Droid font family
Reading a lot has the unintended consequence that you constantly come across new fonts. The majority of them look nice, but some look really fantastic in the hands of a good typographer. I saw a well crafted combination of fonts from the Droid font family and immediately liked how readable they were in a long text. I was surprised to see that such a high quality font could be free, which is why I decided to write about it here. Here is a quick image from GIMP where all font sizes are set to 20px.
The kerning isn’t perfect here, but it can be adjusted easily. I’m not sure why this font isn’t more wide-spread. It seems that it has been specifically made for Android, which is why I haven’t seen it before. I have my own reasons to believe that it has been extensively tested for readability. Many fonts are advertised as readable, but I have found that there is always something small in them that is missing. Maybe we need to be exposed a longer time to a font to be able to see what that is. To me, a good font and writing style make reading pleasurable and fast. In some cases it can ease the understanding of the written word and the extent to which the material can be retained over time. I would say that the benefits of this are enough to justify the cost of a great font. But what matters is also how the designer would use it and whether enough good uses for it will be found.
How is it then that this blog isn’t using more beautiful/readable fonts when they are already available? The answer to this is “speed of message transfer”. If we could communicate our ideas in 20kB, this is much better than including a 20kB font and having no message at all. Embedding a font means one request over the network, which can slow down a site with half a second. Some site owners choose to inline fonts on their pages, which improves the visual design, but at the expense of the code design. Selecting a default system font and adjusting it until it looks right can be just as valuable as using the latest trendy font in a suboptimal way. If at a certain point all sites start to look the same, then their fonts will be less impressive while still carrying the embedded cost.
I hope that this font will help you in your own design adventures, when you seek to combine multiple variants and sizes in a readable relation. But just because a font is beautiful doesn’t mean that we should always make it large. It is much better to analyze why it should look in a certain way and prove that we aren’t unnecessarily wasting screen space or making scrolling an experience in itself. We should remember that even the members of a guild can be wrong.