“Modesty in delivering our opinions leaves us the liberty of changing them without humiliation.” – Anonymous
Few aspects of communication design stir up as strong opinions as the selection of type. “Legibility” of typestyles is a frequent subject of discussion. And the opinions expressed are often based on third- and fourth-hand accounts of poorly remembered “expert” advice.
So just what are the facts when it comes to legibility?
Well a recent Wichita State study of computer type legibility for older adults found two things. First, that while reading speed was increased slightly by the use of serif fonts, the subjects actually preferred reading the sans serif. And, overall, in both reading speed and preference, 14 point type fared better than 12 point.
In fact, among average Americans, the conventional wisdom that serif type is far more legible than sans serif has been called into question in numerous studies (Yager, Aquilante & Plass ‘98; Leat, Li & Epp, ‘99).
Overall, most studies agree that, with normal lighting and larger type size, serif fonts result in faster reading times and sans serifs perform better at smaller sizes and also under low lighting conditions.
The bottom line, however, is to simply use the right typeface for the message and be aware that often size, more than style, affects your legibility. And that’s not just an opinion.