Laws of the Font

There’s been a  controversy in Michigan over the legality of the font size on a ballot initiative. The state law requires that the headline or summary description for petitions must be in 14 point boldface.

Opponents of the proposed law asserted that the font choice of the ballot proposal did not conform to the legal size requirements because it is a newer font and is relatively small. They argued that, as a result,  the petition should be excluded from the November ballot. The court disagreed and said that the ballot initiative was in substantial compliance with the requirements for petitions.

The court challenge points out the fact that the readability and amount of space text takes up depends upon the typeface that is used.  14 point boldface will appear larger or smaller depending upon the font choice. Here are two popular fonts compared at 14 points.

Designers are not concerned with fine points of law. They want the font to be legible and readable as well as supporting the feeling of the content. Legibility is how well each letter can be distinguished from all the other characters in the word. Readability is the ease with which the reader can navigate through the text block as a whole (Or is the block of text easy to understand?). The other factor that affects the font selection is whether the font will be in keeping with the meaning of the text.

Graphic designers have personal favorites among typefaces of course, but they also consider how the text choice will support the look of the piece. Serif fonts originated with early printed materials and have the small tails that finish the letters. The Calisto MT font above is a serif font. Sans serif (without serif) fonts like Calibri don’t have those finishing strokes. Designers use both in order to add variety. Some fonts are more readable and legible at smaller sizes and others work well as headlines.

More ornate or decorative selections can be important additions to the design as well.

Choosing typefaces is tricky business.

Online font size varies according to the monitor resolution and the settings of the browser. Even so, there will be relative differences in responses to online fonts just as there are in print. The typeface should be carefully selected for both print and the web to be readable, legible and visually appealing. Font is just as important as all the elements of your design (images, layout, color, content).

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