Take the 2-minute tour ×
Graphic Design Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for Graphic Design professionals, students, and enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Many modern websites feature very thin fonts whereas – I think – on posters it is not as commonly used. I was just wondering why thin webfonts are so popular. Does it have a reason? And since thin fonts are not as striking and bold as bold fonts, what purpose does it serve in spite of "it looks good"?

Thanks for your answers.

share|improve this question
1  
"To a Westerner an African ritual mask might seem hair-raising - while for a native it might represent a benevolent divinity" U.Eco, On Ugliness. –  Ilan Apr 20 at 11:14
    
I think it might be a habit from printed-press. In long text, the thin typefaces are preferable. I do not know if there is some science to back that up. But if you look some typefaces with "book" styles, you can see it matches with "light" styles. –  Gokce Ozan Apr 20 at 17:12
1  
Why do people like blue? What's so special about serifs? --- Much like your question, I don't think there's a specific answer. It's all a matter of opinion. –  Scott Apr 20 at 20:03
1  
@Scott but still, it has become a huge trend so there has to be a cause, some trigger that led it in that direction. Also there are some satisfying answers already explaining it very well I think –  Tim Wagner Apr 20 at 21:26
    
"what purpose does it serve in spite of "it looks good"?" = does it need another purpose? –  DA01 Apr 20 at 22:10

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Short answer: it's something that previously was largely limited to higher-end print design for practical reasons that is now possible in web design due to modern devices having high pixel density screens.

It's popular now because in the web context it's new and so it looks fresh, because it's elegant and clean which fits wider current trends, and because it's associated with high-end products from how it has been used in print design.


Bit more detail: Very light, thin type has been associated with quality and luxury in print and packaging design for a while, especially in high-end/fashion/luxury brands. There are a few reasons:

  • Thin type can be large, clear, eye-catching and prominent while still being understated, minimalist and elegant
  • It lends itself to very clean designs which suit these styles
  • Practical reasons: cheap run-of-the-mill print jobs often don't handle very thin lines so well. If you're already going for high-end packaging, super-thin type is another nice way to show it off that low-end competitors would find less easy to copy (particularly with things like subtle embossing and engraving).

Until recently, thin fonts have been a poor choice for screens because most screens don't handle them well, for similar reasons to low/average quality printers: lines dropping below 1 pixel could render as one or two blurry pixels. Not exactly elegant.

With high pixel density screens like Apple's retina screens and most high-end Android devices, type choices that were previously impractical now can be made to work for a lot of viewers. So they're popular now for two reasons:

  • Since they haven't been around until now, the first that people see will look extra fresh and modern (this will wear off)
  • They fit the current more general trend for clean simplicity (this will wear off a little bit, but more slowly)
  • They look elegant and clean which really compliments some styles (this won't wear off, but those styles might slip out of fashion)

Idle speculation: Personally I suspect that thin fonts are going to be over-used and that when they lose the "so fresh and new" appeal there's going to be a modest backlash on the grounds of readability - and it'll then find a natural level being used where elegance is considered more important for a brand than readability, i.e. high fashion again.

Edit: Yeah, I just talked about readability in italics. I know, I know... ;-)

share|improve this answer

Because it's a design trend.

More specifically because it's an Apple Design trend.

iOS7 makes heavy use of Helvetica Neue Light.

Why did they choose this? You'd have to ask Apple. Guesses would be that it fits into the 'super simple, less-is-more, flat UI' style they were going with. Plus it shows off their retina screens.

share|improve this answer
    
It's undoubtably true that Apple and ios7 further popularised the 'thin type' trend, but it was already an established growing trend before ios7: one of the criticisms of IOS7 from designers when it came out was that we were used to Apple leading, but here they seemed to be following (for example) –  user568458 Apr 20 at 22:42
    
@user568458 in terms of overall UI, I agree. Apple wasn't innovating much there. And while sparse sans-serif type was established well before hand (I think the Zune was the first 'big' use of it as a primary UI design element) I think iOS7 was the first to adopt a thin weight typeface. –  DA01 Apr 21 at 0:59

It might just be "because they can".

Not far back, they would not have worked very well cross-browser/been available. After the possibility of using them, it became a trend. Besides, it is a good thing for smaller and smaller screens with better and better resolutions.

Thin fonts can be as striking as bold, it is all about context; in what environment you use them. You will find them with a good deal of whitespace and other elements to convey lightness.

Web trends and visual language can change overnight, print media tends to be a little slower to reach a momentum where you can actually generalise.

share|improve this answer

I think because of this trend with flat design and minimal detail in icons. It also easier on the eye as shown:

enter image description here

share|improve this answer
1  
Flat an minimal design don't explain thin fonts. Can you elaborate? –  allcaps Apr 20 at 20:42
    
"easier on the eye" is mostly subjective in this context. –  DA01 Apr 20 at 22:12

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.