Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why I suggest you choose a boring font for your PowerPoint slides

Recently I’ve read a number of articles or online comments that exhort presenters to abandon boring fonts like Arial or Calibri. The argument is these fonts are overused and instead, you should search for and use a cool font that makes you stand out. One article even suggested what search term you should use to locate an appropriately cool font.

This may be a good idea for a main stage conference speaker who has complete control of all the technology parameters and will never have these slides shown on a different computer or e-mailed to anyone else. In my opinion, it is bad advice for the vast majority of presenters who deal with the real-world situation of having to present on different computers and e-mailing their presentation as a follow-up or to those who couldn’t attend.

For the presenters who live in the corporate arena, choosing a cool downloaded font is a bad idea. Why? Because you run the risk of your text being unreadable or gibberish. Here’s why I say this. When you use a downloaded font, it resides only on your own computer and doesn’t travel with the presentation file unless you’ve specifically set the option to do this (hands up if you know where this option is hidden). When that presentation arrives on another computer, PowerPoint doesn’t recognize the name of the cool font and so it substitutes another font it does know about. You don’t get to choose the substitute font, it does it for you.

And what happens to your carefully designed slides? One time I saw it select a font that made most of the text run off each slide and text boxes ran on top of each other, making the presentation look like a mess. Another time PowerPoint selected Webdings as the substitute font and all I saw was gobbled gook. Is that what you want a key decision maker to see when they open your presentation? I didn’t think so.

So my suggestion is stick with a boring font like Arial or Calibri. When your presentation arrives on another computer, it will look exactly like it did on your computer. Will the recipient of the file think poorly of you for using a boring font? If your message is well crafted and supported by persuasive visuals, I don’t think they will even notice.


Blogger passenger57 said...

I've seen a similar problem before when someone has copy/pasted my slides into an existing template, and my carefully chosen fonts have been replaced by the template's fonts. This includes changing font sizes, spacing, etc.

A workaround (which would also apply to your example) is to export into an image using > File > Save As > Other Formats > JPG/GIF.

Then build a new PPT from the exported images. That way, your slides will be displayed exactly as you designed them. Just be aware that you can't make any last-minute changes since you're now working with images.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Edward said...

Hey Dave,

Well firstly I must say that I agree with your opposition to that presentation that suggested that you find some sort of totally unique non-microsoft font to stand out from the crowd, that is totally wrong.

However, even though I am a novice in the world of typography, I must take issue with your description of certain fonts as being "boring". I think it is that sort of phrasing that makes some people want to go off and find some absurd font.

Arial is based on one of the most successful fonts of all time, helvetica, and is quite beautiful I think. What's more, if we are choosing a font based on its universal availability, there are a lot of great fonts that come as standard in the MS packages. Gill sans, century gothic and arial are a few of them.

I even wrote a post about them:

But overall you are right, for the average user, who plans on using their presentation on any other computer other than their own, sticking to the standard fonts that come packaged with MS is the way to go.

5:47 AM  
Blogger KarenG said...

To truly appreciate the impact of font choice - watch the film - Helvetica. This is a documentary by Gary Hustwit.

7:13 AM  
Blogger gregwiley said...

I agree with you that choosing "beautiful" non-[Microsoft]-standard fonts is probably best left to those who have complete control over the presentation environment. I've had a font I've chosen turned into Windings by Microsoft Word.

Another problem with unusual fonts is that if they stand out too much the audience may be left sitting through the presentation wondering what font that is rather than focussing on the message. I know I've been guilty of this is presenations I've sat through.

I think the best advice is always to aim for readability. Then if you know that you are in control of redistribution choose a font that is distributable, either because it's ubiquitous, embeddable or just by virtue of saving as a PDF or series of images.

10:38 AM  

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