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I'm designing a web application which has lots of data tables with business information both as numbers (sales, hours etc) and text (product names, region names etc).

What fonts are great for dense information displays? I've played with usual suspects like Helvetica, Helvetica Neue and Tahoma, but are there others that would add a splash of unique feeling, but still would be an excellent choice for displaying tabular data?

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Are you limited to OS fonts, or are you using web fonts? – e100 Aug 31 '12 at 11:56
I would probably stick with any easy to read font and concentrate more on styling the tables by other means. – Joonas Aug 31 '12 at 13:21
Print or web??? – Scott Aug 31 '12 at 14:09
@Scott "designing a web application" suggests web :) You're right that it's an important consideration, e.g. whether pixel fonts are an option if super-small point sizes are needed – user568458 Aug 31 '12 at 14:17
@user568458 ... ermmm.... yeah... I guess it would :) I missed those first few words. Sorry. :) – Scott Aug 31 '12 at 14:24
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Typically with lots of data you're looking to do two things:

  1. Cram lots of data into a limited space, and/or
  2. Make it readable.

If you get both, that's ideal.

When it comes to the "safe" web fonts, I think that Tahoma tends to be a little more vertical and thus can get more data squished in. Typically Verdana and Georgia are regarded as the most well-designed of the six or so; Verdana in particular is very readable but takes up a lot of width to do so.

Depending on who's using the site, you should definitely take a look at Calibri. Microsoft's ClearType fonts are well-designed, fairly well-regarded, and not ubiquitous enough to be annoying yet. Calibri is modern, made for the screen, and is pretty narrow - a good compromise. If you need something monospace, look at Consolas over Courier New. ClearType should be pretty well saturated by now; anyone with Vista or a version of Office that's 2007 or later (2008 for Mac) will have them. And apparently you can get them freely as well; Wikipedia has more on this.

If you're looking to buy, check out FF Info. Haven't used it but it has a good pedigree and seems to be well-built for lots of data.

And, as Joonas commented, fonts aren't the only way to make something readable. Watch your line-spacing and cell padding, stuff like that. It can make a world of difference.

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Worth noting that Tahoma and Verdana are really just different width versions of the same design. – e100 Aug 31 '12 at 16:37
Brendan, thanks a lot, good stuff! – Teemu Kurppa Sep 1 '12 at 18:20

I would go for Computer Modern/Latin Modern Sans variant. It's a nice, quite narrow and well readable font. You can get it for instance at CTAN, FontSquirrel or GUST.

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I vote for mono space fonts; for example in MS Excel, I use Consolas. Check my quick test here.

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for me i am using Arial Narrow the most simply fonts easy to read

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