When designing a website, a lot of attention is paid to details like color combination, layout, design, images, user-interface, and navigation. The one thing that often gets ignored is font. To my mind, that seems a tad bit unfair, since choosing the right font can spell the difference between engaging your readers and sending them away with a bad headache.
“What’s the big deal? Why make such brouhaha about it? Fonts are just fonts, right? What do they have to do with anything? Just pick any and go with it. Or better still, stick to the more common ones and you are good!”
My dear friends, you dismiss fonts in that casual, offhand manner and you are going to have some big trouble on your hands. Fonts appeal to your readers at a psychological level. Don’t believe me? Well, I come bearing hard facts to back up my statement. In fact, I present to you the psychological experiment that was done by two researchers from the University of Michigan – Hyunjin Song and Norbet Schwartz.
In two separate studies, Song and Schwartz were able to discover a connection between fonts and how they affected human perception. In the first experiment, one group of test subjects was given directions written in a simple font, while the second group received the same directions written in a fancy font.
Astoundingly enough, test subjects with the simple-font directions declared it would take them 8.2 minutes to complete the task as compared to the 15-minute estimate that was given by the other group. Isn’t it amazing? The simpler font made people think that the task was a breeze to accomplish. Hey, if it’s easier to read, then it’s easier to do, right?
But does that mean fancy fonts are useless?
In their second experiment, Song and Schwartz divided people into two groups, giving one a restaurant menu printed in fancy fonts while the other got the same menu printed in simple fonts. The result? Unbelievable! Those reading the fancy-font menu were quick to assume that the chef was more skillful, a perception that was not shared by the second group who were looking at their humble and not very visually-appealing menu.
What’s the lesson in here? Fancy fonts can help boost sales. When you are trying to make a sell, these fonts can actually convince your readers that the product is extremely desirable and a lot of effort was put into creating it.
As you can see, fonts play an important role in influencing opinion. Speaking personally from my experience at having designed websites at Addictive Media, I know it affects how people view your website and the impression it will leave on them long after they have navigated away or switched off their computers.
Now, psychology sounds pretty impressive, but how exactly do you make these principles work for you in day to day web designing? How do you choose the right fonts for your website? Well, for starters, ask yourself these important questions.
What is the purpose and mood of the website?
Fonts are like people – they have a distinct personality. Some are cool and crisp like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company and others remind of you of a jolly guy enjoying pina coladas at a beach. Some fonts give the impression of being a no-nonsense work-from-home mom, while others remind you of a charming, fashionable socialite. The question is, who do you want rooting for your company? Who would you trust to carry your message to the audience?
Here’s the thing – you cannot design a site for people with an IQ of 150 and above and use a font that appeals to the Nickelodeon audience. At the same time, if your site is all fun and lively, a formal, upright font would look completely out of place.
What I am saying is consider the purpose of your site, the nature of the content you are adding to it, and your target audience before you make the final choice.
What kind of content does the site have?
Generally speaking, content can be classified into two broad categories – the kind that is ‘seen’ and the kind that is ‘read’. What’s the difference between both, you may ask. Aren’t all kinds of content meant to be read? Not really.
Sometimes, content is used simply for the purpose of decoration, to enhance the design and layout of the web page. They aren’t really meant to be read; only seen, if you know what I mean. Then, on the other hand, you have content that is meant for the serious consideration of your readers. You expect them to be digested, assimilated, and debated by your audience.
It is important to make this distinction because if you’re going to have large chunks of content on the site, you must choose a font that’s easy on the eyes and created specifically to endure long reading time. In this regard, function will trump fancy every single time. However, if the content is meant to beautify the page, you can get away with a font that has only aesthetic value.
How many fonts can I use?
Websites tend to use more than one font. This is partly to break the monotony and partly to establish the hierarchy, or visual importance, of the content. As a thumb rule, designers will use at least two different fonts – one for the headlines and the other for the main body.
When pairing fonts, it’s important to ask yourself questions like, “Are they too similar?”, “Do they clash?”, “Are they different enough?”, “Do they complement each other visually?” or “Do they just look plain awkward next to each other?”
Like I mentioned before, fonts have personalities of their own. And, just like you would pay attention to the seating arrangement of people around a table, you must pair fonts with great care. Placing two attention-grabbing fonts side by side will cause chaos. At the same time, two plain Jane, unimpressive fonts aren’t going to create any waves either!
In the end, what you are aiming for is harmony in the house. How many fonts you choose is entirely up to you. If you don’t get penalized by the web designing police and can successfully pull it off, throw as many fonts as you want in the bag. On the other hand, those who want to keep it straightforward should stick to two, at best three, fonts.
What font size should I use?
When choosing fonts for the body of the article there is really no specific guideline that you, as a designer, are obliged to follow, except one – choose a size that facilitates readability. What I mean is if your audience is able to read the article clearly, irrespective of whether you’ve chosen size 14x, 12x or 10x, you’ve made the right choice. If on the other hand, they have to squint at the screen real bad when you reduce the font size, you have some reconsidering to do.
What about the titles, though? How big are they supposed to be? Some designers have this fascination with gigantic titles that dwarf pretty much every other element on the web page. Personally, I would advise against doing this. Although there are no hard and fast rules here, your titles must be big enough to draw attention to themselves; but not so big that they overpower everything else.
In the end, I maintain that fonts hold an integral place in web designing, even if they aren’t as overtly important as other elements, like graphics and colors. They are instrumental in communicating the company’s message and ideology, while also selling its products and services. They facilitate interaction, help in site navigation, and create the feel and mood of your site.
Given the role they play in influencing visitor experience, font selection cannot be left to random or whimsical choices. Give them the credit they deserve and you will most certainly reap the rewards in terms of customer satisfaction and better engagement.
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Sharon Michaels is a design specialist who believes that aesthetics and functionality are two factors that cannot be separated from each other. A graduate from the National Institute of Design, Sharon currently works for Addictive Media, a Digital Media Company in New Delhi, India. In her spare time, she also turns her attention towards writing and photography.