Typography in the dental office

typography

Times New Roman. Helvetica. Comic Sans. Most of us are familiar with these fonts due to their prolific use in media we see daily. But, have you ever stopped to consider how font choice, size and style can impact your choices, especially in the context of a dental office?

Typography is defined as the style, arrangement or appearance of printed letters on a page. However, it encompasses more than just being able to change the color of letters or bolding important words. Much of the graphic design software we use today offers the user unrestricted autonomy in not only the font style used, but also individual character spacing (kerning), spacing between lines (leading), spacing between letters within a single word (tracking) and more. A clear understanding of typography is essential to good design because it helps to present your content in a way that is easy to read.

It’s easy to associate typography solely with the design and aesthetics behind marketing, but in certain contexts, such as the readability of road signs, good typography can mean the difference between life and death. The same considerations extend to minimizing patient risk in the medical field: a 2006 study in Healthcare Quarterly investigating the role of typography in similar-sounding and similar-looking drug names noted that the use of all uppercase characters was not distinctive enough due to its decreased variation in form compared to lowercase characters. Rather, the use of a design that allowed for a higher degree of visual contrast between similar-sounding drug names made them more distinctly recognizable. With all the dental materials that we encounter in the operatory, it’s easy to take for granted the many design principles were taken into consideration in order to allow us to maximize the utilization of each product.

In contrast, when it comes to marketing or creating printed materials for your dental practice, balancing professionalism and novelty through typography can be a difficult task. Whether the patient realizes it or not, a well-designed health questionnaire form or post-op instruction sheet could not only improve patient health literacy, but also potentially reflect how they perceive the quality of your practice. However, fonts can vary widely between operating systems and there are many conflicting opinions on what fonts are the “best” to use. So before you decide to pull out your trusty WordArt, here are some general concepts to consider when designing printed materials for your patients:

  1. Legibility refers to how easily you can recognize and distinguish between individual letters. Highly legible font is generally comprised of lines that are neither too thin nor too bold and have consistent stroke widths.
  2. Readability is the way text is laid out on a page and how easily the text can be understood by the reader. In a highly readable text, the reader should not notice the font. There are many facets that can make a text more readable, such as black-on-white contrast, proper use of text hierarchy, restricting line length to 65-75 characters to prevent fatigue, left-alignment of paragraphs and utilization of white space to prevent creating large blocks of text.
  3. Size. Font sizes between 9-12 points are generally recommended. Fonts that are too large or too small have been found to decrease reading speed. However, consider increasing your font size to 12-14 points for elderly patients.
  4. Serif vs. sans serif. Serif fonts are generally easier to read when used in printed materials due to increase contrast on individual letter forms, making them more distinctive and easier to recognize. San serif fonts are recommended for titles or headings in printed works, or even on the web because the lower resolution of computer monitors can make serif fonts more difficult to read.

~ Darron Miya, Los Angeles ’18

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About Darron Miya

Darron is currently a third-year dental student at the UCLA School of Dentistry. He is the immediate past co-Editor-in-Chief of UCLA ASDA’s Newsletter, the Diastema. In his free time, he enjoys playing basketball, painting, watching sports and catching Pokemon.

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