Text Rules for Web Design

by Tom Oki - Date: 2007-01-31 - Word Count: 540 Share This!

How to manage text on your website is a topic not often covered. But if you don't follow certain basic rules about laying out text, your site will be hard to read and therefore it will fail to communicate effectively.

Here are some text rules to follow when designing your site:

1. Use only sans-serif fonts.

A serif is an additional feature found at the end of strokes. A serif font contains these extra features and look more decorative. Times New Roman has serifs. Verdana does not. Sans-serif means without serifs, and you should be using sans-serif fonts on your website. Why? Because the extra decorative features found on serif fonts are quite frankly hard to read on the computer screen. That is why you don't see serif fonts often on websites. On the other hand, serif fonts are easier to read in actual print, which is why you will find that many newspapers and books use serif fonts. But we're not dealing with print here, and sans-serif is the way to go for websites.

2. Arrange text in reasonable columns.

A lot of sites have text that runs from one end of the screen to the other. By the time a reader is done reading a line, their eye has to zoom all the way back to the beginning of the next line, which can seem like miles. If you pick up any newspaper, you will see that the stories are arranged in tight, narrow columns. Why do they do this? To make the page easier to read, of course. Websites should do the same thing. I'm not saying you need to create 3 columns for a webpage, but you definitely do not want to be mindful of how long your rows of text are. Avoid expandable, percentage-based tables. Instead, define the length of your tables in pixels, and make them around 750 pixels or less, with ample cell padding. This will ensure that the lines of text never get too long and will remain easy to read.

3. Use dark text on a white background, or light text on a dark background.

This may seem obvious, but believe me, I still run into tons of sites that don't follow this rule. Too many times, a web designer (usually a beginning one) tries to be cute, and includes background images and writes text over them, or combines a horrible background color with text that is hard to read. The rule to follow here is basically a simple one: Pays attention to contrast. If you are using a dark background, always use a very light text color, and vice versa. When in doubt, just use black text on a white background. Almost all corporate websites are done this way, so if you follow this rule you'll be in good company.

4. Use whitespace.

Don't cram as much text as possible into a page. You must divide the text into sections, use bullet points, and insert tables or images to break up the monotony. Most people do not read the Web like they read a book, so you need to provide many bits of broken-up information in bite-size chunks.

Follow these rules and your site will not only look a lot cleaner, it will be much easier to read as well.

Related Tags: web design, text, font, web page, legibility

Tom Oki is the author of 30 Minute Sites, a course of instant Web design that teaches people how to design professional websites in 30 minutes, regardless of their experience.

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