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Finding the right font for an application seems to be an art.

There seem to be many standards. Arial seems to be used in most applications I have seen, Segoe UI is the standard for Microsoft Windows and Office Also, Verdana seems to be everywhere on the web

What is the best font in sense of

  • readability
  • availability on different windows platform
  • other reasons that I have not considered here

Please note that I'm not interested in "taste" answers, but objective reasons to choose one font. There are people out there that have lot of experience in user interface design and have answered this question for themselves through a process of comparison and balancing reasons for one font against another.

What I want to know is: Which font to choose, what else should be considered in means of accessability.

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What's wrong with using the font defined in the system metrics? –  Rowland Shaw Jun 28 '13 at 12:12
    
Layout is difficult when you do not know which font is used beforehand –  Mare Infinitus Jun 28 '13 at 12:22
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Well, you'd test with large fonts enabled anyway, to ensure you don't fall foul of any disability discrimination legislation; .Net is very good at handling the scaling for you - it takes information from the settings used during design anyway, so layout shouldn't be an issue. –  Rowland Shaw Jun 28 '13 at 12:56
    
I'm very interested in this kind of information. Is there any good compilation on that? –  Mare Infinitus Jun 28 '13 at 13:42
    
For what it's worth, I'd be surprised if any of the applications you've used use Arial. Windows Vista and above use Segoe UI, Windows 2000 and XP used Tahoma and earlier Windows used MS Sans Serif as their default fonts. Arial is chiefly a print typeface (despite having been hinted relatively well for the screen by Microsoft). –  Kit Grose Jul 2 '13 at 23:52
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6 Answers

Your desktop application, if it is built on system controls (not with it's own graphic style entirely) should use system font to be compliant to OS guidelines (weither it is Windows, Mac OS or Unix derivative OS). Test, test and test it again on different OS versions with different system settings, or simply set up requirments to certain OS (if it is both hardware and software suite, that is popular in some b2c segments).

If you make custom graphical interface, then the selection of the font is more arbitrary, and depends on your needs (see answers above).

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The application has its own design, perhaps a bit looking like VS2012. There are almost no system controls, most have its own style. Can you tell more about the second paragraph please? –  Mare Infinitus Jul 2 '13 at 8:09
    
@MareInfinitus It seems that it is customly designed professional software for specific needs — as AutoCAD, Adobe products, MSVS etc. For such cases I'd also recommend to use system fonts, or, at least, as other's mentioned, Segoe UI, Helvetica/Arial pair (last one — especially for multiplatform solutions). The main task here is to make visual user experience as transparent as possible, and any nonstandard solutions will be percieved unacceptably annoying (that is not so vital in more consumer, especially entertainment products). –  Alex Ovtcharenko Jul 2 '13 at 12:23
    
Can you tell more about how to layout when using the system specified fonts please? Especially fontsizes. –  Mare Infinitus Jul 4 '13 at 8:05
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Readability of a given font is dependent on other factors. Sans serif fonts are usually considered more readable on displays of traditional (100-150 ppi) densities, but serifs are more readable when the densities get higher. Verdana is one of the more readable fonts at small sizes, but at larger sizes looks pudgy and bloated.

If there is a "system" font (that may have been specified by the user) that would be the safest font to use. Helvetica/Arial are usually safe bets that work in a wide range of contexts. In any case you should understand that in many cases you can't control the size of the font (a person with weak sight may have all the fonts displayed large) so you should be careful assuming font sizes when designing layouts.

Besides the font, typographic parameters like line length and leading (line spacing) have big impact on readability.

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Do you have a reliable source for the claim that "serifs are more readable when the densities get higher"? That claim generates a bunch of debate, and the research is—to say the least—pretty ambiguous. –  Kit Grose Jul 3 '13 at 5:29
    
@KitGrose Thank you for the link. So what would you recommend? –  Mare Infinitus Jul 4 '13 at 8:06
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One of core Windows fonts, Arial is often overlooked, but it is a clear and readable typeface. It can be a little difficult to distinguish between uppercase i / lowercase L and nested single/double quotes but that can be said of many proportional fonts.

