Font choices

Blog 6 Fonts and dyslexia fonts

I thought I’d write a little bit about font choices, since I’ve also discussed contrast and backgrounds. I hadn’t started to think much about fonts until I came across Guy Kawasaki’s work about presenting slides. Kawasaki is a guru in the presentation world, who once worked with Apple and was involved in the famous launch of the MacBook Air in 2008 with Steve Jobs (whatever we may think of Apple’s employment rights positions).  I’ve recreated it below, because it’s also an example of what this CoP is about. Jobs communicated the key concept of the MacBook Air (its weight and size) not be putting up stats about its weight and depth but by comparing it with an envelope. I think it’s a useful example of the application of images in the communication of knowledge.

Made to emulate the event in 2008. Copyright David Roberts; Steve Jobs CC2.0

Anyway, Kawasaki came up with the 10-20-30 rule and I’ve adapted it for my own use. Most of it doesn’t apply to academic work but it does seem appropriate for the punchier world of business competition. It suggests that presentations should not have more than 10 slides, last 20 minutes and use a 30-point font. Given the size of PowerPoint slides, the 30-point font makes sense, although it’s easier to select 28 point from the drop-down menu in Word, and that’s what I have been doing. This size seems clear and visible enough even for non-20-20 vision students seated at the rear of large lecture theatres. So it seems reasonable to suggest 28 point fonts for our own work.


That takes us to what kind of font to use and how many we might apply in a single presentation. There is a design rule that appears in this very handy book by Robin Williams (not that one)

and is echoed across respected sources elsewhere that a presentation shouldn’t have more than 2 different fonts. There should be continuity across the slides, in other words. Then we can choose a font from 2 families, serif and sans serif. Sans serif has been characterized as ‘clean and smooth’ whilst serif has curly bits on it, like in Times font. I always use Segoe UI light, which I believe comes as standard in MS Office. In my view, sans serif fronts are better, and this is the case, it seems, for students with dyslexia. Which brings me to a handy font we can use that is claimed to be better for students experiencing dyslexia and presents no problems for students not experiencing dyslexia. It’s free to download here for anyone interested. Fonts are quick and easy to install, but you need to unpack them from the folder they arrive in first. Then select them all (sometimes font variations like upper case, italic and bold) come as separate files. Right click and ‘install’, and off you go.

There’s some overlap now in this post with things I’ve discussed regarding slide colour and background. I always use the same black background and use Segoe UI light in white to maximize contrast. I understood this to be best also for dyslexic students, but at the HEA event I convened, I learned that a blue text on a cream background is best. This being academia, unsurprisingly, opinion is divided, so it’ll be up to you to decide which is best for your needs.