Typography for easy on-screen reading

or, Ahhh, why does my brain hurt so bad!!!!?

I often feel uncomfortable reading large amounts of text from a computer screen, I just don't seem to be able to scan cleanly across the lines, always requiring just a little too much effort and appearing to compromise my level of retention.

So I thought I would take a look at some typography, in particular which fonts are good for on-screen legibility and easy-of-reading.

The good, the old, and the omniscient

Apparently, the 'old-guard' of good quality on-screen fonts are the classic and omni-present, Georgia and Verdana – and they certainly don't do a bad job at all – the fact they are used so widely on the web is a clear testament to their fitness-for-purpose.

Georgia is the font I currently use for my web-browsers reading layout (the colour scheme hasn't had much thought yet!)


But I demand more shiny!

Design-By-Izo offers a very well written comparison of some newer fonts that are aimed squarely at usurping the old-firm's crown. The best of the new set are Lucida Grande, Apple's choice of font on OSX; Microsoft's Segoe UI; the self titled Ubuntu; and **Droid Sans which was devised by Google for Android.

I'm quite pleased that Segoe UI rates well, as it's definitely one of my favorite fonts – I had actually switched our team's bugtracker software to use this font some time ago as I felt it made a useful difference – the font being both more compact, and easier to read than that which it replaced (I can't actually remember off hand what it was originally).

The Segoe UI font set at various sizes

Now, I should note that I am of course slightly biased by the fact that I spend my entire day debugging graphics on Windows, so my brain has probably an entire region of brain cells devoted just for staring at Segoe UI!

Also mentioned by the author were FF Tundra, and Aller Sans; the former is an incredibly sexy bit of type (Here are some examples), and the latter takes Ubuntu which was already a strong contender and tweaks it into a font that would excel on pretty much every criteria covered in the article – and both I completely agree would be excellent fonts for on-screen reading.

Type size and Contrast

The other consideration when deciding on type is the size it is going to be viewed at, and the contrast of the environment in which it is used.

Generally I favour a dark screen for programming, I have in fact had largely the same colour scheme across Visual Studio and VIM for quite some time now and get on so well with it I haven't felt any need to change – It's largely based on the Freya theme, with 8pt Dina as my choice of monospaced font (Even as small as 8pt I find it far easier to read than other monospaced fonts in much larger type).


I like its lower-contrast appearance as much as for it being 'dark', I find that far more comfortable on the eye, and it exhibits that quality in both a well lit office and a softly lit bedroom, so it follows me and my mood anywhere – I would actually go so far as to say that the low contrast also minimises the amount of after-image effect I get as I look between pages or scan up and down the text. Against a bright background, or at least where there is high contrast between the background and the text I often just end up seeing horizontal lines of shadow where my eyes have built up blind-spots from the alternating lines of text and void – if you get this I highly recommend trying to lower the contrast between text and background.

If I'm honest I'd really quite like to have the entire OS take on a similar timbre to my editors theme, but sadly that is often just too much of a P.I.T.A,there are always programs that can only have a white background – so sadly I think for all the extra comfort my colour scheme provides in some programs, I cannot escape the eye-strain that comes from being periodically flash-blinded by loading up other applications.

Posted By 1 at 18:00:16 on 2015-07-08. Comments (0)