University fonts and usability

June 26, 2009 at 10:34 am | Posted in waffle | Leave a comment
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I’ve just been reminded about a really funny video about fonts in a post on the Rapid eLearning blog. If you haven’t come across Tom Kuhlmann’s blog yet I can thoroughly recommend it – always full of practical ideas you can really use (like this one – 9 free tools to build better e-learning).

Anyhow, he was talking about the importance of fonts in visual design and that got me thinking about the use of fonts around the University. A lot of teaching resources are word-processed and use the default Word template – and therefore 12pt Times New Roman. This is so common that it is a non-choice. It’s good for print, but all those tiny serifs make it less than ideal for on-screen reading, which is probably why the latest version of Word has switched to the sans-serif Calibri as the default. It would be good if all of these could be updated to use Lucida Sans, the new University ‘standard font’ – it would be  a very easy way to improve their usability.

The ‘new-brand’ university templates for letters, memos etc. use 9pt Lucida Sans on approximately 11pt line spacing. I guess whoever designed this was a young person with good eyesight working on a PC (more likely a Mac) with a large screen (graphic designers, doncha just love ’em). Me, I find it a bit small for comfort and wish they had gone for 10pt on 12pt spacing. The use of 9pt also means you get 80+ characters on each line, which is way over the ‘two alphabets’ (i.e. 50ish) recommended for ease of reading. As usual, usability and accessibility are forgotten in the the focus on ‘style’.


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