Five Quick Rules for Using Fonts

1. Never sacrifice legibility for creativity.

Unless you are creating fine art, the goal of your text is to be read. Don’t let your font, size, color, and contrast choices get in the way of that.

2.  Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Popular graphics, word processing, and e-learning software applications give you all sorts of options for fill effects, shadows, reflections, shapes, and angles. You don’t have to use them all.

3.  Make sure your font matches your message.

Font choices send non-verbal messages. Make sure that message is the one you want.

4. The more words you have, the less “fun” you can have.

As with rule 1, your text is meant to be read. Playful and interesting fonts often work well with a few words, but can be difficult to read if there is a lot of it.  Go simple when you have a lot of text to be read, but feel free to add some visual interest if it is just a few words or letters.

5. Pick three fonts and stick with them.

“Unity with variety” is one of the rules I learned in design class. This means you don’t have to reinvent the wheel on every page of your course. Have a few options available to you and stick with them throughout the whole course.  It will look more professional. A good rule of thumb is to work with the following three font types.

  • Body copy:  Keep this one very simple, such as Verdana, Tahoma, or Arial.  (See rule 4—no fun allowed here!)
  • Emphasis: Use a font with visual “weight” for emphasis, such as headings.  A bold, simple font works well here.  (I like condensed fonts for this.)
  • Accent: The accent font is optional and should be used sparingly.  It might be a handwriting font used for special instructions, a playful font that fits in with the theme of your course (such as a western font), or something just designed to stand out. Here you can have a little fun, if you want. Use it sparingly—no more than once per slide, and only for a few words. Be sure not to break any of the other rules with this one.

Trained professionals can get away with breaking any of these rules (just like some people can pull off stripes and paisley). But even though they can, they aren’t likely to. At the end of the day, it’s not about the fonts—it’s about the course.  The fonts should support your message, not upstage it.

Diane Elkins
Diane Elkins is the co-owner of E-Learning Uncovered, as well as Artisan E-Learning, a custom eLearning development company specializing in the use of Storyline, Captivate, and Lectora. Diane has been in the eLearning industry since 2001, speaks regularly at national conferences about eLearning, and is co-author of the popular E-Learning Uncovered book series.

5 Responses to “Five Quick Rules for Using Fonts

  • Michael Loader
    9 years ago

    Great reminder for all of us! Thank you.

  • I so agree, Diane! Many people (even some experts) get hung up on font choice. A couple of months ago I tweeted “Font choice matters little. It’s like your shirt’s colour: Pick one that suits the setting & doesn’t distract, & don’t waste time on it!”

    • Diane Elkins
      9 years ago

      Good point! People get funny about fonts, everyone has an opinion, and no two people’s opinions seem to be the same!

  • James Young
    8 years ago

    You hit it right on the money! If you can’t read it, what good is it? Would like to know your opinion on serif vs. non-serif fonts, i.e., Times New Roman or Georgia vs. Arial or Verdana.

    8 years ago

    A very interesting one!!

    You have made very good points.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

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