What In The H Is A Serif?

You know what? I have been hammering out words on various word processors since I was 2 years old. Sure, that’s a lie, but I want you to appreciate how overconfident I can be when it comes to the topic of expressing myself using combinations of letters on a screen.

I feel that I should also mention how limited my confidence has been in visual imagery or design principles. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but I have always felt more comfortable writing out those words before trying to draw something horrendous.


Every once in a while, the two worlds clash together, and I learn something new. So what is it that is taking me so long to get to the point about?


Every time I sit down in front of a word processor, the opportunity to choose a font presents itself. I (and our clients), have been very lucky to enjoy the support of a talented design team at The Muller Consulting (now "Muller Consulting"). This team (that I lovingly refer to as “Doug”) will choose a font that fits the overall look and layout of a design, and I am never burdened with the responsibility of making anything look nice.

It’s a good deal for everyone involved.

One day, on a walk around Downtown Victoria, I started paying attention to the words on the signs around me. I looked at street signs, business signs, “Need money for BEER” signs, you name it!

There were a few consistent themes, but the one that stuck out to me, was that almost everyone was printing signs using CAPITAL LETTERS.

Apparently people think it’s the easiest way to read a sign, so I did a little research (they were wrong in case you’re wondering) and I fell face first into a whole new controversy.

Readability Is A Big Issue

The issue of readability has been argued ever since cavemen started scratching into the walls. There’s an entire history of alphabetic improvement that I could only skim the surface of. Apparently, after the Romans introduced their version of the 26 letter Latin alphabet, we stopped trying to change the letters themselves and the artistic members of our society have simply attempted to introduce prettier and prettier ways to draw those letters instead.


When language was in its infancy, simple symbols were key. As writing became more of an art, the artistic people began to use little flairs and edges to make the letters run together nicely.

To illustrate, here is a pretty picture of the letter “H”


Here is that same “H” with the serifs highlighted in blue.


Sans Serif

Just as “sans mustard” means “No mustard please, I don’t appreciate flavor” when you visit the deli, “Sans Serif” means “No frilly flair on my font, thank you” when you visit a font selection menu. Sans Serif fonts are built with clean straight lines. There are no extra lips, or ledges.


I had been staring at a list of available fonts for all these years, with no idea of what I was looking at. Just learning the difference between these two stylistic choices got me excited and gave me a breath of hope. Perhaps I was not a hopeless artist after all! Maybe I could be inspired by design principles just like the talented people around me!

Quickly, I realized I was only excited about the words describing the styles, not any particular style itself.

Oh well, back to the writing board.





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