Have you ever read a book and found it hard to read, but not really sure why? (I’m not talking about the flow of content, although that can cause readability problems as well.) It’s more likely to do with font choice. In this article I’m going to be explaining why this is critical when it comes to book design.
but most likely it’s the font that was chosen to typeset the book with.
Getting the font choice right – which in turn makes reading the text easier* is really important and something you probably don’t pay much attention to. In this article I’m going to explain the basic rule of choosing the right font style and why they affect our ability to read the copy.
*When I say easier, I’m not including readability for those suffering from dyslexia. There is a lot of research to suggest that serif fonts actually make it harder for dyslexics to read. There is even a specialy designed font called Dislexie, but how effective this is, is still up for debate.
Serif or sans serif, that is the question.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the terms serif and sans serif. For those of you who aren’t, let me explain the differences.
Serif fonts have ‘ticks’ or ‘serifs’ at the end of each arm of a letter. (The word serif is thought to have come from the earlier ceref, or from the Dutch word schreef = “a line, a stroke”.)
See how there are lines or ticks (in the red circles) – these help draw the eye into the letter itself. Knowing this will ultimatley determine your font choice.
Wheras, sans serif letters don’t have these ticks or strokes (sans from the French, meaning, without).
The magic happens with the addition of these strokes or ticks.
When we read printed words, these lines and ticks actually help the eye to read the text. It’s why newspapers haven’t changed their font since first press. (Unlike my VA’s theory which is Murdock just hasn’t allowed it!) Interestingly, the opposite is true when reading on screen – it seems sans serif font is much better.
So, this is why formatting your book in a serif font for the copy is usually the norm. Our brains are wired to read the ticks. If you’ve ever read a book which has used sans serif font, you might have found yourself struggling and not really know why. (You do now!)
Headings and chapter tiles
To contrast this, headings, subheadings and chapter titles are often formatted using a sans serif font. This helps to break up the copy and make them stand out. Getting the right pairing is a skill in itself and this is why book desingers can really make a difference in how your project looks.
So, next time you are reading anything on print, look at the subtleties different fonts have on the readability of text. I would bet that anything which was hard to read was because it was in a sans serif font.