As promised in our Anniversary Blog post, we’re sharing content around the theme of 10 all year. This year, when the Shift team gathered for our annual all-day learning event, Learnapalooza, accessibility was a main area of focus. Typefaces and fonts play an important role in accessibility by impacting how information is presented and perceived. They shape our experiences online and offline. The right typeface ensures that everyone, regardless of ability or disability, can engage with content.
Let’s take a look at 10 typefaces that Shift recommends for accessibility.
But first, what makes a typeface accessible?
According to the United States government’s accessibility website, there are several elements that factor into the accessibility of a typeface, including:
Inaccessible fonts and typefaces tend to make content more challenging to read, by:
- Making it hard to distinguish between the shapes of different letters and characters
- Slowing the reader down
- Including unnecessary decorative adornments
Read more, in this Reddit thread which provides some honest and thoughtful perspective.
Typefaces We Recommend for Accessibility
Arial is extremely versatile and can be used successfully in many mediums including newspapers, reports, advertising, and presentations. Fun fact: each of its characters has the same width as characters in the popular typeface Helvetica; the original purpose of this was to allow a document designed in Helvetica to be displayed and printed with the intended line breaks and page breaks without a Helvetica license.
Speaking of Helvetica…Helvetica’s simple shapes and no-frills design make it great for readability. It works very well on a large scale, which is why it made our list. However, its narrow apertures limit its legibility in small print sizes. On smaller scales, there are stronger alternatives, such as Verdana.
Arian was specifically created for use in electronic media. Of note, Arian is legible both in small sizes and when the type is filtered or skewed, such as in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.
Some might call Arvo a hidden gem. For Arvo, legibility is supreme. Developed as a response to the illegibility of print-oriented Egyptian typefaces that dominated the early 2000’s, Arvo keeps aspects common to slab-serif typefaces like a high x-height but uses monolinear lines to increase readability.
Atkinson Hyperlegible is a free typeface designed for those who are visually impaired. All characters are maximally distinguishable from each other, and it has been treated with careful kerning — the space between each character. In 2019 it won Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Award for Graphic Design.
Comic Sans, a non-connecting script inspired by comic book lettering, is often the butt of typeface and font jokes, but, according to a study by Dyslexia Help, Comic Sans reduces reading errors by 10.2%. Of note, Comic Sans was not originally created for optimal readability or accessibility purposes, but rather to add personality to Microsoft Bob’s virtual assistant, Rover.
OpenDyslexic is designed specifically to increase readability for people with dyslexia. It features bold lowercase characters and wider kerning to help make the text easier to read and interpret. Comic Sans, among other typefaces is reportedly the inspiration for OpenDyslexic.
Verdana is readable at small sizes on low-resolution computer screens. It has a large x-height (tall lower-case characters), with wider proportions and looser kerning on print-orientated designs than Helvetica.
Tahoma has a narrow body, small counters, tight kerning, and a more complete Unicode character set than Verdana. In contrast with some other sans-serif typefaces, including Arial, the uppercase “I” (eye) is distinguishable from the lowercase “l” (ell), which is especially important in technical publications.
Times New Roman
Last, but not least, we have Times New Roman, the oldest typeface on this list and still widely used on most personal computers today. This is one of the most popular typefaces of all time. Previously, The Times (Britain’s oldest national daily newspaper, not the New York Times as some might guess) used Plantin as their primary typeface. In 1932 they developed Times New Roman to increase contrast between strokes to provide readers with crisper text.
We Would Love to Chat with You
We’ve come to the end of our list, but it doesn’t need to be the end of the conversation. Do you have a website, design, or branding project? Would you like to chat more about your favorite typefaces and font families or hear more thoughts on these suggestions? Contact us today!