The serif vs. sans serif typeface debate has been a long and exhaustive one, with advocates for each side proposing numerous theories for why theirs is the better typographic solution. We often have clients request one or the other, citing legibility concerns. In these cases, we endeavor to educate them about the facts so we can come up with the best presentation of information possible.
Most of the argument centers on readability and legibility. Many people believe that sans serif text can be more easily comprehended than serif type designs.
Serifs are the small projections finishing off a stroke from certain letters and symbols.
Sans Serif is a typeface that has no serif, or projection, at the end of letters and symbols.
Though there could be an argument to be made that sans serif may be easier to read on a digital medium, there has been little research to suggest that sans serif is more reader-friendly in the print medium.
Metropolis V.P. and Creative Director, Kevin Boynton teaches a class on Fundamentals of Typography at Valencia College. He tells us that there have been many type readability studies that have found that the two types are virtually the same when it comes to reader cognition. Though he does note that a sans serif may be better suited for the digital world due to technical issues, there are types with heavier serifs that make reading on a screen a user-friendly experience similar to sans serif.
There has been some research to suggest that serif type is actually easier to read when used in lengthy texts such as books, newspapers, and magazines. This research tells us that the serif increases readability by guiding the flow of the eye from letter to letter. Several researchers have found that participants in their studies are able to more quickly read and more effectively comprehend serif types over the sans serif types, but the studies show no real difference.
So, whether you are creating a blog for your website or drafting up copy for a magazine article, remember to keep it clean and legible. A good typeface is one that gets the message across in a clear and effective manner.
“Type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters.”