Typography and eLearning Development; Don’t Contribute to the Arial Cliché

Visual and Graphic Design
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When I think of ways I can improve my graphic design skills, typography is always at the top of the list (it has been for 17 years now). Since our primary tool for web-based training is Flash, we have an opportunity with each new course to improve typography and raise the visual level of online courses. Flash can embed a character set of any font you have a legal right to use into the final files. Below are a few tips I’ve given my team to improve the typography in our courses here at Allen.

Tip #1: Don’t use Arial.

Arial gets a bad rap, but one reason is that it is overused. Some may argue that its overuse is because it is the most readable, but data doesn’t support this. In fact, there isn’t much data to support any one font over another. I researched this online and in scholastic papers and came to the same conclusion as Alex Poole when he states that the argument over readability ends “in a body of research consisting of weak claims and counter-claims, and study after study with findings of ‘no difference’.”1

So if there’s truly no difference in fonts, how do you choose one? This question leads to the next two tips.

Tip #2: Find out if the elearning development client has a corporate font.

If they do, use it. This gets you around the Arial cliché. Also if you have to argue with an Arial-stalwart (sadly, yes, they exist), it gives you ammunition: “Well, it’s part of their brand.”

Tip #3: Choose wisely.

If they don’t have a corporate font, pick one you’d like to use for that client moving forward. Maybe it’s a different one for each client. Or, if fonts are too expensive, pick one to use on any and all companies you work with who don’t have a corporate font.

Some of my personal favorites are Gotham, Trade Gothic, and Univers. I like these fonts because they have a wide variety of weights. That’s another problem with Arial: it is missing thin, extra light, light, book, medium, heavy, and black. These are standard weights (outside of just regular and bold) that professionally created sans serif fonts provide. Another standard of these fonts is the different styles; narrow, compressed, condensed, and extended. The different weights and styles allow a graphic designer to create different forms of contrast, a wider variety of hierarchies between different types of information, and produce myriad creative solutions with a single font family. This kind of flexibility is impossible with a font that only gives you regular and bold.

Below are a few examples of what a fully-featured font can produce compared to a font with only regular and bold weights and no style options.

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  1. Breanne

    This is a great blog. Thanks for including the examples. They are very helpful. I’ve often heard that a design should stick to two fonts, does this apply to Web-based courses as well?

    • Charles

      Absolutely. Two fonts are a maximum. When using a feature-rich font, you have to be careful not to load up too heavily on the different styles of the font as well. The examples above mostly use two styles (one uses three).