I'm working on a redesign for a large blue chip's website and the company brand uses a san serif italic font for the headings in it's marketing collateral. The brand/creative team would like to use this same font for the primary navigation in the website's header but I can't find any example of a website that uses italics for primary navigation

There is certainly no issue with the readability of the font so I'd like to get thoughts on what (if any) good reasons there are for or against doing this?

  • Hi Neil, welcome to UX.SE :-) – Jan May 6 '11 at 12:11
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    If readability isn't an issue, I think it comes down to an aesthetic decision. Does it look OK? If so, then go for it. – DA01 May 6 '11 at 13:16
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    Thinkpath - when you say the italics causes no issue with readability, where are you getting that info from? It may make no difference to a user with age-appropriate reading skills, but it will definitely impact a reader with less than age-appropriate skills (Forgive the soap box, my background is in language acquisition.) – gef05 May 6 '11 at 17:06
  • You should also try GraphicDesign.SE – Vitaly Mijiritsky May 7 '11 at 16:29

There is one major problem with italic fonts on low resolution screens: They can look quite ugly.

Let me explain: Subpixel rendering (a.k.a. anti aliasing, clear type etc.) is what makes fonts look nice on low resolutions screens. With italic fonts it's even more important than with normal fonts because diagonal lines can look really bad without anti aliasing. On modern OSs with modern browsers it's usually not an issue but on older systems with older browsers it can get ugly. So my general advice would be: Don't use italic fonts on the web. The only exception would be big titles (the bigger the font, the smaller the impact of anti aliasing).

Hope that helps, Phil

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You don't want the user to confuse a clickable navigation element with a (non-clickable) heading, because if they do, they won't try clicking that element and hence are stuck on the page.

Navigation elements should look different from headings, and they definitely should look clickable.

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  • Thanks for your reply Jan, I think I may not have explained what i meant with regards to the font being used for headers... The italic font is currently being used across printed marketing material and the request is to use the same font for the navigation in the website header. The actual headings (H1,H2 etc) on the website will all be a non-italic font face so there wouldn't be any conflict. – Thinkpath May 6 '11 at 12:19

From a design pov the font used would need to be considerably larger than the usual nav size, which would in turn place too much emphasis on nav when you should be focussing on main content. css would need a lot of work too - em spacing, browser diff, etc.

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