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Jakob Nielsen: "Best Font for Online Reading: No Single Answer"

edited May 2 in Software & Gadgets

https://www.nngroup.com/articles/best-font-for-online-reading/

Wanted to share that article with you in case you tweak fonts a lot. It's from a UX study firm.

TL;DR: reading on the web is fastest with Garamond (serif font) on average. It's not the fastest per se.

Personal highlight :)

Second, and worse, users don’t know what’s best for them, so they can’t choose the best font, even if they were given the option to customize their fonts. In this study, participants read 14% faster in their fastest font (314 WPM, on average) compared to their most preferred font (275 WPM, on average).

Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

Comments

  • By defaut, I tend to refuse when software designers enforce me to something with a "we know better than you what it is good for you" state of mind. I am not a child anymore, thanks.

    When I look for a tool for my personal use, whatever my reading performances would be, I choose something that I prefer. Is it a mistake ? Whatever. It is my mistake, and it helps me to feel "at home".

    A software should be non intrusive and should not parenting the user.

    I hate IA Writer or Inspire Writer for this reason.

    Publication, however, is an other problem. We have to focus on readibility, but also on the message caried by the font. We, writer, make a previous choice for the reader. We send a message through the font choice.

    I find it really interesting that "Franklin Gothic" seems better for less experimented reader and "Garamond" for high level readers.

  • Dang. I am using Open Sans. :D

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    Dang. I am using Open Sans. :disappointed:

    At least, it is not Comic Sans with Papyrus for titles ! :o
    I'm "Monospace" team. I write everything in Roboto Mono font.

  • @Loni said:
    I'm "Monospace" team. I write everything in Roboto Mono font.

    Nicholas Rougier does some very tasteful theming with Roboto Mono. His work is Emacs-related, but line spacing, window padding, and colors can of course be stolen just the same:
    https://github.com/rougier/elegant-emacs

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze said:

    @Loni said:
    I'm "Monospace" team. I write everything in Roboto Mono font.

    Nicholas Rougier does some very tasteful theming with Roboto Mono. His work is Emacs-related, but line spacing, window padding, and colors can of course be stolen just the same:
    https://github.com/rougier/elegant-emacs

    Nice indeed ! I really enjoy Roboto Mono, it is well balanced, simple and elegant.
    I've tried Fira Mono, but my eyes stay too long on letters to read them, and I ended tired of JetBrains Mono.

  • Picking up one of your screenshots:

    I always think you take them with your phone in an unlit room, but your contrast appears to be very low, is it? How come?

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • edited May 3

    @ctietze said:
    Picking up one of your screenshots:

    I always think you take them with your phone in an unlit room, but your contrast appears to be very low, is it? How come?

    It is a real screeshot from the windows capture tool. Writing on a phone is an heresy :naughty:

    I have migraines, so I take extra care to do not have bright zones on my screen. The main background color is #a4a4a4 and the foreground is #212121 so I can stay in front of it for hours without seeing bright lights flying :) Even with a tool like f.lux which dims light, I have to be careful.

    I heavily tweaked Obsidian interface as well to obtain a Roboto Mono file explorer with this background color as well. I am not sure of telling this before but I love Roboto Mono :D

  • @Loni Do you also have a night light on your devices? I use Ubuntu's built-in Night Light on my laptop and Twilight on my phone. I guess you could say Eye'm loving them. /ᐠ。▿。ᐟ\

  • @Annabella said:
    @Loni Do you also have a night light on your devices? I use Ubuntu's built-in Night Light on my laptop and Twilight on my phone. I guess you could say Eye'm loving them. /ᐠ。▿。ᐟ\

    Already done :) I have mentionned "f.lux" which it is a night lighting for screen. I only stop it when I draw on screen.

  • edited May 3

    As a side comment on this discussion, there are fonts for people who are old (like me) and/or have difficulty seeing the screen or printed words. I used that for letters to my mom, when she was still alive. There are also fonts designed for people who are dyslexic. So it's always good to be able to change a font to something that works for you, or even just appeals to you.

