Is it better to use serif or sans-serif fonts in your slides? Which one is best for your presentations?
It’s a small detail, I know, but it can make a difference because it can make slides – and therefore a presentation as a whole – more effective not just from a design perspective but also from the perspective of the audience and their understanding.
First of all, let’s start with the differences between the two types of fonts.
Serif fonts have extending features (“serifs”) at the end of the strokes of a letter. A typical example is Times New Roman.
Sans-serif fonts don’t have those extending features. Arial and Helvetica are two examples.
Now, serifs are useful to guide people’s eyes when reading and they are especially useful when reading long blocks of text. This is why historically books were written using serif fonts. But even today, the standard font of the Kindle is a serif one. Likewise, the blogging platform Medium has also chosen a serif font, because it makes reading easier.
On the other hand, sans-serif fonts tend to be a bit wider and well defined and therefore work better for showing titles and short sentences. And they also work better on screens. Therefore, when designing slides, unless you’re creating a document that’s intended to be distributed as a handout – where it might be better to use a serif font – in all other cases (i.e. for TED-style presentations) my advice is to use sans-serif fonts. This will make it easier for the audience to read your headlines quickly. Remember, when you design slides, you need to ensure that the message behind your slides is so clear and straightforward that your audience gets it in a few seconds. This way, they can focus on you and what you have to say rather than on the slides.
It's a detail, I know, but a detail here and a detail there and you end up with presentations that are ten times better than what we see every day.