Font typeface selection and new RCE
What is the problem
The new RCE allows a wide range of font selection. Obviously, there is a range of reasons for this from the wide variety of institutions and individuals. Instructional designers may use these new fonts really well. I accept that, but I do have an issue with this move.
Why is the bad
I was very impressed when we first adopted Canvas because they only had one font (specially designed for accessibility). Staff took a while to understand how important this was, and no one ever asks now for a different font. Now, this is to change precisely at the time when accessibility legislation is requiring us to consider these types of things more carefully.
When reading text, most people do not read or parse individual characters or even words. Instead, the eye quickly scans through text and parses patterns and groups of characters (typically 6-9 characters at a time) which are nearly instantaneously converted into meaning by the human brain. This subconscious process allows us to read and understand text content very quickly with high degrees of understanding, even though we aren't even seeing or thinking of characters and words.
It is only when characters or words are unfamiliar or introduce a barrier to that direct pattern-to-meaning process that we must pause to more closely examine or process characters or words. For optimal readability and understandability, the key is to avoid those interruptions. This current change to the RCE potentially frustrates this process by offering up unnecessary alternatives.
Dyslexia is a very varied condition so the difficulties can be different from person to person. Typically people with dyslexia experience some of the following when reading:
- Letters or words moving or spinning on the page
- Confusion around spacing between letters and individual letters such as confusing the letter ‘m’ with the letters ‘r & n’ when written together as in: modern and modem
- Mixing up letters with their mirror images such as ‘b’ and ‘d’, ‘p’ and ‘q’
Some of the fonts do not have this as part of their design. this will cause those canvas users with dyslexia to find it harder to read the content displayed
The wrong end of the accessibility issue
Best practice in font selection says that the end-user should be able to select it, and there are some many different things that can impact on legibility.
A consistent design and layout across the entire site result in the predictability and usability that users appreciate. Canvas current range of options is more than enough to create so many different ways of constructing sites and pages that it is already frustrating our students as they have to learn the new layouts and personal styles. This change just frustrates this.
Selection of typeface
Some principles of the selection of typefaces for the RCE to consider:
- Use simple, familiar, and easily-parsed fonts.
- Avoid character complexity
- Avoid character ambiguity
- Use a limited number of typefaces, fonts, and font variations.
- Consider spacing and weight.
- Ensure sufficient, but not too much, contrast between the text and the background.
- Avoid small font sizes and other anti-patterns.
More work for us
As a small team in a large university, we will have to work harder and use all the communication routes we can think of to try to educate those sections staff are making.
Offering too much choice can slow down page development for the content developer. Obviously, some designers will have a vision, but the vast majority at our institution are not designers and therefore will either overuse the typefaces on offer or spend valuable time trying to decide which to use rather than concentrating on what they want to say and how it will support their students.
Many content management systems will limit the number of sections in order to control the way pages look to help the reader.
What's the answer
It goes without saying that supporting those with disabilities makes for a better design for all.
- Only allow those with specific training to use the font selector, or allow individual institutions to turn this part of the RCE off.
- Canvas should consider leading the way in developing technology to enable font substitution by the end users
- Canvas should use its influence to develop font typefaces that improve legibility for all