Serif or Sans Serif Font — Which to Use?
Could I please make a suggestion? Your newsletter uses the "Times" font for body text, and in an email on a computer screen it is very hard to read. Could I get you to consider using a font that was designed for screen readability and is generally considered the most readable font for screen, Verdana? If not Verdana, at least a sans-serif font? If you do, I know I for one will be much more apt to read your newsletter. Thanks in advance.
—Mike Schinkel, President, Xtras, Inc., June 23, 2005
I try to answer every e-mail and printed letter that comes to me. In my response to Mike Schinkel, I enclosed "Why Johnny Can't Read," written by Vrest Orton, the late founder of the Vermont Country Store. Published in The National Review on Sept. 2, 1977, it graphically describes the evils of sans serif type in body copy. I closed by telling Schinkel that "I would be interested to know if you have any citations by people who say that sans serif type is easier to read than serif type."
Schinkel's long, thoughtful reply, filled with fascinating and informative Web sites to visit, was a dazzling piece of research.
Presumably many readers of BusinessCommonSense.com have websites or are contemplating the launch of one, or are sending out e-newsletters. If so, what follows should prove fascinating — and, very likely, helpful.
Mike Schinkel's request for Verdana was run in a subsequent issue of "Business Common Sense" and elicited the following replies:
I see you got a vote for Verdana. Before you plunge, take a look at the Arial family. For my taste, Verdana characters are too wide; they gobble up too much valuable screen space. Arial can fit more words on a screen.
—Ed Zuckerman, Government Policy Newslinks
You should tell Mike Schinkel that a real direct marketer nostalgia buff would never stoop to using modern typefaces. Times and Copperplate Bold forever!
—J.D. Kinney, Dev Kinney/MeadGraphics, Inc.
The Role of Type
Type is a medium that sends the writer's thoughts directly into the reader's brain. In "Why Johnny Can't Read," Vrest Orton writes:
Years ago I was associated with one of America's most distinguished printers, Daniel Berkeley Updike, who wrote the modern history of printing in America. Mr. Updike expressed most concisely the aim of arranging type on a page by saying: "Typography should be invisible." If you pick up a book or a magazine and exclaim, "Oh, isn't this beautiful type!" the designer has failed. Any type that gets between the reader and the author is not doing its job.
The Computer Vs. the Printed Page
A computer can be programmed with moving graphics and sound. But ultimately, the computer screen is a print medium. Whenever I create an e-promotion for a client, I think of it as direct mail on glass. Current high-tech argot likens the Internet to print. For example, URLs have a "home page" and the word "page" refers to something you find in a book, magazine or newspaper.