Anorexic Typeface Syndrome

As a design thinker of the Don Norman ilk, I place ample blame for human error on negligent or arrogant design from trend-setters who seem to be more intent on presenting slick, featureless interfaces than providing the natural affordances expected by human eyes, brains, and hands. Take typefaces for instance.

As the pixel resolution of our computer displays becomes higher, the arrogant designers who get hired by trend-setting corporations find it necessary to choose typefaces that are as thin as possible, because…thin is in!

Well, I have something to say about that: Anorexia Kills!

How about people’s ability to fucking read? I kind of like it when I can read. And I don’t like it when I am made to feel like an 87 year-old who needs a magnifying glass (like my mother – who is especially challenged when she has to actually read words on an iPad).

And it’s not just the rapidograph-like spiderweb of fonts that are becoming so hard to read. Designers are now fucking with contrast:

“There’s a widespread movement in design circles to reduce the contrast between text and background, making type harder to read. Apple is guilty. Google is, too. So is Twitter.”

—Kevin Marks WIRED:

Sarah Knapton:

I was in Boulder, looking for the Apple store so I could by a new MacBook Pro. I had a hard time finding the store because the symbol I was looking for was barely visible from a distance, or unless I was looking straight at it.

Apple is becoming less interested in helping us be productive than they are in being the most slick designed thing in the room – or the mall. Apple originally earned a reputation for good user-interface design. But the capitalist engine of unlimited growth and the subsequent need to differentiate among the competition has created a pathology. It has created a race to the bottom. At that bottom…our senses are being starved.

I have similar thoughts on the way physical Apple products have become so thin as to be almost dangerous – in this blog post.

It may be my imagination, but since buying my new MacBook, this very blog post seems harder to read. Did WordPress go on a font diet? Or is Apple the culprit? Check out this screenshot of this blog post as I am seeing it on my MacBook:

You may have heard the saying: “good design should be invisible”.

“Design should help people and be a silent ambassador to your business. Good designs are those that go unnoticed, that are experienced, that are invisible; bad designs are everywhere and stand out like a sore thumb.”

To say that good design should be invisible does not mean eliminating as many features as possible from a visual interface – causing it to become a wisp of gossamer that requires squinting. The human senses naturally rely on signals – we are accustomed to a high rate and high density of signals from our workable environments.

Okay, the trend away from serif to sans serif was reasonable. But I have a request of Apple and other design trend-setters: please stop eroding away at what few features remain.

Anorexia Kills!

7 thoughts on “Anorexic Typeface Syndrome

  1. Yes! This pisses me off too. I sometimes have to go into “Reader View” on Firefox (ironic we need such a thing) to comfortably see a page, and I often just don’t bother reading things that are very faint (dark grey thin text on a light grey background). Mostly the old jazzy backgrounds that used to plague websites have gone, but it’s worse.

    It’s part of the bigger issue of interminable design bloat – menus that keep dropping down on hover, and increasingly from other items all over the page, so it’s now become my unconscious habit once I’ve loaded a page to try to find positions in the columns where I can put the mouse pointer and still scroll with the touchpad 2-finger scrolling (or go back to dragging scroll bars like a caveman).

    There’s so much of this crap, even with heavy reliance on content-blockers. You also used to be able to rely on the old standard advice for good positioning of images, at least in the more professional sites – dedicate the page real-estate first, so that when images load the page won’t jump all over the shop. Not now. While I’m trying to find somewhere safe to hover without popping up some garbage, the text is re-formatting time and time again. Are we all supposed to be firewired directly to the sodding servers so pages load instantly?

    Then there’s the automatically scrolling pages and loading more content in an endless page when you think you’ve reached the end (again, usually jumping so you never get to see the bit you were reading until you waste more time trying to find it again!)…and don’t get me started on those bloody auto-start, never-die videos!

  2. I also must agree. I have mentioned this several times to friends and acquaintances who are actually in the business They look at me with glazed eyes as if (as you mentioned) I am some 90 year old with cataracts in both eyes and just got off a space ship. “That’s the way its supposed to look.” is the usual reply as they move on to another topic…
    As you say: “good design should be invisible”… it should hardly be noticed, like a well designed tool that is entirely suitable for the user and the purpose for which it is designed.
    Opening a poorly designed page, the***first thing that comes to mind*** is how poorly the designer has produced it and ***NOT the content*** for which I am there to read (or attempt to read!).
    Hopefully the pendulum will swing back.

  3. It’s not just in the internet. Products, small appliances, packaging, are all showing this trend. We have a black coffeemaker with labels so small on the buttons that you can barely read them. Now, okay, I can see the argument: “well, you only need to read the label once.” Fine, so why bother putting it there? Yeah, I think it’s a trend, a fad, an “ism,” a “clever new way to do things,” but it hope it goes away soon.

  4. Style over content seems to have become, standard.
    Design utility, takes a back seat to appearance.
    Form, beats function.
    An idea’s popularity, is more imprtant than that idea’s veracity.
    What is this a Symptom of?
    way back in HIGH SCHOOL I wrote, for an english essay, about what i called “The Fonzi Effect”. I was confused, and alarmed, that i saw the respect and admiration for education, intelligence, and competancy, diminish. A televisoin character, notably ignorant, and proud of it had become the “guy you want to be”.
    Cool was better than smart, Snark, more important than conversation.
    that was in 1977.
    It has been steadily excalating ever since.

    its why I LOVED that house you lived in, EVERYONE was smart, EVERYONE was supportive of creativity. It was a refuge, and the acctivites of The Family V, remain encouraging.

    * a guy you once knew!*

    • Lou Alvis! – so fun to be connecting here! Yes, those were great times. And you were a major inspiration and catalyst of the creative insanity that ensued. Thank you for being Ace at a very special time at the V House.

      Also – glad to hear you are with me on these design issues. I think Apple would be better for us if it were not swept up in the capitalist engine causing it to grow bigger than its optimal size, and become less in touch with real people with real practical needs. I wish there were more competition. And I wish a new form of competition came along that placed more value on consistency and modesty in user interfaces, rather than a need to continually disrupt and try to out-cool itself. Apple did its disruption in the 80’s and became what it is. Now it needs to chill and just keep making good stuff and stop changing our fucking interfaces – the future should be about sustainability and reliability – not about growth or chasing fads.

  5. Uhm, is it ironic that I can hardly read anything on this blog with the small font-size and thin font-weight? (I actually did get up close to my screen to read several articles here, just realised that now)

    16–20px with regular weight would be great :)

    • Yes it is ironic. I wish WordPress made it easier to customize these things. I suppose I could look for a new theme – but then many other things would change and it becomes a headache. I will also check and see if I can change the font with html. That would be cool if I can.

      I also wish I could just do straight html/css and not have WordPress mess with it. For most purposes, it’s great that WordPress takes care of the details. But as soon as anyone wants to customize, it turns into tug of war as far as who is in charge what – in terms of of layout, formatting, design, etc.

      Also, btw, I would have thought that by the year 2018 we would have true WYSIWYG, but it is not the case. Composing blogs in WordPress is pretty terrible in that regard. Hey, you get what you pay for, right?

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