Friday, October 30, 2009

More legibility = less boldface

If you have single slides with lots of words on them (such as a paragraph), don’t use bold type. Or all capital letters. Or worse, combine them (bold all capitals). It makes your text very difficult to read.

Here’s why:

Roman (or normal or regular) type is designed to be read and is at the core of all text faces.* Bold type usually has less white space, both inside the letters and between letters, and so the letters visually blend together more than their roman counterparts. The result is big white or black perceptual masses with less distinct letter shapes, and so your readers need to slow down to recognize letters and words. And if your audience is spending more mental energy processing text shapes, that’s less mental energy available to pay attention to you and your message.

Traditional typography sets most text in roman type with italics and bold reserved for specific uses or headlines. (And bold italic faces were rarely seen before the 1980’s). These conventions exist because they work. Roman type is easier to read, especially in larger blocks of text. Even projected, medium weight letters read better than all bold ones.

Here’s another, more practical reason not to make your slides all bold, all the time (or all-cap, all bold, all the time – shudder). If you start with bold all-caps, how do you emphasize something? Make it bigger, brighter, even harder to read? There’s nothing left.

So, if you have slides with bunches of words that looks similar to paragraphs, then this applies to you:
  • If you are designing slides in PP to project to a large group, it would be best to remove most of the words from your slides. Then you can feel free to use bold for the remaining 4 words on the slide.
  • If you are designing a slideument (a document that will be printed and may be projected), please “unbold” all that bold type (you’ll use less toner when you print, too).
Your audience will thank you.

* Display faces – those that are not designed to be used for entire paragraphs of text – usually don’t have many variations, if any.

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