Wherefore art thou, serifs? Last month, the U.S. State Department decreed that official memos and documents should be written in Calibri font, rather than the Times New Roman typeface that has been used since 2004. The justification is readability, especially for visually impaired employees who use a screen reader. The lack of serifs makes the optical character recognition (OCR) of such devices more accurate.
But as typographic designer pointed out, readability is more complex than serif/san serif font and the size. Line spacing, the contrast between background and text color, and other factors all play a role, and different types of visual impairment require different remedies.
”Pick a good default font, go to one-and-a-half line spacing, consider a baseline off-white background with black text, and then guide” readers to increase or decrease the contrast or font size based on what feels most comfortable to them.— Ian Hosting, Engineering Design Center at University of Cambridge
Many users of the Microsoft Office suite of computer applications have gotten used to Calibri being the default, so these State Department documents won’t look too unfamiliar. But — irony of ironies — Microsoft announced in 2021 that they were phasing out the use of Calibri in favor of a set of custom sans-serif fonts. I suppose I’ll eventually get used to emails and Word documents that look different, but when it comes to good old paper books, I’m happy that most book designers still make effective use of lovely serif typefaces in their work. A beautiful font is a joy forever.
Top photo: Anton Dos Ventos/Alamy Stock Photo