Jottings on science, religion, technology, pop culture and faith from the Antipodes.

Digital Technology

The Scourge of Arial

Today in a workshop I attended the facilitator recommended formating all documents in the Arial typeface. I winced. There’s something about Arial that just rubs me the wrong way – but I can’t guarantee that Helvetica will be available on every computer that prints out my documents. Later today I stumble across The Scourge of Arial which contains some history about how Arial came to be ubiquitous.


  1. I don’t understand what basis they have for their recommending a sans serif for readability…it’s ok on computer screens, but serifs are proven to have a higher legibility at reading point sizes. the main reason is because the serifs guide the eye and also because they are much more familiar : given that’s what books are most often set in.
    my recommendation is that we use pdfs or set everything in times new roman.

  2. I tend to use Helvetica for headings and a serif typeface for body text. The presenter yesterday argued that Arial was more readable – and less old fashioned – that Times New Roman. You’d be hard-pressed to a book typeset in a sans-serif typeface (unless there was a good reason), as you point out.

    Possibly the desire to reduce everything to bullet points and Powerpoint results in the inability to select a typeface for readability of more than a few sentences.

    For the record though because I’m using a university supplied thesis template/stylesheet my thesis is set in Times and Arial. I’m not happy but it will conform to the requirements. I remember when I did my MSc thesis back in the early 90s we had to take a sample of our thesis to the reference librarian so they could approve the style and typeface selection (given the penchant for students to use as many typefaces as possible in a document)

  3. Both Arial and Times New Roman are inferior versions of real typefaces. But Microsoft also saw fit to sponsor some very excellent new typefaces for screen-reading. Use Verdana and Georgia. They’re not the best fonts to print with but on screen they’re great. These are the only Microsoft “software” I allow on my computer. And since they come from Microsoft, even people who are locked into Microsoft Windows – Microsoft Word – Microsoft Internet Explorer – Microsoft PowerPoint – Microsoft Exchange etc etc. will have them on their machine.

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