    An example for people who are dyslexic: https://opendyslexic.org/

    And for low vision readers: https://www.fontspace.com/aphont-font-f4926 (although I also find Verdana very good for that purpose).

    Post edited by GeoEng51 on
  • @GeoEng51 said:
    As a side comment on this discussion, there are fonts for people who are old (like me) and/or have difficulty seeing the screen or printed words. I used that for letters to my mom, when she was still alive. There are also fonts designed for people who are dyslexic. So it's always good to be able to change a font to something that works for you, or even just appeals to you.

    An example for people who are dyslexic: https://opendyslexic.org/

    And for low vision readers: https://www.fontspace.com/aphont-font-f4926 (although I also find Verdana very good for that purpose).

    I totaly agree, design is also about inclusion. We studied this point as infographist, but it was just the beginning of a conscious inclusivity. Now we can find ergonomic keyboards, vertical mouse, fonts for visual inabilities. From my point of view, they are important questions to considerate as well.

  • @Annabella said:
    @Loni Do you also have a night light on your devices? I use Ubuntu's built-in Night Light on my laptop and Twilight on my phone. I guess you could say Eye'm loving them. /ᐠ。▿。ᐟ\

    Already done :) I have mentionned "f.lux" which it is a night lighting for screen. I only stop it when I draw on screen.

    Oops. Didn't see that. Guess your eyes are in good sockets (hands).

  • Experience report: I switched from Open Sans to Lato and after a short acclimatisation I like it way more.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    Experience report: I switched from Open Sans to Lato and after a short acclimatisation I like it way more.

    Openess ? Boom ! A revolution ! :p

    I've found something that mights interest you, @ctietze  ! It's about dark mode and retention of informations.

    A Wired article, with mentions of researchs, is convergent with some french studies I've read so far about this subject. "Do you need dark mode ?"

    Dark mode makes for a nice design, but don’t expect it to relieve eye strain, improve legibility, or make your workday more productive.

    This article mentions problems with astigmatism :

    People with astigmatism (approximately 50% of the population) find it harder to read white text on black than black text on white. Part of this has to do with light levels: with a bright display (white background) the iris closes a bit more, decreasing the effect of the "deformed" lens; with a dark display (black background) the iris opens to receive more light and the deformation of the lens creates a much fuzzier focus at the eye.

    And this one mentions studies too :

    In an ageing society, age-related vision changes need to be considered when designing digital displays. Visual acuity testing and a proofreading task revealed a positive polarity advantage for younger and older adults. Dark characters on light background lead to better legibility and are strongly recommended independent of observer’s age.

    Note that "positive" = black on white, and "negative"= white on black.

    For instance, a positive polarity advantage has been found in error rates and reading speed in a letter identification task (Bauer and Cavonius 1980), the number of transcribed letters onto paper (Radl 1980), subjective ratings on visual comfort (Saito, Taptagaporn, and Salvendy 1993; Taptagaporn and Saito 1990, 1993), text comprehension (A. H. Wang, Fang, and Chen 2003), reading speed (Chan and Lee 2005) and proofreading performance (Buchner and Baumgartner 2007). Taptagaporn and Saito (1990, 1993) tracked changes in pupil size for different illumination levels as well as for the viewing of different visual targets, such as a cathode ray tube (CRT) display, script and keyboard. They found less visual fatigue as measured by the frequency of changes in pupil size when working was accomplished with a positive than with a negative polarity display. Likewise, Saito, Taptagaporn, and Salvendy (1993) found faster lens accommodation and thus faster focusing of the eye with positive than with negative polarity displays.

  • Reading speed is all well and good but ultimately I read for understanding. More interesting to me would be the best font for learning/retention— though I can’t imagine that this is easy to study. Fonts that force your brain to slow down might be useful in some instances… I don’t know. Ubuntu Mono (TA font) isn’t the easiest font to read (at least for me), but maybe slowing you down is good in the ZK context.

  • @Loni said:

    @sfast said:
    Experience report: I switched from Open Sans to Lato and after a short acclimatisation I like it way more.

