The Serif Print/Sans-Serif Web B.S. Needs to End

20 Feb

I didn’t go to school for design. In fact, I never thought I’d be interested in it until designing news pages for my college paper. Now I realize that packaging a message can be just as important as the message itself, and that’s all to do with design.
But one of my grips with design folks is the arbitrary bull crapola that comes whenever you talk to a designer. And one of these rules is that serif fonts are easier to read in print and sans-serif is easier to read online. If you’re not into design and typography, you probably don’t even notice that The New York Times’s body copy in print is serif and CNN’s website is all about the sans serif fonts.

No really, there are rules about this stuff

Essentially, we’re talking about the little dangly things on letters in different typefaces. That’s right, someone thought that those things would affect how fast you read.
Legibility is a real concern when writing or designing. My former editor was religious about cutting words out of my sentences. He believed that shorter sentences increased reading times; that is was easier for readers to understand words if they read them faster. So I understand that when designing anything, print or web, special attention to typography is crucial. But not all typefaces are the same, serif and sans-serif fonts come in all variations and styles. To put fonts in those 2 catorgories and say this is only used for this and that is only used for that is completely crazy. A good designer should be able to either and make a page, online or in print, look awesome and legible by choosing a typeface based on the page as a whole.
It’s important to note that there is no significant evidence to support this bonkers design rule from crazytown. Several studies have been done and most that I’ve researched have found here, here and here the difference to be so little, mere milliseconds between reading times, that it makes the serif v. sans serif debate look ridiculous.
I’d just like for this myth to be put to bed once and for all. Some rules need to be followed until you understand them enough to know when to break them. But this isn’t one of them. Just look at The New York Times to see some serif body copy that works fine online. At worst here, we’re restricting ourselves creatively from making some great designs and that is something tragic.


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