What’s the point of advertising if your audience can’t see what you’re communicating? One of the biggest challenges in marketing to Boomers and Medicarians is creating materials they can actually read with their aging and low vision issues. And I’m not just talking about people in their 80s. Vision problems can crop up as early as your 50s.
Think of this posting as your typography “Cliff Notes”. It will not only help you defend your readability goals to your stakeholders or creative team, but make your materials easier to read for the 50+ audience.
Fonts are often selected for their visual personality. But for Boomer and Medicare audiences, kooky, off-beat and script fonts make readability almost impossible. Legible, continuous text requires fonts that function well under low vision conditions. Here are some specific visual properties of fonts that affect readability:
Size Matters The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services require that all text in Medicare materials be at least 12pt type equivalent in both width and height of Times New Roman. But some applications, like landing pages or online banners, may require larger point sizes to be truly readable.
X-Height Meets Wider Proportions X-height typically is the height of a font’s lowercase “x”. While a tall x-height is advantageous, you also need wider proportions. Because condensed, cramped characters just won’t do for readability.
Does This Stroke Width Make My Font Look Fat? Avoid fonts with thick or extremely thin stroke widths as well as fonts with overly condensed or expanded styles. Some bold fonts can also hinder readability. Medium weight and semi-bold fonts are easier to read.
Ascenders, Descenders and Open Counters Fonts with long ascenders and descenders, like the handle of a “d” and the tail of a “p”, are easier to read. So are open “counters.” That’s the space that is entirely or partially closed by a letterform. A lowercase “e”, for instance, includes spaces that are completely and partially closed. Open counters won’t plug up with low vision.
To Serif or Sans-Serif? That is the question. It was once thought that serif fonts were easier on aging eyes, but there doesn’t appear to be any valid research to support that. Historically, serif fonts like Times New Roman and Century Schoolbook have been used more often in continuous text for regular reading. But don’t overlook sans-serif fonts such as Avenir that feature larger x-heights, consistent stroke widths and counters that are more open. They are becoming more popular for their readability.
Extend Your Horizontal Strokes Sounds like a tennis tip. This means that the arm of an “r” or the crossbar of a “t” should be well defined in your font.
Curb Your Caps COPY THAT IS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS IS VERY TOUGH FOR AGING EYES TO READ. IT ALSO COMES OFF LIKE YOU’RE YELLING!!! So use in moderation.
Italicize Me Italics can be problematic for low vision issues. However, sans-serif italics are much easier to read than serif italics, which look fussy and frou-frou (like the font equivalent of Blanche DuBois).
Numerically Speaking Numbers should be as distinct as possible for aging vision. The numeral “1” can be easily confused with “I” and “l” and even “!” So choose a typeface with distinctive numbers.
Rein In Those Line Lengths Text Matters recommends that lines be no longer than 50-65 characters. And resist the urge to hyphenate and split words at the end of lines.
Feel The Kern Avoid tight letter spacing because it reduces the ability to see the characteristic shapes of individual letters. Extremely wide letter spacing should also be avoided because large gaps inhibit the ability to recognize words.
Recommended Fonts Some good examples that emphasize decent or larger x-heights, consistent stroke widths and open counters are: Glypha Roman, Frutiger, Century Schoolbook, Avenir Next Medium, Avenir Next Pro Regular, Arial and Helvetica.
For HTML, the following fonts are universal to MAC and PC. Sans Serif: Arial, Helvetica, Verdana and Geneva. Serif: Georgia and Times New Roman
When in Doubt—Squint Squinting approximates the vision and light loss your audience faces. If you squint and can’t distinguish certain letterforms, the font probably isn’t as readable as it could be.