There are certain standard practices in font choice that have become so ingrained that many of us now scarcely consider the alternatives. Writing a paper? Times New Roman. Building a website? Arial. Creating an invitation? Coronet. It seems obvious, almost innate, that printed texts should be written in serif fonts; that digital media should be written in sans serif fonts. But when should these standards practices be broken? When should boundaries be pushed?
- Generally considered to be easier to read in printed text
- Tend to have a more traditional feel
- Often lose their readability at small sizes
- Sometimes unclear and misinterpreted by different platforms and browsers (though, this is becoming less and less of an issue)
Sans serif font:
- Generally considered to be easier to read on-screen
- Tend to have a more contemporary or business-like feel
- Sometimes considered to be visually ‘cleaner’
- Retain their visual appeal and readability at most sizes
- Retain their visual appeal and readability across different platforms and browsers
So, when should you use serif fonts and when should you use sans serif fonts? The answer is: it depends. Often times, going with the standard practice is a great choice. These standards have been developed over the years with good reason. Even more so, they have shaped the way we interpret the text and the emotions we assign to the text we see. If you choose to go against the grain, your choice should be carefully considered.
If you design a website with a heavy emphasis on serif fonts, do so because you want your website to have a traditional feel, to remind the readers of printed text. An example of such a design choice is The New York Times. The creators of the NYTimes website chose to use serif fonts to emulate the original, printed newspaper. Likewise, if you design a printed document with a heavy emphases on sans serif fonts, do so because you would like to create a more modern, clean look.
Whatever design choices you make, always remember, font matters! Choose your fonts wisely.