A Talk on Font Readability and Legibility

Thou Shalt Make a Logo That is Instantly Readable. Readability should be one of the top concerns when it comes to any design project.Text is not an afterthought in the design process. It should be your first consideration.

When using typography on the web, there are many things to keep in mind in order to create a page that provides clear access to the content and presents it in a legible way.

Convention has it that one of a logo's first tasks is to be immediately accessible and readable; it shouldn't daunt the viewer at first sight. The logos that follow, however, make demands on their viewers and require deciphering.

Although there are two terms that are used interchangeably, readability and legibility are actually two quite different terms.

Readability pertains to how easily words, sentences, and entire blocks of texts can be read by the average reader. The more readable a text is, the less energy someone has to expend while reading.

Legibility, on the other hand, is a measure of how easy it is for the reader to distinguish one letter or character in a text from another.

Line Length

Lines of type, especially in large blocks, that are too long can cause the eyes to tire and make reading difficult. Line that are too short often result in awkward breaks.

If hyphenation is used, short lines will also result in many hyphenated words, which can also break up the flow of reading.

Space and Contrast

Space and proper contrast are key components when it comes to readability. Lettering must live in its own space – not share with other lettering or images – and the color of text and the background must be different enough to be distinguishable.

Designers should also pay particular attention to the space between blocks of text and other objects. Be aware of text wraps and text that crosses into the boundaries of other objects. Text wraps – both vertical and horizontal – should be at least equal to the line spacing used for a block of text. Avoid allowing text blocks to touch other objects or elements, or run across or on top of images.


Don’t forget about the margins. Remember to leave some white space around the entire text frame, creating an almost invisible halo. This margin will help set text apart from other “noise,” easing the reader into the copy.

Hyphenation and Word Breaks

A few hyphens are acceptable in large copy blocks, but consider setting a limited number of hyphens per paragraph.

Poor writing and word breaks can be just as jarring for readers. Try to keep headlines and subheads short, simple and direct. Avoid long phrases and keep wording terse. Give readers a taste of the text to come, enticing them to read more.

When working with digital and web projects, consider plenty of breaks and subheads for large amounts of copy (you will see we do that here with Design Shack articles). These breaks make text easier to digest visually and makes longer copy seem less intimidating to read.


Whether text is in the center, to the left, or to the right side of a document or screen, is also important and can greatly impact readability. Generally speaking, the strong alignment for text is left-aligned. Left alignment works because it mirrors the way you read – from left to right. You know where each line ends and where the next begins.

Right and justified alignments can be the most difficult to use. Right alignment is best reserved for small blocks of text, such as big quotes or artistic text elements. Justified text requires pinpoint-perfect hyphenation and justification specifications and is best used in a non-fluid environment, which is why you see it most commonly in the confines of print design.

Centered text, while popular, does not lend itself to readability. It can work for small text blocks but should not be used for more than a few lines.

Does Font Weight Make a Difference?

Although it is conventionally previewed that the more visible a font was, the greater its readability. Therefore, it was assumed that the extra bold font type would be the most readable for the average reader. However this is not true. The fact is readability increases sharply from light to medium, the decreased drastically from medium to bold. Extra font weight made the text as a whole harder to read.

Reader tend to blink more as the text gets darker, meaning that while bolder font is obviously more attention grabbing, it also taxes the reader much more than medium font.


Design for readability or don’t bother using text at all. If you want your content to be effective, it must be readable. By designing with readability in mind, you are doing your readers and users a service.

With so much information out there, users tend to look (or click) away from text that is not easy to understand in a flash. Those are readers, or potential customers, that you may never get back.

About S. Kapoor

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