that Porsche used on its race car logos in the '70s and '80s. Perfect - speed, old school, lightness.

For reading I defer to the years of typographical readability studies. Some fonts are designed to have features that aide in readability. As you have probably noticed all UPPER CASE IS REALLY HARD TO READ because each character is roughly the same size and the same height, no descenders, no ascenders, no tittles, nothing to help you quickly recognize the shape of the word. Serifs, those little feet at the ends of the letter strokes, were put there, not just as useless embellishments, but to aide in readability. From 'THE NON-DESIGNER'S DESIGN BOOK' - "If you're setting lots of type that you want people to actually read, choose an oldstyle." Oldstyle fonts have the serifs that have been developed over the ages. Modern fonts don't have serifs to help out.

Since nobody actually reads headings, use a modern font of a heavier weight, or the same font in a larger size and heavier weight. The weight change will make the font change look intentional instead of accidental. But for the sake of the people that actually have to read your stuff, use something like Times for the body text. Check out the New York Times web site, they write for people to read. 

Arial for body text, just say no.


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