Serif Fonts vs Sans Serif: The ageless battle for domination on the web

By in Resources, Web Design on April 22, 2009

fontRecently I had to defend the usage of Sans Serif and Serif fonts on the web. With my background coming from Print Design – I understand the concern that people bring up about Serif fonts, don’t get me wrong I do like them just not all the time for web. Unlike print, web is a fast paced world – people want there information and want it quick and in an easy to read format.

The standard style for most content on the Web is sans serif fonts, like Arial, Tahoma or Verdana. Pretty straightforward on why we use this standard so often: sans serif fonts are easier to read on-screen. They also look pretty good when their size is reduced, they also tend to hold up their visual appeal across all browsers.

Serif fonts throughout the web are used for titles and subtitles on a lot of sites, this can help visual appeal on a heavily sans serif page. But can it work for the main content? 

Overall, you should design with sans-serif fonts for your main content, this is a good typography rule for Web Design. You’ll notice that as you wander the web you will see that the majority of the sites out there us sans-serif fonts.

BUT – you already knew that. 

I recently was working on a site that I wanted to have an elegent, and classy look – with my background in Print Design the first thing you think about is a serif font. So I wandered the web and tried to find some sites that actually used a serif font well. 

Here are a few that I felt use a serif font well:
Seed Conference (http://seedconference.com/seed.php)
Twisted Intellect (http://twistedintellect.com/)
Jan Meiert: Why Reset Style Sheets are Bad (http://meiert.com/en/blog/20080419/reset-style-sheets-are-bad/)
Cameron Moll (http://www.cameronmoll.com/)

Just like Print Design we need to take into consideration that typography is still important for the web as it is for print. Here are some advantages and disadvantages if you want to challenge yourself and work with a serif font:

Pros:
Thanks to all the sans-serif fonts on the web, if you use a serif font you will stand out and give you a challenge to make sure you can make a serif font work and do it right. 

Cons:
Serif fonts lose readability at smaller fonts sizes – also on different platforms a serif font may look terrible.

Overall I believe there is going to be a trend moving forward where people will start to use more serif fonts for their content and ignore the web standard rule that is set in place. I hope that designers decide to challenge themselves on the web and start thinking out of the box and use some serif fonts.

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