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Does anyone have any information regarding whats better for usability and legibility: a lowercase 'a' with the bell hook, or a rounded (α) one.

This is particularly for mobile devices in body text. I'm wondering if which is better to use, which users prefer, or does it not really matter?

Thanks.

  • I'd do the arm-stretch test, can you still read it from that distance, than it's probably good enough for most situation. There's actually a lot to read on the internet regarding font legibility: usertesting.com/blog/2014/08/06/… - but in the end, it always results in "testing it" – Xabre Sep 30 '15 at 12:40
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    Well, I'll make a big assumption (that I'm still confident with, but I can't find any evidence) that the most common font people see online, including mobile web, is Arial. And Arial uses the hooked a character. Therefore extrapolating from there, if most people see the letter as 'a' then they are conditioned to that, and seeing it as 'α' is unusual and therefore requires more thought, meaning lower usability. (It's surprisingly hard to find actual data on the most common fonts seen online though.) – JonW Sep 30 '15 at 13:07
  • Thanks guys, interestingly enough I haven't come across many common mobile fonts that have the rounded 'α'. I'm considering using a font called 'Muli' google.com/fonts/specimen/Muli - it's quite nice and works quite well, my only concern and hesitation is regarding the lowercase a. Any thoughts on this font? – The Waldorf Sep 30 '15 at 13:10
  • I'm not sure what you plan to do with your answer. I'd advise against using a "hooked" font and replacing the a's with unhooked ones. Font designers created their a's intentionally. – Ken Mohnkern Sep 30 '15 at 17:47
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    That’s just one of many details a font designer has to consider. The one-storey glyph is most common in cursive serif typefaces and has some prevalence in sans-serif and monospaced fonts, too. This single feature, however, will not determine whether a design is more readable, legible or usable. – Crissov Sep 30 '15 at 20:05
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The name for this variation of the lowercase a is know as a single-storey (without hook) or double-storey (with hook).

There are definitely more typefaces that use the double-storey and as JonW points out the most common typefaces on the web use the double-storey, so people will most likely be familiar with them.

Some typefaces use the double-storey for the Roman (upright) font, but use the single-storey for the italic font.

Interestingly the typeface Dyslexie, which is designed for people with dyslexia to make it easier to read, uses the double-storey variation. Which could indicate (in theory) people who struggle the most with character recognition don't have an issue with either variation.

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