Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

message board font

What type of font should be used on Internet message boards?  The Motley Fool just switched the font on their message boards from Times to Verdana, and it has generated a fairly heated discussion on their boards.

However, I'm not sure if people are mad because the new font really hurts their eyes, or because they just think it hurts their eyes. 

The reason for the change was to match the font on the community side to the content side.  If I was the Fool, I think I would have let the font alone.  It just gives people another reason to bitch.

Jar jar
Sunday, October 13, 2002

There's some kind of JavaScript or CSS thingie or something that allows people to choose which font they want to view.  You can click on a button and the font changes.  I've seen it on some websites, but I can't remember which ones now.

Sunday, October 13, 2002

Serif fonts (ones with curly bits on the end) are easier to read... print, but tend to be hard to read on a screen because a monitor does not have anywhere near as many dots per inch as a nicely printed document.

Verdana and Georgia were created by Microsoft to "enhance onscreen legibility" ( so these should be easier to read.

On top of that you can define your own style sheet to overwrite/compliment that used on the site if you really stuck on Times.

Walter Rumsby
Sunday, October 13, 2002

There's some kind of Preference thing that's been in every browser since Mosaic 1.0 that lets the *browser* determine the font to be used!

Sunday, October 13, 2002

To display Web page text in a different font

In Internet Explorer, on the Tools menu, click Internet Options.

On the General tab, click Fonts.

In the Web page font and Plain text font lists, click the fonts you want.

Monday, October 14, 2002

People might be complaining because Verdana is a larger font.  A 1" paragraph in 12pt Times New Roman will take up almost 1-1/2" in 12pt Verdana.  Roughly speaking 10pt Verdana is about the same size as 12pt Times.

So, this brings up Jakob Nielsen's beef about IE's toolbar.  The default toolbar setting does not have the 'change font size' toolbar button.  A lot of people don't know about this button.  So, when Motley Fool changed from Times to Verdana, the font went from small and easy to read to big-ass and hard to read.  It's probably not because of the font type but more due to the font size.

Note that the Tools -> Internet Options -> Fonts setting doesn't effect the display font iof the web site author has specified a particular font.  It only works if the HTML or CSS doesn't specify a font.  For example, these JOS boards are Georgia, but changing the setting has no effect (at least in my browser).  You can override the font in Tools -> Internet Options -> Accessibility, but that's a pain to do for every page.

The best site I've seen in a long time for clean design with nice accessibility is the Sacramento Bee ( ).  The homepage doesn't feature it, but click on any of the stories and they will have a toolbar for changing font size and font family - nicely designed!

Nick Hebb
Monday, October 14, 2002

The upper-right corner of this page contains a system for changing font size and style:

Alex Chernavsky
Monday, October 14, 2002

Wired news ( ) had a much vaunted design overhaul just recently - it's all XHTML + CSS and features a toolbar to adjust font sizes.

Walter Rumsby
Monday, October 14, 2002

Mozilla is great - you can override fonts for everything, specify a minimum font size, have serif or non-serif as default, and the Text Size controls work regardless of whether or not the clever-dick web designer wants to specify fonts.

And you can shrink pages to fit when printing.

I often browse with colours and fonts overridden. It's amazingly easy to use compared to the stupid stuff some web designers try. "What if I use 5 pt text... yes, I can still read it. And now I can put 50 links on that line instead of 20. AWESOME! Now for that dark red that I like on a black background..."

Aaron Lawrence
Wednesday, October 16, 2002

In case my sarcasm wasn't obvious enough:


And yes, Joel does break this rule.  Luckily, his choice of font is not too small or too large or too ugly, and he uses black on white. But that's only for me.

Aaron Lawrence
Wednesday, October 16, 2002


That seems a bit extreme.  The vast majority of users don't know how to specify a default font.  I know *I* don't.  I see nothing wrong with having the web designer pick a reasonable font, font size, layout, etc.  Geeks can over-ride these options, if they like.

Anonymous coward
Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Gentlemen, let's get down to business:

At we see this:

        font-size: 9pt;

and also this:

    &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;<a class="listHeadline"
href="default.asp?cmd=show&ixPost=17102&ixReplies=10">message board font</a>
            <span class="listAuthor">Jar jar</span>


I don't know about you all, but 9 pt font is very small and difficult to read.

So rather than argue if Joel knows C++, let's argue if he knows web design.

Pete the Pariah
Thursday, October 17, 2002

Does anyone find the site difficult to read?

9-point is small, but is it *too* small?

Personally, I don't know of anyone for whom JoelOnSoftware would be illegible.

Brent P. Newhall
Thursday, October 17, 2002

I don't care about a well chosen font. What I do wonder about is why absolute font sizes in points and not relative ones where selected in JoelOnSoftware. Only the posts don't have a fixed font size set.

By selecting a fixed font size the text of the forums (except for the posts which don't have a style) can not be resized in Internet Explorer. More and more visitors resize web page fonts they find too small or large using Ctrl+MouseWheel. Not everyone has got the same quality monitor or eye sight. JoelOnSoftware is a bit undemocratic to the majority of its visitors that use IE by denying this choice. (OT: Luckily Mozilla does allow resizing fixed fonts)

I just checked and the is 50% relative and 50% absolute. Weird. Maybe this issue has just not been given a lot of thought.

Jan Derk
Thursday, October 17, 2002

I'm only 25 so should have reasonably good sight, but I do find the font on this message board to be too small.  Luckily I use Mozilla, but wish it would remember my preference for some web sites rather than having to Ctrl-+ each time I open up a new window.

Monday, October 21, 2002

In general, typefaces that are more open, and contain fine lines are easier to read on-screen at the smaller point sizes. Even worse than an old woodcut, the screen 'smears' the ink because of its limited resolution, therefore faces like Garamond and its bretheren which were designed for inaccurate and poor quality printing, on inferior stock, make good on-screen fonts.

There is a full discussion at: 

Mike Peterson
Wednesday, September 24, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home