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Recently, a series of websites (as an example I cite the following posts regarding Google and Wikipedia) decided to change their fonts.

Although it seems like a harmless change (because, in most cases, all functionality remains intact), the fact is that those sites have set a very standard and regular interface over the years. Although new users won't argue, old users will most definitely be rattled by the changes, because they have been used to use the same interface, with the same font, over and over again.

The posts I link do mention the fact that those websites are both developing better ways to be seen over mobile or tablet mediums and the fact that, in order to give a more solid user experience, they make it so that a specific set of fonts is used (as opposed to just picking the default system font).

I would like to know whether the above is true, why the changes are being made now and why an option to revert those changes wasn't designed.

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I don´t think that anybody here can tell the real reason behind any change on Google or Wikipedia, so we only can speculate about it and try to do educated guesses.

First the easiest part. An option to revert those changes would be cumbersome considering that you can change the size of content and zoom on any browser easily. Of course some people may not know how to do it, but if they are really annoyed about the changes, they will find a way to reset their browser to the old way or as similar as they can.

About potential reasons for the change, we can mention many of the most basic things about usability and accessibility, like using a font size that is easy to read, using fonts that most people have so the design and visualization is consistent across devices and software, etc.

For removing the underlining of the links, we can mention design practices, trying to have a cleaner interface over accsesibility. Although the links are still clearly visible and recognizable.

Using different fonts for headers and body content is a common practice if you read the right material. You can check books about typefaces and fonts and you will see that many people recommend some combination between serif and sans-serif to achieve better looking documents as well as easy contrast between headings and content; for this aspect don´t think of H1 which is obviously different, but consider H3 or H4 which may be on the same size of the actual body.

So, the final and real question is, are those changes improving the UX? Yes, they are; first none of the changes is big enough to cause problems using the site or difficulting the processing of the information provided, second the changes can be considererd improvements if we realize that more and more screens are getting bigger and dpi are getting denser, which translates on smaller fonts.

Of course there is going to be people who don´t like the change and people for whom the change is really a problem, but considering that there are options to set those elements to their liking, it should not be a big problem.

  • I would have argued about your statement that changing fonts is easy until I found out about this Firefox option, that essentially forces the page's layout to conform with Firefox settings. Also, there seems to exist some extras, like Stylish that do it on a per-site basis, upon some CSS configuration. – Doktoro Reichard Apr 11 '14 at 0:31
  • The option to change fonts using the browser settings have been available for long time, but in this age, there are addons to do any job, so now, for instance, you have things like Document Font Toggle which allows you to do the same with just one click. And I'm sure there are many more for firefox and equivalents for other browsers. – PatomaS Apr 11 '14 at 1:15
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I don't think it's useful to think of these redesigns in terms of simply "changing fonts", even though new typography is part of the new designs. Typography is an element of the design and the selection of fonts is considered within the context of the design as a whole. Designers generally don't just change fonts (or just change colors, or just change layouts), all these aspects work together.

So maybe it's more useful to ask "why redesign"? One reason is that the state of the art in web designing keeps changing. Browsers are much more capable than they were 5 years ago. There's also been an explosion of device sizes that designers didn't have to worry about 5 years ago, along with increases in display density. A current design can look and function better than a 5 year old design. To not address these challenges and opportunities is simply bad business.

Change can incur growing pains but a dated design can have more negative effects.

  • Although I do agree with your first paragraph, the fact is that on the examples I cited, the font was the only noticeable change. At roughly the same time, Facebook deployed a new design all together. – Doktoro Reichard Apr 11 '14 at 0:31
  • @DoktoroReichard - the font was not the only noticeable change. I don't mean to sound pedantic or overly authoritative neither google nor wikipedia would just change their fonts without it being in the context of a larger change. The other changes might be subtle, but I can almost guarantee they were considered alongside the change in fonts. If you're going to try to improve the design, you don't just think about new fonts, generally speaking. – obelia Apr 14 '14 at 6:43

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