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I'll assume Upvote = "Yeah, why not!" Downvote = "No! That's unnecessary."


Today I learned that our site's (serif) font Georgia was chosen by a designer (employed by SE), and the purpose of choosing a serif font over a sans-serif (e.g. Arial) was to "feature beautiful typography and invoke a vintage/warm feeling".

I understand that reasoning, and that most of our users are "linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts", and that most users here are avid readers, and are therefore used to serif fonts that are believed to improve readability (at least for long passages).

While that is true, I feel like I agree more with nohat ♦ that "by adopting the proposed site style we run the risk of misleading new visitors that we are a bunch of obstinate old fuddy-duddies who reject anything newfangled and eschew modern approaches to linguistic questions". And I thought exactly that when I was new here, 4 years ago.

It is my understanding that sans-serif fonts appear more modern (at least to me), and that our relatively new sister site ELL uses it, and that our mobile apps do too. I don't know what (and why) other SE sites use serif fonts, though.

Should we change our fonts to look more modern?

N.B. This is not a feature request. This is not a recommendation for Arial. The site font does not really affect me personally, because I frequently tinker with CSS, and mix and match different fonts and themes for ELU. This is only out of curiosity. So vote. Vote up or down. Don't hesitate.

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    I downvoted because I happen to like Georgia. I find it quite readable, which to me is the most important property of a font. I feel that the site is large enough that we can attract new users just by our internet presence without having to worry too much about superficial details of our presentation. – sumelic Feb 23 '17 at 11:32
  • @sumelic thank you. I knew what feedback I'd be getting, but I still wanted to see it for real, had to ask. :) – NVZ Feb 23 '17 at 11:34
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    Actually, I reversed my downvote because I wouldn't really care if we switched to ELL's font. But I still don't think it's necessary. I do kind of wish we had a separate font available for IPA symbols, since I feel Georgia's versions are sometimes not especially coherent and whatever monospaced font is used in "code" blocks isn't much better, but I imagine that would be a lot of work. – sumelic Feb 23 '17 at 11:37
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    I get that many intelligent and reflective people care a lot about fonts and typefaces, but I never, ever have... watching discussions like this is like being invited to a country on the other side of the world to watch the championship game of their very, very odd national sport. People are enthralled but I'm just sat here thinking "what's the deal with the pineapples?". – Dan Bron Feb 24 '17 at 13:05
  • @EdnaMode it's not a vote on the user. It's a vote on the proposal. See the header line – NVZ Aug 13 '17 at 3:39
  • @NVZ Oh, well I'm sorry that your proposal didn't work out so well. Personally, I like the current font. – Black and White Aug 13 '17 at 3:40
  • @EdnaMode sure. Vote down to indicate that. :) – NVZ Aug 13 '17 at 3:41
  • @EdnaMode keep in mind that votes in meta usually show Agreement or Disagreement. It does not affect reputation. – NVZ Aug 13 '17 at 3:43
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I get what you’re saying: the message of the Georgia font is that the site’s old-fashioned. Every element of a graphic design has a message, and that’s not the message you want to send.

But that’s not the message I got when I first visited the site. I liked the font because English is beautiful and has a long and interesting history. That fact was acknowledged by the choice of Georgia: it is both readable and beautiful, and celebrates the history of the written language. I knew I was “among friends”.

I strongly suspect that this font is attractive to many English experts and serious enthusiasts for the same reason. These people love the beauty and history of English, and are exactly the people we want to attract.

This is not to say that I would oppose a font change. Georgia has some real technical problems and limitations. But let’s not go more modern.

  • +1 I like how you explained it. And I know most people will agree to this answer, even I do. But I had to ask anyway. :) – NVZ Feb 23 '17 at 14:02
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Georgia is a modern typeface, released in 1996, designed specifically for clarity at low resolutions on the screen. A 1998 study found it superior to Times New Roman, and although study participants subjectively preferred its sans-serif contemporary Verdana, Georgia had the superior performance for readability.

By the same token, this upstart is not especially beloved by us type fuddy-duddies. Compare EL&U with Christianity.SE and its employment of Lusitana, a typeface modeled on lettering from 16th-century manuscripts. It's not a choice I would have made. There are reasons why you don't use Garamond on the web.

The concern seems to be that any serif font used online communicates a lack of modernity, Ask Patents and Physics.SE notwithstanding. I would say first, that this is not the case, and second, that looking modern should not be the controlling factor.

Arial was designed to match the metrics of Helvetica, which was developed for print in the 1950s. Its long tenure in corporate communications may have led the public to associate it with stability, but to me, Swiss Style is about as modern as tailfins on a Cadillac.

In the era of the CERN Comic Sans kerfuffle (at least it wasn't a CERN kerning kerfuffle), I appreciate that legibility is far from the only, or even the most important, factor in selecting a typeface. Most of our visitors are not typography geeks; their reaction to the look of the site will be visceral.

But I do believe that our current aesthetic is well-balanced, not unlike the underlying tone of our regular participants. Although we may characterize positions as prescriptivist and descriptivist, even the most lenient descriptivist does not favor total anarchy, and even the most rigid prescriptivist does not want to realign the language along Johnsonian, much less Jonsonian lines. Similarly, we want to communicate authority but not dogmatism, and modernity without faddishness. I think we do that well enough.

(Stray observations: SE seems to have changed its default font stack for themed sites to start with Open Sans, which is more or less the Arial of the post-Microsoft world. Android.SE uses Roboto, Sharepoint.SE uses Segoe UI, which seem appropriate, but Ask Different has not moved to San Francisco. Slab serifs are much in vogue, but only found in a couple of places, for which I applaud the restraint of SE's designers.)

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    +1 thank you for sharing. This is very informative. – NVZ Feb 24 '17 at 2:50
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    We can now add my stirring defense of Georgia to my other life insurance policy and my vote for a third party candidate among things I never, ever expected to have to my name. – choster Feb 24 '17 at 2:59
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When I first encountered English Language & Usage (by stumbling over it during a Google search), three things about it immediately appealed to me: the design of the page I found myself on seemed warm, pleasantly subdued, and uncrowded, as though the designer expected that the content could stand on its own and speak for itself without fancy effects; there was no advertising to distract my attention and compromise the experience; and one or more of the people who had posted answers on the page I visited seemed to know what they were talking about.

I think EL&U's design (including the choice of fonts and the layout of additional linked material) shows remarkable skill and refined aesthetic awareness. Whoever did the design work did a superb job, in my opinion.

The only changes to this website that might make me rethink my participation here would be an influx of advertising or a hostile takeover of the answering function (both in the form of answers submitted and in the form of upvotes and downvotes assigned) by people who are clueless about what constitutes an informed and accurate answer to questions posted here. Nevertheless, I appreciate EL&U's page design every time I visit the site and submit content to it.

  • +1 thank you for sharing that. :) – NVZ Feb 23 '17 at 20:41
  • I think there's a factor of generation gap at play here. I'm only 24 now. So on my first visit to ELU 4 years ago, it wasn't as impressive to me as it was to actual linguists and experts such as you. – NVZ Feb 23 '17 at 20:49

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