You can of course use any windows based fonts (Arial, Times New Roman, Verdana, Sans) if you're developing your app in Unicode you can also use "sylfaen" or you can embed any font you like (You can search opensource and download and redistribute fonts without any restriction)

With best wishes!

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Today we have thousands of fonts available and that to free of cost. If you are making a windows application then following things can be considered :

  1. First is to make sure that your system will be used on which platforms of Windows. i.e. Whether it is Windows Vista onwards or Windows Vista before.

  2. Also it should be verified that the font you are using is a common font and requires no extra installation. (in case of absence of internet)

Coming to the main point, The following fonts should be used

  • Calibri, Segoe UI, Cambria for the applications that will be used on Windows Vista onwards

  • Times New Roman, Arial, Trebuchet MS for the applications which will be used on Windows 98 onwards upto Windows XP.

Hope this might help you.

UPDATE

For the question you have asked in the comment :

@MareInfinitus : As I said above, it will depend upon the OS. If you want the UI to be smooth and fine then you can use the Segoe UI.

This is the Arial font used in gtalk in Win XP

This is the Arial font used in gtalk in Win 7

Comparing both the images you can clearly observe the difference in edge smoothing of font on two different versions of OS.

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This doesn't really provide an answer to the question though, it's mostly just reiterating the reasoning already outlined in the question itself. –  JonW Jul 1 '13 at 8:51
    
I have given the OS specification there. If the OS is Vista and above then the smoothing of font is proper(Font is displayed as it is and no auto-changes is done there) . Otherwise if the OS is Windows XP then the font is not displayed properly. The edges of the font look somewhat rough. This is my observation. –  talktokets Jul 1 '13 at 9:00
    
I'm unsure whether to use Helvetica (Arial) or Segoe UI. Perhaps here is where the taste comes in. –  Mare Infinitus Jul 2 '13 at 8:07
    
Windows XP can use ClearType font smoothing. Display Properties > Appearance > Effects –  Andrew Leach Jul 2 '13 at 10:55
    
@AndrewLeach, That setting we have to do by ourselves, manually. But in the Windows Vista onwards that setting is by default. Hence it will give a better user experience. –  talktokets Jul 2 '13 at 11:16
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It is, indeed, an art. But if you are not a graphic designer with good eye for typefaces and just looking for a general guideline, I assume you are looking at Helvetica or its Windows equivalent Arial.

Generally speaking, many designers see Helvetica as a sort of 'superior' font. Amongst its benefits:

  • Readability
  • Aesthetics
  • It lends itself for a diversity of situations (danger, warmth, etc.)

While a simple search on the advantages of Helvetica will bring about a few resources (like this blog), I can not recommend highly enough this film called Helvetica.

While there are minor differences between Helvetica and Arial, some argue that these shall not be picked by the layman.

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Thank you very much! Right now I'm unsure whether segoe or helvetiva (arial) is the best. –  Mare Infinitus Jul 2 '13 at 7:42
    
When both of your illustrations are of the same font, it makes it difficult to pick the right one. Especially when neither is Helvetica! (The G and Q give it away easily) –  Andrew Leach Jul 2 '13 at 9:42
    
Fair Comment Andrew. I have modified my answer. –  Izhaki Jul 2 '13 at 12:12
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As always was told to me, UX is dependent on your focus group. Mostly if you are looking for a diversified group, try sticking to Arial or Times New Roman. Some key points to note:

  • Stylish fonts may always not create the best UX experience
  • Coloration and back-show are key assets also while considering
  • Generally go for a average size of around 12px, for the best UX experience.
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what do you mean with "back-show"? –  Mare Infinitus Jul 2 '13 at 17:32
    
Oh my bad, I meant to say back shadow. –  neoeahit Jul 2 '13 at 17:34
    
Why Arial? Why Times New Roman? Why 12px? Those fonts are not recommended by any platform UX guidelines, and I'm not aware of any platform that recommends 12px either (Macs use 13pt Lucida Grande, Windows 7 uses 9pt Segoe UI, Windows 8 uses 11pt Segoe UI Semilight). –  Kit Grose Jul 2 '13 at 23:58
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