Saturday, February 3, 2007

I hate Comic Sans.

Yes, you heard me....I HATE Comic Sans font. I spent years as a training manager trying to make my staff understand why it wasn't appropriate to use Comic Sans - that lofty, playful font - on instructional materials and reference guides at a law firm of all places. It's as far as you can get from "professional" as one possibly could. If you're using Comic Sans in a professional environment, you, my friend, have fallen off the edge of the cliff that divides the world of common sense and, well, that other world that I want no part of.

So, what is an appropriate font for instructional materials? I'm sure many have varying opinions, and it probably depends on what process you're providing instruction on, but keeping it simple is a good idea. For me, the point of providing the information in an instructional guide or reference guide is to make a process clearer. So, let's not muck up the document by adding ten different font types and six different colors - our job is to help the reader understand and focus, not distract them.

As a general rule, I use a sans serif font in the headings and a serif font in the main body of the document. I've broken this rule a million times, of course, as people seem to have a love of Arial, for its clean, concise look. I tend to use Arial in shorter, one page instructions, but when you get into a multi-page guide, I think a serif font is warranted. But which one?

Let me make a confession. Up until now, I haven't given too much thought to the nuances between all the different serif fonts, but when I really focus on them, I can see the differences in how much space their letters take up, how much space is between them, bracketed v. unbracketed. If you don't believe me, do a search on Google for font types. Or you can just look here .

I stumbled upon an article from the Australian Journal of Educational Technology. Interesting article if you've got the time. But I'll just focus on the topic du jour - the section on typeface and type styles. The research shows an overwhelming result that supports the use of serif font as it contributes to higher level of comprehension of material. But, they point out that "not all serif fonts are as readable as each other." The researcher, Wendy Priestly, advocates the use of "Palatino" font, 12pt on a 14 pt leading. Here's why she chose Palatino:
  • few idiosyncratic features of the shape of its serifs, as opposed to that of Garamond and Bookman: for example, "g"'s

  • consistent spacing of letters within a word, which is not the case with Avant Garde

  • no fine lines or strong contrast between thick or thin lines from top to bottom of a letter to cause degradation in the photolithographic or photocopy process, such as often occurs with Times: for example, "f" and "o".

  • no letters which appear to touch each other, such as is the case with Bookman's bottom serifs.

  • a clear distinction between the "dots" of the i's and the j's with the lower part of the letter, as is not the case with Bookman's serifs and Times' kerned "f"'s and "i"'s.

  • italics which show little distortion from 90 degrees in its typeface, as many of the other selections have a tendency to do.

  • appropriate word spacing and internal letter spacing that Hartley (1987) indicates should be approximately 25% of the type size. This does not appear to be the case with Bookman or Times on the Macintosh system

Since I can't use Palatino font in this blog, here's a shot of what it looks like:

I have to is a lovely font. I'm going to try using this in some of my materials and see what the reaction is.


Anonymous said...

Sound article, but misspelling Palatino as 'Palantino' rather scuffs the shine. I have just been forced to change a whole web site to the Comic Sans fount. Surely, there must be some international law against such an abuse of a person's basic human rights. Even the fount designer, Vincent Connare, says his fount was only ever intended to package children's software.

Catherine R. said...

I am humbled....that is probably the worst typo I could have made in this post. I can only guess your wit has forced you to misspell "font" in your comments to teach me a lesson :-)

Thank you and you have my sympathy on your recent Comic Sans website assignment....that is tragic.