My Photo
Location: Bellevue, Washington, United States

Nathan is both a writer and designer of books and eBooks and is part-owner of boutique publisher Long Tale Press, LLC. He is available to help make your eBook or Book publishing project come alive with great book design.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Bigger type please!

Let’s take a few minutes to look at type on a colored background. Does it need to be bigger?

A few years ago I took a number of typographic “schemes” to the president of our company for approval. He looked at some and said “Okay,” and at others and said “This type needs to be bigger.” After I got back to my desk to make the modifications I realized that he had both okayed and criticized the same scheme on numerous instances, but that the difference was in how the type was displayed against a colored background. So I went to work trying to figure out what was there beyond his obvious “make it bigger” request.

What I discovered was that it is not so much the size of the type as the contrast between the letters and the background that makes certain type hard to read. As you saw in the section on emphasis below, there are circumstances in which you simply need more contrast to make something more readable. Contrast can be achieved in several ways. The first is by making the difference between the value of the type and the value of the background as large as possible. This is a color issue. But sometimes you want to use colors that simply don't have that much range between their values. So what do you do then?

There are other kinds of contrast than just the contrast of value. One, true to my president’s desire, is contrast of size. It is true that making the type bigger may make it easier to read. Not necessarily proof positive, however. Contrast of texture is another way to achieve better readability. Instead of making the type bigger, make it heavier. You can vary weights of type in HTML by fairly small amounts rather than requiring actual bold, demi, or heavy typefaces; and respecting typographic purists who want to honor the typographer’s intent, when you put the type on a colored background, you are already altering the intent so feel free to make minor alterations in weight for the surface you are working on. Contrast of density may be another way of making the type more readable. That is simply spreading it out a little more, both vertically and horizontally.

Surprisingly, all these methods actually work to improve the readability of text on a colored background, proving once again that there is no single answer to any of our reading problems, but a variety of options for solving them. My opinion is to try them all and see which one fits your use best. It may be simply making it bigger.


Blogger tweakasnow said...

well i saw that you had posted a comment to one of my posts so i felt that i should give your site a try. i would like to give you a thumbs up first of all. if i were still doing pages of my own i could probably learn alot from you, but who says those days are over? thanks for the good service, keep it up bro!

November 4, 2004 at 8:37 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home