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Fonts Reconsidered #1: Emails

Fonts. Some people always go with the default, others stick to the same one for everything, others pick a different one for every occasion, and others are typography nerds with some absolute views on font usage. I belong to that last category. In my opinion (and that of most typographers), certain situations always call for a specific type of font and should not have any other kind. Unfortunately, not everyone is a lover of typography and some people make poor font decisions.

So what does this all mean? It means that many people are just plain wrong when it comes to their choice of fonts. But don’t worry—I am here to help. This is the first of a few blog posts that will set some ground rules and provide guidance for the less-informed everyman. This week, I’ll give you a quick rundown of which should be your default email font. (Note: in order to understand this post, you need to know the difference between serif and sans serif fonts. Here’s a picture that sums it up nicely.)

Most email services have several options for a font face. The usual suspects include a basic sans serif (usually Arial), a few basic serif fonts (such as Times New Roman or Garamond), something goofy like Comic Sans, and Tahoma and/or Verdana. Which should you choose?

The truth is that most of them will be OK—but just OK. A font with serifs is usually great for print applications (documents that will not be read on a computer), but they aren’t quite as legible on a screen, especially if there are large paragraphs involved. Arial is also fine, but again, not as easy to read. As for Comic Sans…I’ll get to that particular font in another post.

The ideal fonts for emails is Tahoma or Verdana. Those fonts are specifically designed for on-screen reading at small sizes. You don’t often see them being used for blog posts or websites because in those cases, you want to go for a particular look and feel. The aesthetics are important in these cases. But for emails, where clarity and legibility are key, Tahoma and Verdana are the way to go.

Why are these two fonts good for optimizing legibility? First, they don’t have serifs, making the small space they take up less cluttered. Second, the characters are wide but distinct. What are the first characteristics that come to mind when you see text in Tahoma or Verdana? Maybe you feel that they look “open” or “loose.” That’s why they’re easiest to read and that’s why you should choose them for your default email font.

As for color: as long as you go with a dark color that won’t put strain on the eyes, you’re good. I just go with plain black because I don’t want to draw attention to my font choices in my emails, but Alex uses navy blue, which actually works really well. Not only does that color provide enough contrast to be perfectly legible, it sets his messages apart. That way, he can go through and comment or respond directly on someone else’s email and you know exactly who said what.

Now, here’s  things you should just NEVER do (unless you’re commenting directly on someone else’s message):

In summary: Set your default email font as Tahoma or Verdana in a normal size and dark color.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and remember: fonts matter!



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