I always encourage people to use plain fonts in their presentations. Curly (or serif) fonts are beautiful and I love them when they are used in the right place, for example for signage or on wedding invitations, but they are not necessarily suitable for everyday use.
The reason that we mainly use plain (sans serif) fonts in presentations is because they are more readable. Readability is about how distracted you are by the characteristics of the typeface. So when the ‘g’ has a lovely curly tail this can distract our brains from the message contained in the text. Anything that makes the typeface more interesting, such as thick and thin strokes, very tall letterforms or short stubby ones can distract us from the message and in some situations, its important that we get the message very quickly. You never see serif fonts used in road signs, for example.
Strictly speaking, readability is about how easy it is to read long sections of text (otherwise known as body text). So it would be OK to use a more decorative font for a headline or as a special effect, but keep in mind that every element of your slide should be there for a reason and this includes fancy fonts.
So what typefaces would I recommend? My personal favourite is Calibri, but any nice plain font such as Helvetica or Futura will do.
There’s a lot I could say about typography (just ask my family!) but let’s start with some basics.
First of all typefaces have personalities of their own. Plain typefaces send the message that they mean business because they are no-nonsense in their look and feel. Curly fonts tend to be whimsical and romantic. These are the ones you usually see on wedding invitations and personal emails.
Type must be appropriate for the topic, be sympathetic to any images nearby and be suitable for the intended reader. Until recently, there was a view that sans serif fonts – those without pointy ends, such as Arial – were easier to read than serif fonts. Whilst this might be true as a general rule, some recent research suggests that the typefaces we find the easiest to read are those that we grew up with. In other words, the fonts that were in use when we were learning to read, remain the easiest for us to read. Type faces reflect social conditions and go in and out of fashion, just like wedge heels.
You’ll notice that I’m using the terms font and typeface interchangeably here. They aren’t actually the same thing, but the explanation is rather long and tedious so I’m not going to go into that now. Suffice to say that you need to choose your typefaces carefully. Don’t write a board report in comic sans, it just doesn’t send the right message about you or your topic.
You’ll be seeing more about typography in future posts, so stay tuned.