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Johann Sparkling 96pt
Web Typography

The medium itself is a factor

The limitations of the Web are determined as much by the limitations of computer screens as by what Web browsers can and can’t do. These play a big part in determining what can be done to present information effectively. Legibility of text on screens is not very good compared with print, and because displays constantly pump light out at us they can dazzle and tire eyes much more quickly than ink on paper. These facts combine to make reading extensive amounts of text significantly more difficult on screen than on paper.

If you’re used to thinking of serif typefaces as more suitable for body text use, take another look. When used on screen, cut serifs on classic fonts such as Times show up as club-footed blocks, breaking up the core letterforms and generally hindering rather than assisting legibility. (See How Type Works for details.)

The widths of columns of text need to be considered carefully and not left to crash right across the span of browser windows. This is something generally understood in print design, but it is actually more crucial with screen-based text, where long lines can be surprisingly hard to read smoothly. On top of this, using multiple text columns in the style of magazines and newspapers should be approached with great caution. If the columns extend past the bottom of the window the user will have to scroll up and down to read the content - which means they probably just won’t.

9 point text is a fairly generous size on paper, but on screen it is about as small as you can sensibly go. This has real implications for how much text can be sensibly fitted onto a page - and these points have knock-on effects for the way text is written and edited for on-screen use.

The use of tiling background textures and images should be minimised. Be very careful that a mood-setting background fill doesn’t make the foreground content difficult to read. This should be simple common sense to anyone with traditional design experience, but this kind of mistake is depressingly common in Web page design. This doesn’t mean that picking a background colour or fill is inherently wrong, but be wary of introducing too much visual noise, and don’t let the level of contrast between the text and the background get too small. (For more on rethinking established design techniques and rules see .)

As well as understanding basic principles of design as they apply to the Web, knowing how best to control type is of vital importance.