Communication lies at the core of design. In the simplest terms, we’re sending an intended message via a chosen medium to a specific audience. And, if all goes well, our designs elicit a response or action we intended from the audience–be it a change, a new perspective or simply a smile. Typically, if a design is successful, there’s an ultimate effect or impact.
So if design itself is communication, let’s also consider how we relate within and throughout the design process. What design elements do we utilize to communicate?
Let’s consider typography, for instance. Everybody’s favorite design topic … Designers and clients alike recognize type as one of the strongest vehicles available to us to send messages within design. When we’re tasked with developing a brand identity or voice that captures as many touchpoints as possible, typography tends to come to the fore.
But I think we can agree that type gets tricky when the aim is responsive. Trying to choose user-friendly fonts that will resonate across platforms isn’t an easy task. How can you feel confident that the font you’ve chosen will render legible and aesthetically-pleasing throughout the varying environments? This is quite a departure from the limited options and go-to fonts that were tested and true in most browsers not long ago. Now we have to ask ourselves: Will this font choice translate well across screens and browsers?
Finding User-friendly Fonts: Testing
When you’re choosing fonts for a site, it’s important to identify the best tools and resources available to designers today. Whether we like it or not, testing sits at the top of the list for best practices when choosing a font for cross-platform use.
“With the plethora of devices and operating systems out there, crafting user-friendly typography can mean quite a lot of cross-browser testing,” says interactive expert and HOW speaker Jenn Lukas. “It’s important to take a look at your site analytics and be sure to select web fonts that will render nicely on (hopefully) all browsers–but especially the browsers that are most used to visit your site.”
How can we test our web fonts?
HOW Art Director and type aficionado Adam Ladd weighs in that locating that “just right” font fit is “achieved through testing various weights of fonts and choosing the most appropriate one.” So it’s hard to avoid testing when aiming for that pitch perfect solution.
When it comes to testing, here’s some expert advice to get you started:
Find a happy medium. “Often, the lightest weights in a font family may be too thin and not render well on screen,” Ladd explains, “appearing pixelated or almost disappearing at points. On the flip side, the heaviest weights can feel clunky. You might find the most success in the middle ranges, pushing towards the extremes, but not going too far …”
Consider sans serif. It’s been the default for most designs on screen. Sans serif is typically more legible due to uniformity in contrast and weight. But also consider using a well-crafted serif or slab serif font for more sophistication and elegance. Just be careful that the thinnest points don’t disappear.
Mix it up. Testing is an opportunity to get creative. Try pairing fonts from different families and classifications. Your users will thank you.
Pay attention to pixel size. We’re all striving for the best possible user experience, and pixel size can play a major role. Type used to be a lot smaller in general, but with the emergence of mobile and tablet sizes and varying viewing distances, larger type sizes are more and more desirable for comfortable reading. As Ladd explains, “You don’t want the viewer fighting with the type.”
Interested in trying a new font for a redesign? “Code up a test page and see how it looks across devices,” Lukas recommends. “Some services offer up help and screenshots of this as well, such as Typekit.” (click the “Browser Samples” tab)
In this ever-evolving digital world, the key to user-friendly typography lies in testing (and patience). It may look like a little more work for you on the front end, but it’s worth it for the end user to have a smooth, clean and compelling experience across devices.
Got a taste for more type talk?