10

It may be totally irrelevant or off topic from what others asks... but it's been quite a long time that I'm keep thinking of this question whenever I have to choose a font for my UI design!

I've done my homework and searched for this and similar questions but nothing came up!

I'm pretty certain that there must be a good reason that Arial still in use amongst top businesses like Google Search (despite they have material design dedicated website), Gmail, Amazon, eBay, StackExchange and many many more...

Apart from being free and familiar to people, what's its main purpose that this font is still in use?

Can't big businesses like Amazon, eBay and many more can't afford a good premium font that would not only look good but also be part of their branding? Of course they can but the question is why they don't!!!

Is one business/company looking at another for choosing their font or what?

NOTE: Everyone know that Arial is easy to read etc. so obviously this matters UX-wise, so please answer something that's not abvious...

Thanks

  • 2
    Possible duplicate: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/14963/… – MCMastery Nov 5 '16 at 23:25
  • That question is talking about size!!! Not Arial font itself!!! I had seen that question and read through beforehand – ZAD Nov 6 '16 at 3:30
  • 1
    However look at the most upvoted answer - its four points seem to answer your question – MCMastery Nov 6 '16 at 4:02
15

To add to the answer above, Amazon UX studies have led them to understand that with every 100ms delay to their website load time, they lose 1% in sales. For example, in their case, if theres a 500ms (half a second, mind you) delay, there's an increase of 5% in site abandonship. Thats a huge price to pay for load time delays. So in the pursuit of ever decreasing their website load time, cutting overheads where they can, they rely on pre-installed fonts instead of having to make more server calls, and waiting for bespoke fonts to download. Even if fonts are on cdns and are cached, they'd prefer to take no risks.

Furthermore, it's not only Arial. It's Helvetica or Helvetica Neue. If you browse the same large brand websites you'll find Helevtica in use rather than Arial, because the standard web-safe font stack ensures that standard fonts are being used per each specific OS. Arial is not a standard font in Apple iOS and OSX, Helvetica is, and vice versa in Windows. And then for other OSs the font stack defines fallback to whichever default sans-serif assigned in the OS.

Although the use of @font-face seems trivial today, its been in common use only for several years. Solutions like google Fonts and webkit fonts are in commonplace use only in Recent years. Before that we had only web standard font stacks. So when big brands play it safe, they often stick to web standards, oldskool as they may be.

  • 5
    To be clear, Arial and Helvetica are not "web standards" but are only commonly installed fonts. Arial, in fact, is copyright protected and proprietary. – Rob Nov 6 '16 at 12:06
  • 2
    It's worth noting that the 'Amazon pagespeed stat' is over 10 years old now, so it could well be outdated. Internet Explorer 6 had a 75% market share and there were still many people using dial up. Those were different times. – Brendon Nov 11 '16 at 17:38
  • @rob you're right, the term should be "web safe" and not "web standards" – Asaf Agranat Dec 4 '16 at 8:33
12

Because Arial is the most common sans-serif font, so chances are users will have it already installed since it comes bundled with Windows, Mac and Linux (using http://corefonts.sourceforge.net/ or similar).

As you say, it's not that they can't afford a paid font, or even a custom font, but if they do this, they need to rely on @font-face rule. While this is very reliable, it's not 100% bullet proof and there will be inconsistencies, specially when comparing different media (most specially print). Arial won't cover 100% of cases, but it will certainly work in more cases than any font-face, and of course, any media type.

On top of that, most users won't need to load additional files, so it means less requests , more speed and arguably more elegant code.

In short: consistency, speed, coverage.

  • What most perplexes me is sites that use Arial not merely as a body font, but also for a header font and a caption font alike!. Its use as a display font (ᴀᴋᴀ titling, headline, header) font is particularly suspect, as you want a smaller relative x-height there with longer ascenders and descenders and a “lighter” look with more contrast in general. That also means its default tracking is too wide as a display font, too tight as a caption font. Why don’t folks pair Arial off with some font that was made for display purposes? But which to use? – tchrist Oct 24 '18 at 0:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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