Take the 2-minute tour ×
User Experience Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for user experience researchers and experts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm looking for some fonts that read well vertically. By vertically I mean text that runs at a right angle or perpendicular to the normal left to right. Like the words highlighted in yellow in this image:

enter image description here

The font should be free to use and in a format in which I could add it to an iPhone app which I'm developing.


To clarify, the sample image I have used has nothing to do with my app. It was just a way to illustrate what I mean. So, yes, the font is aliased and is ugly, but it's not what I'm using, so no need to try to improve that.

And I know the iPhone can be easily turned vertically, but my application's main content is viewed horizontally with some text being placed vertically. In other words it will be mixed content that should have vertically running text that is easily readable.

share|improve this question
Bold Calibri... –  Dynamic Jan 7 '12 at 16:26
Does readability change when orientation changes? Why not a font that is readable when horizontal? –  tajmo Jan 7 '12 at 20:47
Have you considered a design/layout that does not need vertical text? –  Roger Attrill Jan 8 '12 at 10:02
@Jae: Calibri is not free and requires explicit licensing for embedding in an iPhone app –  Kit Grose Feb 22 '12 at 16:28
Be aware, there are regional variations around vertical text; in the US, UK and Australia (at least) vertical text on book and DVD spines, etc. read top to bottom (since we generally read top to bottom and left to right). In continental Europe, those same spines are generally presented as your proof shows, bottom to top, which allows, e.g., a series of DVDs stacked horizontally (for instance, on a table) to be in order top to bottom with their spines readable and their covers facing up. –  Kit Grose Feb 22 '12 at 16:32
add comment

3 Answers

I can't provide a definitive answer, but I can provide a little logic.

When viewing vertical text, you are essentially viewing normal text in an unusual situation, so in order to ease the situation it seems like a good idea to remove typographical cues that make reading in an awkward situation even harder.

So sans-serif would be a logic first step to removing intricacies and... well...serifs.

However, you should also consider any straight edges at the ends of strokes - these also make oddly oriented text look more different - but if you used a rounded font, the rotational effect is less obvious at the ends of the strokes - essentially because circles look the same at all rotations.

Luke Wrobleski did a poll (July 2010) of peoples's favourite rounded sans-serif fonts and Gotham Rounded and VAG Rounded were easily the most popular.

For the above reasons, and barring someone else finding research to the contrary, I would seriously consider one of those two.

Here is a vertical rendering of the first three from Luke's article above.

enter image description here

share|improve this answer
The Gotham collection is simply fantastic. But not free. –  Nic Jan 7 '12 at 20:50
Aaah - and that is a great shame! –  Roger Attrill Jan 7 '12 at 23:20
Gotham is not only not free, it's not currently available for licensing for embedding. –  Kit Grose Feb 22 '12 at 16:24
add comment

This is really more of a visual design and branding question/preference than a true UX issue. Your provided example suffers more from being heavily aliased or distorted than it does from any flaws with the typeface itself. You'd never experience distortion like that with live text in iOS.

If you're in doubt, why not use Helvetica Neue, the default font for iOS 5? For mockups you can use Helvetica or even Arial if you'd don't own Neue.

enter image description here

share|improve this answer
Fun fact: Arial isn’t Microsoft’s imitation of Helvetica. MS Sans Serif is (and a pretty bad imitation IMHO). –  kinokijuf Jan 8 '12 at 9:51
I agree with you: Helvetica is an extremely appropriate font choice for this. Since iPhone development requires a Mac, and Mac OS X includes Helvetica Neue, the OP most certainly has access to Helvetica Neue for mockups (provided he uses the Mac to do proofs). –  Kit Grose Feb 22 '12 at 16:27
add comment

If you gave someone an iPhone with a font typeface displayed vertically. The user is just going to flip the phone and read it, then go back to what they were doing

So I wouldn't worry about what font you use. Although the answer above has giving you a good starting point on your search.

If it was on a computer or laptop I would be more concerned.

share|improve this answer
Unless the phone rotates the view :) (but point taken). –  Todd Sieling Jan 8 '12 at 2:55
yeah that is something you would have to take into consideration if you were to use a horizontal font. –  jamcoupe Jan 8 '12 at 2:59
User rotates smartphone to view sideways text -> view rotates to match new orientation -> RAGE –  Ben Brocka Jan 9 '12 at 6:29
add comment

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.