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Your E-mail Font Is Ruining Your Life

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No mention of Comic Sans.  It is interesting though how higher resolution devices might cause serif fonts to have a comeback. But that probably will have to wait until flat UI design is no longer the rage. I would've liked to get more understanding at how they measured readability.  

No one wants to read Comic Sans.

The bigger point of the article is that the fonts of choice by Apple and Google -- Helvetica and Ariel -- are bad for reading lots of email. They have a good point.

Helvetica, the hip font of choice for brands and typeface nerds, is the default font setting for Apple Mail. Gmail defaults to Arial, a font one designer called Helvetica's "ugly bastard son." If the browser doesn't support Arial, Gmail will use Helvetica instead.

While Helvetica is beloved by design nerds for its neutrality, its uniformity and lack of consistent spacing make it hard to read in large chunks of text. "The letters are too close together," said Nadine Chahine, a type designer at Monotype. "That makes it too tight."

Arial, like Helvetica, has what font designers call "ambiguous" letter shapes that make it difficult to parse lots of words in a row. "If you imagine b, d, p, and q, those are letter forms that all the children always mess up. They are mirror forms of one another," font designer Bruno Maag said. "That feature is emphasized in a font like Arial, where the shapes are literally mirror forms."

See how the b and d mirror each other below, and how the space between the h and the e in Helvetica is slightly larger than it is between the t and the i? These may seem like nuances here, but both make the words harder to read when they're packed in great swatches of text and you're reading a lot of e-mail. 

And you are. Working Americans spend almost a third of the workweek checking and reading e-mail. In a 40-hour week, that's over 11 hours a week reading online communications in fonts that aren't doing our eyes any favors. 

E-mail "clients" — the programs you use to check your e-mail, like Gmail, Apple Mail, and Outlook — tend to favor sans serif fonts, in which the letters don't have end strokes, like Helvetica, Arial, and Microsoft Outlook's default Calibri. (Gmail, Outlook, and Apple Mail are the three most popular desktop email clients, a study of over 1 billion emails found.)


"The argument that a serif font is too fussy doesn't cut it anymore," he said. "You want a font where the letter forms are not ambiguous." Serif fonts, because of the additional stroke added to the ends of each character, tend to have that quality. The serifs in Georgia or Verdana, for example, give each letter its own character. 

The key to a good font is legibility, a combination of speed, comprehension, comfort, and a kind of emotional acceptance of the font. The way the letters are shaped, the spaces between them, and the spaces within the letters themselves all determine how easy something is to read.

Georgia or Verdana it is!

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