Typography and information (Matthew Standage at #MKGN)

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I’ve often written about Milton Keynes Geek Night on this blog – there was even a time when I used to write up the whole night’s talks when I got home. Now I need my zeds too much and I never seem to get around to the writing part! Even so, I saw Matthew Standage (@mstandage) give a great talk at last week’s MKGN and I thought I really should share some of what he talked about here.

Matthew spoke about on the importance of typography on user experience and his key point was that, far from being just the choice of typeface (font), typography is the primary medium by which we communicate information to our users on the web.

95% of the web is typography (or more accurately written language) and it’s the way we interpret, divide and organise information.

When designing a website, hierarchy is not everything. Instead, consider what’s the most important information to the reader. Its not always the page title.

“Really?”, you might ask – so consider the UK Bank Holidays page at gov.uk. Here the Level 1 heading of “UK bank holidays” is less important than the big green box that tells me when I next get a statutory day off work:

Gov.UK website UK Bank Holidays page

Next, Matthew explained, we need to think about proximity – which objects are placed together, how groups work, the use of white space. For this, read Mark Boulton’s Whitespace article on the A List Apart site (the article has been around for a while but is still valid today). Whitespace can help to identify different types of information: headings; links; authors; image captions; etc.

In general, users won’t read text in a word by word manner – but the typography helps readers to scan the page. Jakob Nielsen describes this in his article about the F-shaped pattern for reading web content.  Though, if that’s true, you won’t have read this far anyway as you’ll have pretty much stopped after the second paragraph…

Matthew’s slides from his talk are on speakerdeck and I’m sure the audio will appear on the MKGN SoundCloud feed in due course: