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Why I Hate the Verdana Font

Of all the web-compatible typefaces available, the least appealing is the Verdana font.

And yes, I know it’s used all over. Believe me, I notice!

We’ve spoken about choosing typefaces and brand fonts a lot around here.

Let’s talk a little about the history of Verdana first. It was released in 1996, so it’s a modern typeface. It was designed with one purpose in mind: to improve readability in text used very small on a computer screen.

Microsoft included Verdana as part of its Windows operating system, and so did Mac. 99% of Windows machines and 96% of Macs have it, so it’s widely compatible.

When typeface designers set out to make a typeface that will be readable at small sizes, they streamline the letters to remove flourishes that would get lost at a small size.

They also give the letters a large “x-height,” which is the vertical space between the baseline the letters sit on, and the top of lower-case letters like e, x, a, etc. And they tend to add extra space between letters, because when typefaces are reduced very small, letters will blur together unless they’re spaced out quite a bit.

Let me show you why I hate Verdana for regular text copy, and what it’s good for.

Verdana vs. Helvetica

Verdana vs Helvetica Sample

Here’s the same text used very small. Now which typeface is more readable?

Why I Hate the Verdana Font 1

Verdana was designed by Matthew Carter, who also designed the Georgia typeface. Georgia is another screen-compatible typeface that also looks good in print, and is one of the standard typefaces pre-installed on Windows and Mac computers.

Retailer IKEA switched their print catalog and signage to Verdana a few years ago, and caused an uproar that included petitions to remove it, and articles in the Associated Press, Time and Newsweek. You can read more about it here.

My recommendation for using Verdana

If you need to run a small disclaimer or some “legalese” on your site, Verdana’s a good choice.

Avoid using Verdana for the main text areas of your site, and certainly do not use it for print work.

It was designed to be used on screen, not in print, where it decreases readability and slows your readers down.

For more on fonts, including how to choose, use and combine them, read What Font Should You Use to Brand Your Business?

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Why I Hate the Verdana Font 2

The Verdana font is a terrible choice for almost anything ... discover the one thing it\'s good for, and grab font resources that will help you choose the best typeface for your brand.

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49 thoughts on “Why I Hate the Verdana Font”

  1. When I try to read blocks of “regular” sized text in Verdana, I feel like my eyeballs are trying to stretch sideways. But in small sizes, words keep their shapes and are more recognizable.

    Just a little glimpse into how my strange little mind perceives type.

    • Stacey: I agree. That’s what it does to my eyeballs, too!

      Robyn: now you know!

      And Dave, forge ahead with it if it works for you (just don’t ask me to like it!). It is designed to be used on screen.

  2. (quietly changes the font setting on his site from Verdana to Georgia)

    You’re absolutely right – I’d never looked at it in much depth before!

  3. Pamela, I am so proud that I actually already knew this, and I think it was because of an article (shoot, where did I see it?) about font stacks and how to create a good one. Leaving Verdana out of a stack that includes Arial and Helvetica was the recommendation of that author.

    Anyway, there is a question here somewhere…I’m wondering if you have favorite font stacks or especially safe and reliable ones to recommend? Or is that top secret info that will be coming out with the Big Brand System? 🙂

    • “Font stacks” is a web term that refers to specifying a group of typefaces in order of preference. If a user doesn’t have the first one installed, your site defaults to the next one, and on down the stack.

      One reason they may recommend you avoid combining Helvetica/Arial and Verdana is because of what you can see in my side-by-side sample: they look very different, and Verdana takes up more space.

      Type on the web is in the midst of a big change this year with Typekit and other companies offering us the ability to go beyond the web-safe typefaces we’ve been confined to. I will be a lot more excited about recommending font stacks once that technology is widely used.

  4. In my experience, most people do not have enough computer savvy to install additional fonts. If you design your site to look good in a font like Helvetica, it’s only looking good to you (and the handful of other people with that font installed)!

    Have you checked out https://www.typetester.org/ ?

    Great way to compare font choices and combinations. 😉

  5. Wow, interesting. My dayjob organisation used to have Verdana as the standard font, even for print letters. They recently changed it along with the logo. They had to change the logo because it broke an obscure rule about image use.

    Laughing. Also, quietly wiping Verdana off my own websites! O.o

  6. Pamela,

    I love your blog and the down-to-earth advice and education you are offering your readers. And certainly, after a lifetime (has it really been that long?) in graphic arts and design, I have my own prejudices about typefaces. Spend enough time with type and you just have to develop favorites, likes and dislikes.

    I agree that Verdana is an exceptionally poor choice for print work. Last week I had a client ask me to typeset a 540 page book in Verdana, and I had to politely decline. He eventually saw the light.

    However, I’ve found with the very limited choices available, Verdana is actually a good choice for blog posts. And I say this as someone with a clear prejudice toward oldstyle typefaces for most any long-document design. I’m running Thesis also and went back and forth between Verdana and Chicago, but had to admit that the Verdana was actually a bit more readable on screen so I’ve stuck with it.

    I disagree with your advice to @Wardeh above, and think that Verdana would actually make her site more readable. Helvetica seems a really poor choice for web work when it’s used at smaller sizes, and the print-oriented spacing makes it look blotchy (to me). None of the grace and elegance it has in print seems to translate that well to screen. In larger sizes, it’s gorgeous.

    And I’m also looking forward to the day when we can design with “real” type on the web, whether it’s Typekit or something else. Thanks for letting another typographer vent about typefaces. What fun.

    Best of luck with your blog, you really seem to have it together!

    • Joel: I know… bring on the Typekit! It feels a little like trying to create masterpieces with a box of eight crayons right now.

      We’ll have to agree to disagree about Verdana. 🙂 You’re not going to convince me on its readability. Thanks for your comment!

      • Interesting thoughts – it’s great to read varying takes on what we individually perceive in the web pages we frequent, often without even being aware of it.

        • Hi Sheryl! I’ve found it interesting to see how some people are very passionate about typography, and others haven’t really paid much attention to it. Guess which camp I belong to? 😉

          In the end, you have to go with what looks best to your own two eyeballs. I hope my blog will help people think about readability first and foremost.

  7. Loved this discussion – it took me back to my days when I started a magazine and was learning all about fonts before we did our first issue!

    So for the web, for example on a blog, would you go with Arial as a best choice for font for the body of blog posts? (Right now I am using… Verdana…. ahem… and you’ve got me thinking I should change it!)

    David

      • Thanks so much! I looked at all 3 side by side, and for my eyes, Arial was easiest to read, so went with that!

        One less site with Verdana – you are getting there one site at a time. 🙂

  8. Pamela,

    Exactly! And I love Georgia. To me, it looks more like the font that I grew up with reading in books, so it’s easy on my eyes and mind. There are places for other fonts, but the main content should be something that doesn’t cause your mind to have to do any more work.

  9. On the contrary, I love Verdana. If set to the right size, I feel it is kind of neat looking, especially if displayed within a tight and small area.

    My new found love however is Lucida Bright. Looks better than Georgia. To me at least. 🙂 Not considered web-safe though.

    • On the contrary, I love Verdana. If set to the right size, I feel it is kind of neat looking, especially if displayed within a tight and small area.

      Costa, that’s what Verdana was designed to do: look good in tight, small areas. And I like Lucida Bright, too!

  10. Pamela: I recently instructed one of my VAs never to use Verdana in my material. It looks “squished” to me. Bloated. On another note, I had wanted to do my blog in Georgia, which looked fabulous on my Mac. But my Web guru sent me a screen shot of it on her PC and it looked awful. I wonder if that’s changed?

    Had to pop over here after reading your post on Copyblogger. Best wishes for your new adventure.

  11. I’ve always actually liked how Verdana looks, but you’re convincing me! I think I’ll try out Trebuchet.

    I use Georgia on the blog because that’s the default Pearson set for Thesis and I never changed it. 🙂 But I do like the look of it.

  12. I found your site and post while searching for a way to remove Ariel, which I absolutely detest, from my computer. Now that I know about stacks, removing Ariel from my machine is even more important.

    I don’t often print anything – maybe a tax return once a year. But Georgia, and New Century Schoolbook, are pleasant enough. Bodoni is an old, but seldom seen, favorite. I prefer even Verdana to Times Roman or NTR.

    I don’t get Helvetica, but it’s obviously not objectionable enough to make me remember it.

  13. it would be important to consider actual usability studies — not just opinion — when choosing a typeface, or any design elements for that matter.

  14. Great discussion. Love seeing people’s takes on this!

    I agree Verdana is a chunky mess when styling text — but try to balance it with lots of line height (space between one line and the next), and space between paragraphs. Have just tried to avoid using Verdana for any lines of bold type or any headings, where it gets truly awful.

    My attempt at a fix has been to pair Verdana with another font for headlines and subheads — either Georgia or where it works, my own quirky favorite — Courier New. It’s probably time to invest in Typekit!

  15. Thanks for the post! I took a second look at an email template I was designing and tried switching out Verdana for Tahoma instead. Worked like a charm.

  16. Pamela

    Thanks for some fascinating and invaluable information about design, I’m really enjoying your free ecourse. I had always regarded Verdana as clean and easy-to-read, and Georgia a bit old-fashioned, so I often use Verdana on my clients’ sites. I will definitely now re-think that policy.

    That said, I was just following up one of your links to https://www.smashingmagazine.com/ and I notice they are using Verdana. How do you think it looks there? Personally, I really like it but would definitely be interested to hear your opinion and if you think it would look more readable in another font.

    Marion

    • Hi Marion,

      Apparently Smashing magazine hasn’t read my post. 😉

      They have a weird mish-mash of fonts they’re using, actually. I see Arial/Helvetica in the sidebar, what looks like Verdana for text, and something else — I’m not sure what — for headlines. The day they put me in charge I’ll want to clean that up and make it more cohesive.

      In the meantime, I’ll just keep recommending people stay away from Verdana if possible, and to try to use no more than two typefaces at a time.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  17. I think it’s important to point out that the vast majority of legibility claims regarding typefaces have no good empirical evidence to support them.

    For an example, see the utter lack of support for the notion that serif typefaces are more legible than sans serif typefaces: https://alexpoole.info/which-are-more-legible-serif-or-sans-serif-typefaces

    It’s unfortunate that the claim of superior serif typeface legibility is taken as an article of faith by so many designers in spite of the inability of any pro-serif arguments to withstand scrutiny.

    Aesthetic claims will obviously come down to a subjective preference (with typefaces, most people simply prefer what they’re accustomed to reading), but readability and legibility claims can be tested by experiment. It would be great to see experimental evidence for the claims regarding the readability of Verdana. Would you happen to have any?

    Though I don’t have proper empirical support for the legibility of Verdana, I do know a person suffering from macular degeneration, and as her eyesight worsens, her own experiments have led her to favor Verdana at a very large point-size on both paper and screen. This is an atypical case (as I said, it’s not proper empirical support), but I think it gives us reason to be circumspect about the readability claims listed in this post until we see evidence that can support your claim.

    • I always recommend people set up a full paragraph of text in the typeface they plan to use — in the medium where they plan to use it, and at the size and line spacing they want to test —and take a good look. A fantastic tool for doing just that is the Web Font Combinator. Are you familiar with it?

      • Was this meant to be a reply to me? The Web Font Combinator tool is great, but it’s not really related to my suggestion that we work to justify legibility claims with empirical support and scientific studies.

        • Michael,

          This post is an opinion piece, and the empirical support I’m relying on is the 25 years I’ve spent working with typography in all environments: on the web; in print; in signage, etc. This blog isn’t about scientific studies, per se. I share my professional experience with readers so they can develop their own ability to see what works.

          That’s why I recommended the Web Font Combinator tool. It allows you to set a full paragraph and check it before you use a typeface. This — to me — is the ultimate test of whether a font will work at the size you plan to use it.

          • I should have prefaced my first comment with something more positive. I do think you’re a fine designer, and I thank you for the work you put into this blog and the work you put into responding to the comments of your readers. People will rarely go wrong following your advice.

            I’m also sorry if my initial post came off as harsh or overly critical, which was not my intent. I know I’m more demanding than most people when it comes to evidence for claims, which comes from the frustration of reading so many books with conflicting advice and information about design and typography, and at least an attempt to source one’s information is something I find very helpful for sorting out whose advice to follow.

            Thanks again.
            —Michael

          • No worries, Michael.

            If you enjoy reading design information that’s backed up by scientific studies, I can highly recommend by friend Derek Halpern’s blog, socialtriggers.com. He scours studies to extract information that he shares with his readers. I think you’ll like it!

            This week’s post on the Big Brand System is going to talk about this subject, so watch for it tomorrow. 🙂

    • Michael, years ago I read an article that purported to be based on formal type legibility research done early on which compared Verdana to Ariel and others, for computer screen display. Verdana was reportedly the more readable in that context. At least some research appears to have been done, which supports my refusal to use or specify Ariel – though by this time my distaste for Aries has become so ingrained and personal I cannot pretend to the objectivity I may have had initially. I really hate it.

      For print work I’ve used serif, especially New Century Schoolbook when available, and Georgia. I’ve gradually lost my distaste for the use of serif typefaces for webpages – either I’ve been desensitized by seeing too much of it or the change in resolution of the screen has altered my visual response to the decoration.

  18. Hey Pamela,

    I had absolutely no idea that Verdana looked that bad in comparison with Helvetica at a reasonable size.

    And I also think I finally understood why my brain loved Verdana so much.

    I have been using computers for about 23-24 years (don’t have the exact date but it is irrelevant anyway) and at the time I was looking just at DOS system fonts most of the times. (even Wordperfect and Wordstar looked the same)

    So with the introduction of Windows and GUI fonts and then Word from Office, I remember that when I found Verdana for the first time, it looked like the neatest font type ever and since then I have been loving it.

    Right now that I have just read your post, I’m not so sure I will still love it that much but thank you for opening my eyes.

    It does feels like it is unevenly spaced.

    Sergio

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