Do you get a wild variety of responses when you ask, “What font should I use for eLearning?” That’s because if depends on many factors. This article explains what to consider and how to choose a font for eLearning. But let’s clear one thing up at first. If you’ve been to a few graphic design sites, you may see they refer to fonts as typefaces.
A typeface is the family of letters and characters that have a consistent visual design, such as Arial or Helvetica or Garamond. Every typeface has a set of fonts, which are the specific point size and style, such as Arial 20 point bold or Garamond 18 point italic. But since the advent of digital publishing, the terms typeface and font are often used interchangeably. But now that you know the difference, just think of how many people you can impress.
With all of the possibilities, how can you choose a font for eLearning? To start, think in terms of typeface categories. Typefaces are organized into categories, according to their physical characteristics and historical context. Although there are many typeface categories, I think the key ones for instructional designers to know are listed below.
- Serif: Characters with a small feet at the end of the horizontal and vertical strokes. Examples you may know include Times New Roman, Garamond and Baskerville. The serif typeface can express sophistication, reserve, formality or tradition.
- San-serif: Characters without small feet at the end of the horizontal and vertical strokes. Examples you may know include Helvetica, Calibri, Arial and Verdana. Sans-serif fonts can (but not always) have a modern sensibility. They tend to be less formal and at times, casual.
- Script: Characters reflect the flow of lines created in handwritten letters. A perhaps overused example is Lobster. Script fonts range from an elegant calligraphic look that designers use in wedding invitations to an uneven look of handwriting.
See one typeface from each category below. (The serifs are circled.)
Consider Personality When Choosing a Font
Research demonstrates that non-designers are aware of the personality of a typeface even when they don’t consciously think about it. In one study, participants consistently matched a typeface with an adjective, such as cheap, cold, confident, dignified, playful and professional. (See: The Personality of Type for more on this).
Your first consideration, therefore, is what personality do you want your typeface to express? As with selecting any visual theme, your choice should be consistent with the content, tone and characteristics of the audience. You can also go with a neutral type of font, that doesn’t have much personality at all. Start to examine typefaces more closely and see what each one expresses. See below.
Should you use more than one font type?
Many experts suggest that it’s best to use one well-respected typeface that has a full character set and an array of styles. For example, Gills Sans has , such as Roman (regular), Bold and Italic. Some also have variants, such as condensed (a narrow version) and black (very heavy). If you use one type family, you then make a consistent role for each style and never waiver from your rules. For example, you can get many different styles from one typeface by just varying color, weight and size.
In unofficial surveys, typefaces that have good reputations among web designers that could potentially work for online learning include: Avenir, Baskerville, Caslon, Franklin Gothic, Futura, Gill Sans, Lucida Sans, Myriad, Palatino and Univers. Georgia and Verdana were specifically designed to be read on the computer screen, whereas most typefaces were and still are designed for print.
Check Typeface after Compression
Before you make a final selection, see how well the typeface looks after it gets compressed for online delivery. Sometimes the results are disappointing. If the text is not as readable as you’d like, you’ll have to try again.
Add Font Choices to Your Visual Style Guide
Even if you are working with only one font, it can be difficult to remember the style and size you select for every use, such as titles, headings, body text and captions. It also slows you down if you have to search through your work to see what you previously decided. For efficiency and consistency then, add your font choices to a visual style guide that you use for your current project. See How to Write a Visual Style Guide for eLearning.
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