    Openess ? Boom ! A revolution ! :p

    Ha! It is accepting that someone knows better. It is obedience. (I am the best at being obedient. Sadly, I am the only one who backs this claim..)

    I've found something that mights interest you, @ctietze  ! It's about dark mode and retention of informations. (...)

    I think the bad effects of darkmode can be mitigated by a bigger font and if you limit darkmode to writing exclusively. (Then you won't to read with precision anyhow)

    But it always struck me as strange that darkmode was a thing other than the late night writing session.

    I think read about the problem years ago. But sometimes, even the internet is slow. :)

    @Warhead said:
    Reading speed is all well and good but ultimately I read for understanding. More interesting to me would be the best font for learning/retention— though I can’t imagine that this is easy to study. Fonts that force your brain to slow down might be useful in some instances… I don’t know. Ubuntu Mono (TA font) isn’t the easiest font to read (at least for me), but maybe slowing you down is good in the ZK context.

    My suspicion is that it depends on the reader. Do you really need the slow down or is reading speed the actual bottle neck for your comprehension? This is the question to be answered. Regarding reading physical paper, the reading speed of many readers is actually to slow for optimal understanding (long time that I read about reading).

    And then it depends what is limiting your reading speed. If you are, let's say, a sloppy reader. Slowing down might benefit you. But if you are a sessioned reader and have good reading habits the more readable font would benefit you.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited May 7

    @sfast
    Ha! It is accepting that someone knows better. It is obedience. (I am the best at being obedient. Sadly, I am the only one who backs this claim..)

    I am glad to let you take the privilege here. You see, even if I prefer to frolic by my own, I am always happy to encourage progress in the good direction :)

    I think the bad effects of darkmode can be mitigated by a bigger font and if you limit darkmode to writing exclusively. (Then you won't to read with precision anyhow)

    Would'nt be enough with astigmatie, though. I've made the experience first hand here :) (and it hurt.)

    But it always struck me as strange that darkmode was a thing other than the late night writing session.

    And terminal and command line. Or minitel. Wild, wild times.

    I think read about the problem years ago. But sometimes, even the internet is slow. :)

    Absolutly possible. I've read about this stuff a long time ago, when teachers threw blackboards out the windows (Minitel time, as you can see) for white boards and smelly erasable brushes. "Children have too much eyes problems !" "They don't retain as many informations as written on paper !" "Save the children from Pink Minitel !". The wheel is already back, an other kind of revolution.

    @Warhead
    Reading speed is all well and good but ultimately I read for understanding. More interesting to me would be the best font for learning/retention— though I can’t imagine that this is easy to study. Fonts that force your brain to slow down might be useful in some instances… I don’t know. Ubuntu Mono (TA font) isn’t the easiest font to read (at least for me), but maybe slowing you down is good in the ZK context.

    Hi Warhead ! The puppy on your profile photo is cuuuute !
    I would add something to sfast's comment : while I would agree that a delibarate and "slower" reading have their benefits, I really think you can obtain those benefits without putting yourself in discomfort. A good font should be easy to read, because life is too short to suffer from buttpain…

    Buuuuut ! Not butt, not boot, I said "but" !

    If you want and feel the need to read in a more deliberate pace, you can add visible structure. I have problems to maintain concentration (or get a laser one, but it's not the point) so I structure my notes in a way that I can take every useful information in seconds.

    Demonstration :

    Note title

    Context because I have to remember when and why I've needed those bunch of words.

    Title 1 : important point

    • Exposition

      • Precision 1
      • Precision 2
    • Argument 1

      • Argument precision 1
      • Argument precision 2

    An so on.

    It is not a slowing down trial, but an efficiency optimization. It works for me, you can find your own way of optimize the visual space of your notes to catch every importants points.

    But Loni, do you sigh, I was talking about reading !

    And yes ! You can apply this method in reading as well. In your reading notes, obsviously, but also if you read ebooks of pdf, you can use Calibre (free, open source) to convert you nice text into a .txt file and reorganise the spatial disposition of the book. And choose the font you want.

