Updated Dec, 6th 2012
Whether they are airborne, covered in ink, full of lead or expressed digitally, words play a major role in our lives. Simply put, they enable us to communicate to one another—yes, but their strength goes far beyond the mere transmission of our thoughts. They have the power to convey our tone, level of understanding, and even sincerity. Furthermore, how we hear or read these words matters a great deal. The words that we choose are always critical, but there are many more layers to this onion that are worth investigating.
When speaking, it matters how loud we are, how fast we’re talking and how confidently we project. In a one-on-one conversation or when addressing a group, you need to consider eye contact, posture, your wardrobe, avoiding or embracing slang, and so on. I’d like to submit that these considerations in speech also apply to the written word, as well.
How we express words digitally, in the context of web design, is often times overlooked and thrown into the afterthought box—a most unfortunate box for a word to call home, indeed. I have introduced two of these considerations below. Though basic, I find them to be irreplaceably important when deciding on the right way to use typography in a web design.
The font family (Georgia, Helvetica, Times) that you choose can be compared to the clothes that you decide to wear. People assess all types of situations with their eyes first, which makes one’s appearance critically important when trying to guide their judgments. There are times when this matters and times when this does not matter at all. At a job interview it is wise to dress well. At a rock concert it would not necessarily be wise to dress that same way. People wear certain clothes to make statements, to fit in, or for purely functional reasons—grabbing a raincoat and rain boots when venturing out in a storm. Think about typography in this same light so that your readers hear the right voice and make the right judgments.
Font size is an obvious candidate for consideration. The first consideration here is legibility. If you have tiny text then you are making your readers squint, crane their necks and work a little harder than they’d like to. We have all been there and it’s just awful. Use a strict hierarchy throughout the website by assigning certain font sizes to certain titles and text areas. Be consistent and do not overdo it.
Also, be mindful of uppercase words. This has less to do with point size and more to do with tone. Uppercase words can be interpreted as AGGRESSIVE YELLING or, when used differently, can come off as more authoritative and confident.