As with most Realtors, real estate was not my first career. I started out as a newspaper reporter/editor/publisher, then transitioned to typography, using the typesetting equipment I had purchased for my newspapers.
Just as I’ve never let go of my love of journalism, I’ve never let go of my love of typography. I design and compose this full page ad myself every week, and I take pleasure in making it as well written and readable as possible. The choice of typefaces for headlines and text is a big part of that.
If I had my choice, the text typeface in my newspaper ads would not be 10 point Arial Narrow but a serif typeface like Times Roman. “Serifs” are those subtle accents at the bottoms, tops and ends of letters, but they play a huge role in readability. Sans-serif typefaces like Arial or Helvetica don’t have those accents. [This blog post is in Times Roman.]
At right is a Times Roman letter with serifs next to an Arial letter without serifs. Can you see how much those little serifs improve readability, especially for smaller type sizes?
As a typographer, I learned that serif typefaces should be used for text, and that sans-serif typefaces should be used only for headlines, subheads, captions, and other limited-text applications.
You’ll notice that most newspapers, magazines and books — but not most websites — follow this rule, with Times Roman the most common text typeface. The Denver Post doesn’t let me use Times Roman lest my ad be mistaken for editorial content. Compare my Arial Narrow text with the same size type in that newspaper’s news stories, and you’ll probably agree that those little serifs make text more readable. Also notice that sans-serif headlines and sub-heads work really well when combined with serif body text.
Unfortunately, Microsoft, seemingly unaware of these typographic principles, has from the beginning made sans serif typefaces like Calibri the default typefaces for Outlook, also making the default size fairly small. Given that space is not a limitation in emails or websites, it’s sad that this has become the standard. Note: You can change the default font and type size for outgoing emails in Outlook and other applications. I use 12 pt. Georgia, a particularly readable serif typeface.
Another annoyance, especially for us older Americans, is the use of thin, gray sans-serif type instead of black serif typefaces in so many websites. Don’t webmasters value readability?