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Typography for Web Designers
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Understanding legibility


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Typography for Web Designers

with Laura Franz

Video: Understanding legibility

The first thing to look for in a font is legibility. Text is meant to be read and if it feels hard to read, people won't want to read it. When we read, we don't read every letter. We read the shapes of words. These shapes are primarily created by two things: the strokes that make the letters and the spaces in and around the letters. So what makes a font legible? Open spaces and healthy strokes. If you've ever had to read a bad photocopy of text, you have experienced how hard it is to read an illegible font.
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  1. 6m 18s
    1. Welcome
      1m 9s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 57s
    3. Things to consider before starting this course
      3m 12s
  2. 41m 3s
    1. Understanding how good typography promotes reading
      2m 9s
    2. Understanding legibility
      4m 41s
    3. Understanding how fonts convey meaning
      5m 19s
    4. Choosing web-safe fonts to convey meaning
      6m 13s
    5. Using font size, case, style, letter spacing, weight, and color to convey meaning
      6m 22s
    6. Choosing web fonts to convey meaning
      6m 23s
    7. Downloading web fonts
      4m 9s
    8. Applying web fonts in CSS with @font-face
      5m 47s
  3. 38m 0s
    1. Choosing a web-safe font for use in text
      4m 13s
    2. Applying the web-safe font to the text and the heading
      3m 4s
    3. Setting a class for the resource titles in the text
      3m 45s
    4. Choosing a second web-safe font for the heading
      2m 42s
    5. Applying the second font to the heading
      2m 16s
    6. Choosing a web font from the Google Font API for use in text
      5m 44s
    7. Adding and applying the Google Font API syntax
      4m 29s
    8. Choosing a second web font from the Google Font API for the heading
      2m 56s
    9. Adding and applying the second font to the heading
      4m 52s
    10. Analyzing the fonts on some professional sites
      3m 59s
  4. 55m 31s
    1. Understanding how we read
      4m 34s
    2. Finding and applying a good font size and line height
      4m 50s
    3. Finding and applying a good line length
      8m 6s
    4. Understanding ems
      6m 17s
    5. Using ems to set font size
      6m 9s
    6. Using ems to set line length
      3m 40s
    7. Understanding how color affects readability
      3m 58s
    8. Improving a color palette by improving contrast
      5m 39s
    9. Improving a color palette by reducing optical vibration
      4m 59s
    10. Analyzing text readability on the professional sites
      7m 19s
  5. 1h 11m
    1. Understanding how we "chunk" visual elements
      3m 59s
    2. Developing a system of hierarchy
      2m 17s
    3. Applying hierarchy in HTML and CSS
      7m 16s
    4. Developing a system to help chunk text for readers
      6m 1s
    5. Applying the system in the CSS
      4m 19s
    6. Changing an element by creating and applying a class
      5m 0s
    7. Using multiple columns to create hierarchy
      4m 12s
    8. Building a two-column system in HTML and CSS
      10m 56s
    9. Refining the horizontal space in a two-column layout
      6m 1s
    10. Adding rule lines to improve chunking
      5m 50s
    11. Adding emphasis within a heading
      4m 36s
    12. Analyzing the chunking on the professional sites
      11m 18s
  6. 17m 57s
    1. Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages
      7m 3s
    2. Understanding how to create rhythm and tension
      6m 0s
    3. Applying typography skills when making design decisions
      4m 54s
  7. 55m 47s
    1. Designing typographic links for the traditional page
      5m 54s
    2. Adding a list of links to the traditional page
      8m 44s
    3. Describing the link states in CSS
      6m 30s
    4. Returning links to their original "unvisited" style
      2m 38s
    5. Using different CSS for different kinds of links
      7m 28s
    6. Using CSS notation to organize syntax
      5m 34s
    7. Choosing a background color or image
      4m 0s
    8. Applying a repeating background image
      2m 58s
    9. Shaping the traditional page layout
      6m 38s
    10. Analyzing the traditional typographic elements on the professional sites
      5m 23s
  8. 43m 0s
    1. Designing typographic links for the modernist page
      6m 47s
    2. Making a list of links run across the page
      2m 14s
    3. Adding and removing space between the navigation links
      6m 50s
    4. Styling the inline links on the modernist page
      5m 33s
    5. Choosing a background color or image for the modernist bibliography
      4m 4s
    6. Applying a no-repeat background image
      4m 13s
    7. Shaping the modernist page layout
      6m 58s
    8. Analyzing the modernist typographic elements on the professional sites
      6m 21s
  9. 52m 53s
    1. Fixing quotation marks and apostrophes
      6m 59s
    2. Fixing dashes
      6m 33s
    3. Working with lining figures (numbers) and acronyms
      9m 28s
    4. Fixing characters that don't look right
      8m 19s
    5. Hanging punctuation
      2m 54s
    6. Applying typographic accents
      2m 36s
    7. Vertically centering text
      5m 18s
    8. Creating drop caps
      5m 59s
    9. Analyzing the typographic details on the professional sites
      4m 47s
  10. 3m 9s
    1. Additional resources
      3m 9s

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Typography for Web Designers
6h 25m Appropriate for all Jul 14, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Learn how to choose fonts for a web site and create beautiful, legible type. Author Laura Franz shares how to create designs that maximize readability (and keep visitors on the page) by paying attention to details in size, line-height, line length, alignment, color, vertical space, and more. Laura also demonstrates how to incorporate web fonts, style type with CSS, and pick fonts that work well together.