    And, in a more general view : If you does not like to look at something, you would'nt like to read it either. Reading can bear its own "cognitive price", don't let things become more difficult it should be by adding discomfort. It's like sex : when it hurts, you would'nt do it willingly.

    Aaand some anonymous bearded greek guy said that "everything that is good is beautiful and everything that is beautiful is good." Aesthetic always conveys a message.

  • @Loni thanks for the pointer! The take-away that you sometimes need to clench your inner eyeholes shut to see better, or at all, is interesting.

    Re: command line -- White (or green) on black historically made sense when monochrome CRT displays would function by actual light beams and beaming "on" bright pixels where needed was more feasible. You just didn't have anything else. Now it's an aesthetic choice of true hackers™️. And also a habit: I personally find typing in black-on-white command lines very weird, even though I haven't interacted with command lines for most of my life because I wasn't a true hacker™️. (With black-on-white text, it feels as if the commands don't go as deep, as if I'm only writing onto the computer.)

    @GeoEng51

    FWIW my 90+ grand-mother didn't like fonts for dylexic very much because she couldn't recognize familiar shapes with her bad macular degeneration. Very bold and large letters worked well, we found. I did some A/B testing with her and assembled a short telephone book of sorts with the winner: https://christiantietze.de/posts/2021/01/hyperlegible-font/

    The font is Atkinson Hyperlegible Font: https://brailleinstitute.org/freefont

    It won because its shapes were easy to recognize with little guess-work.

    The phone book is still in use. 👍

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • edited May 7

    @ctietze - thanks for that recommendation! I must have run into it before as it's installed on my computer (or maybe it's inherent in the Apple universe?). It is very similar to Aphont, with only minor differences. And the two have a passing similarity to lato (thanks @sfast ), although I think I prefer Atkinson or Aphont.

    @Loni - Getting to be an older person now (at least, the age of my eyes :wink: ), I think I read to minimize eye strain, which seems to be a combination of a font with easily recognized letters and a colour combination that minimizes eye strain. For me, the latter means black on white or black on light beige, with the brightness adjusted to the ambient light conditions.

    Like @Warhead , I don't care as much about reading speed - that gets automatically adjusted according to how well my brain is working on any particular day and time.

    One thing I've learned over the past few months is that I get a better sleep if I put away the electronic devices and even the books, and just have a nice conversation or listen to music or an audible book, all with a gentle theme, for an hour or two before going to bed. There's enough excitement in the rest of the day; a good wind-down promotes a high quality rest.

  • @ctietze said:
    @Loni thanks for the pointer! The take-away that you sometimes need to clench your inner eyeholes shut to see better, or at all, is interesting.

    Thanks :) Keeping my focus is an art by itself x) .

    In a related subject, I've seen a document about test-try of action color button to see if color impacts decisions of visitors. It seems that changing red for green dramaticly rises up sells for Heinz :

    the image

    Design is trully interesting ! As concepter, one should be aware of the art of drawing attention and presenting informations.

    Re: command line -- White (or green) on black historically made sense when monochrome CRT displays would function by actual light beams and beaming "on" bright pixels where needed was more feasible. You just didn't have anything else. Now it's an aesthetic choice of true hackers™️. And also a habit: I personally find typing in black-on-white command lines very weird, even though I haven't interacted with command lines for most of my life because I wasn't a true hacker™️. (With black-on-white text, it feels as if the commands don't go as deep, as if I'm only writing onto the computer.)

    I understand your bias, there are a lot of programming actions connected with white on black screen, like BIOS controls. I remerber Win3.1 and the black screen to talk to the computer.

    true hacker™️

    I have a picture of a guy making a wink with his thumb up and "true hacker™️" stamped in the corner printed in my mind now ! You just have to wink and make a 👍 with a shady hoodie and you'll be a true hacker ! \o/

    The phone book is still in use. 👍

    And very useful too ! Like balancing a furniture, or chasing down unwanting guests. Versatile and convenient, almost perfect.

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