Wednesday, July 02, 2008

to serif or not to serif

[warning: non-biking material below]

background: last week i had a fascinating conversation with some friends on muir beach about serifs. some may snooze at an hour long conversation about serifs, however, i was quite intrigued.

for those of you who don't know.... serifs are the little tails at the end of letters. for example:
Serif Font (e.g. Times)

Sans-serif Font (e.g. Arial)

during this conversation, me and my friend vince (amongst others) agreed about the superiority of Garamond font. This was always my favorite font, especially when in school. And I was convinced that papers written in Garamond, as opposed to Times New Roman (the MS Word default), sounded more intelligent. Plus, the character spacing of Garamond was slightly less, which meant I could be slightly more prolific and still stay within the page limit.

as i learned during our long conversation, serifed fonts are often considered superior to sans-serifed fonts because of readability issues, i.e. serifed fonts (at least on paper) are easier for the eye to read.

however, why are internet fonts typical sans-serif?

[the remainder of this post is an email cut/paste sent early this week with some edits of not-so-pertinent information. I decided to include this in my blog because i think it is a matter of much importance, and one that many readers might find interesting...that is assuming all my readers are not dumb jocks.]

serif email: so after our fascinating conversation on serifs, i did a tiny bit of research, as i was curious: why if serifs are supposed to promote readability, why default fonts online are typically sans-serif?

upon first review, i looked at Wikipedia. "Sans-serif fonts have become the de facto standard for body text on-screen, especially online. It has been suggested that this is because the small size of the font causes serif fonts to appear excessively cluttered on the screen. This is also true of typography on mobile screens, though it is less commonly used in television screens (the United Kingdom uses a Serif font by default on television)."

i, however, was not satisfied with this, so i did a bit more of a web search. sans-serifs fonts are preferred on the computer screen. "For electronic media, serif fonts should be avoided for small text sizes. Computer screens do not have the resolution to cleanly render serifs bellow 7-8 point font size. The result is badly rendered text that can be very difficult to read." please consider this when choosing your default text and size for your blog.

apart from computer screens-- vince, i believe there are some revisionists who are countering the superiority of serifs in print reading material: "in many places in Europe school primers are more often set in sans- serif fonts, and that studies have shown faster reading rates with sans serif fonts in Europe while serif fonts score better in North America where our schoolbooks are more often set in serifed fonts (Century Schoolbook was specifically mentioned as having scored among the highest)." oddly enough, i read this on a website thats font was a serifed font. new courier at that. but of other interest, i will give some links.

I believe this summed up my findings: "Is it the case that more than one hundred years of research has been marred by repeated methodological flaws, or are serifs simply a typographical "red herring"?"

enjoy friends!

or perhaps i should say:

enjoy friends!



Laura said...

My question is, and has always been:

Is it pronounced "SEHR-if?" Or "Sur-EEF?"

chatterbox said...

usability studies (not that I have any citations for you, cause I'm super-lazy today) show that legibility is best for serif in print and sans-serif on screen.

Oh, and Garamond is one of the lovliest fonts ever - note my logo in the upper-left of my blog - Garamond all the way!

WarrenG said...

Mac users don't understand what you're talking about because for them it is Helvetica (sans-serif) vs. New York (avec-serif). Sacramento was first called New Helvetia, so shouldn't the font be called Sacramento?

Your brain obviously has too much free time, so I suggest an afternoon with a sprint, then a scratch race, then a pursuit, then a points race, and then a 500mTT. Follow that with a 1/2 can of good beer to wash down a chocolate donut. Then within an hour, write a blog post that will surely be entertaining to the cast of thousands who read your blog, because your mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Gilby said...

I've always been partial to sans serif fonts. My favorite is Century Gothic.

Margin Walker said...

Wow. I am totally a dumb jock and I didn't even know it.

Zoobileezoo said...

I kind of liked it when you talked about bikes or your quads.

ddt said...

oh, i'll totally geek out on typography any time, beth.

just try to read a three-column page tightly kerned and leaded in a san-serif (say, avant garde) and then look at the same in, say, new york. your eyes will give you empirical evidence.

some say it's that serifs move the eye around vertically (see: x-height) whereas sans serifs don't, which leads to exhaustion and skipping.

Helvetica is lovely. And Apple traditionally used its own Apple Garamond for ads and packaging (screen font for menus, etc., is Lucia Grande) though both are changing.

geeking out,


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