Topics include:
  • Understanding how good typography promotes reading
  • Choosing web-safe fonts
  • Applying web fonts in CSS with @font-face
  • Adding and applying the Google Fonts syntax
  • Finding and applying a good font size, line height, and line length
  • Improving a color palette by improving contrast and reducing optical vibration
  • Understanding how people mentally organize, or chunk, visual elements
  • Applying a system of hierarchy in HTML and CSS
  • Applying vertical spacing in CSS
  • Adding emphasis within a heading
  • Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages
  • Adding a list of links
  • Creating drop caps
  • Fixing quotation marks, apostrophes, and dashes
Subjects:
Typography Web Web Design Web Fonts Web Foundations
Software:
TextWrangler
Author:
Laura Franz

Understanding legibility

The first thing to look for in a font is legibility. Text is meant to be read and if it feels hard to read, people won't want to read it. When we read, we don't read every letter. We read the shapes of words. These shapes are primarily created by two things: the strokes that make the letters and the spaces in and around the letters. So what makes a font legible? Open spaces and healthy strokes. If you've ever had to read a bad photocopy of text, you have experienced how hard it is to read an illegible font.

If we look closely at these hard to read texts, we can see we've lost the spaces in the letters here in the dark photocopy. They filled in and made the words hard to read. In the light photocopy, we have lost the strokes in the letters. We are only left with parts of letters, making it harder to recognize words. Screens have a lower resolution compared to printed text on paper. we need to be more sensitive to spaces and strokes for web-based topography. It's easier for them to get lost on the screen. So we need to start by finding a legible font, but what makes a font legible? Things to look for in a legible font are generous x-height.

That's the height of the lowercase x. See how it's higher in Verdana than in Times New Roman. Even though they are both set at the same size, the Verdana looks bigger and the spaces in the lowercase letters feel more generous because of the x-height. These spaces inside the letters are called counter forms. Legible fonts have open apertures. That's the opening in letters like C, A, and E. See how it's bigger in Verdana? An open aperture creates more visual space.

Slightly loose letter spacing also promotes legibility. The text in Verdana is clear to read. Generous bowls also promote legibility. The bowl is the shape of the rounded forms in the lowercase letters. If a bowl is too narrow, the counter form is too small, if it's too round, the counter form gets too big. Look for a bowl that falls nicely in the middle. Also related to bowls and counter forms or shoulders. Shoulders are where the curved line meets the stem in letters like H, D and M.

The stem is the straight vertical stroke in a letter. See how Verdana's shoulders make the counter forms feel a little bigger? This helps keep the counter form open even at smaller sizes and at low resolution. A legible font has prominent A centers and D centers. A centers are strokes that extend above the main line. D centers are strokes that extend below the baseline. Slightly longer A centers and D centers or having serifs on the A centers and D centers can help make the shapes of the words more recognizable.

Serifs are the little strokes coming off the ends of stems in some fonts. We call these serif fonts. The fonts without serifs we call sans-serif fonts. Does a legible font need serifs? One common misconception is that text should be set in a serif font because it's easier to read and sans- serifs should be used for headlines. This is not always true. Both serif and sans- serif fonts can be legible or lack legibility. Here Verdana is more legible for text than Times New Roman.

Strokes and spaces are far more important than serifs when it comes to how easy a font is to read. But let's look at Georgia, a more legible serif font than Times New Roman. We can compare their terminals. A legible font has discernible terminals. Terminals are the ends of strokes in letters like A, R, and F. Some terminals have a ball or pen-formed shape. Other terminals don't have any extra shape to them. While you don't want a font with a crazy shape like blood or thorns, having a bit of shape can help readers differentiate between the letters in text.

Finally, legible fonts have generous strokes. If strokes are too thin, they get lost. If they are too thick, you run the risk of losing space in the letters. Here the thick strokes stand out, while the thin strokes and serifs practically disappear. A font with very thin stroke is also harder to read. As web designers, we now have hundreds of fonts available to link to. Not all are legible. Look for a font with generous space and healthy strokes and you'll be on your way to choosing a good font for your site.

In the next lesson, we will look at how to choose a font to convey meaning.

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