Ensure Visual Accessibility: Using Typography

Ensure Visual Accessibility: Using Typography

Understand how Typography affects the usability and user experience of your app and how accessible it is.

When it comes to developing apps for the Apple ecosystem, typography may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, it is a crucial element that can significantly impact user experience and perception of the app. The dynamic and ever-changing world of app development strongly emphasizes innovation and design, but the role of typography should not be underestimated.

From the choice of font to the spacing between characters and lines, typography can greatly affect the overall aesthetic appeal of the app but also its readability and, as a consequence, how accessible it is. A well-designed and thoughtfully executed typography can even enhance the usability and functionality of the app, making it easier for users to navigate and engage with the content. Therefore, developers and designers need to pay close attention to typography and consider it as an integral part of the app development process.

Typography is more than just aesthetics, it's about communication.

How Typography Impacts Accessibility

Creating an environment where users with different abilities can interact seamlessly with your app is the goal of accessibility, and typography is an essential aspect of achieving it. Appropriate font size, well-structured headings, proper line height and spacing are some of the typography considerations that can improve accessibility.

It is essential to take into account the experiences of all potential users at every stage of the design process, including those with visual impairments, like low vision, or cognitive impairments, like learning disabilities, aphasia, dyslexia, concentration difficulties, or low literacy. A clear and well-designed typography can make the difference between an app that can be used independently and one that frustrates the user experience. Therefore, it is crucial to maintain a balance between visual appeal and ease of understanding.

To achieve this, it is advisable to actively involve users in the design process through focus groups, user testing, surveys, and other methods, and make improvements based on their feedback. By improving accessibility, you can create a seamless user experience that meets people's needs, minimizes friction, and ensures that everyone can benefit from your offerings.

Typography impacts different accessibility domains: Vision and Cognitive.

Typography Fundamentals and Accessibility

Reading text on paper versus a screen is a completely different experience for the eyes; letters on paper are clearer because the resolution is higher than on screens. This means that choosing an appropriate font for print versus screen requires different considerations to optimise readability.

As we have said before, typography is not just an aesthetic element, the layout and choice of fonts is a crucial aspect in designing an effective user experience and becomes even more essential if we evaluate the accessibility of typographic choices made in our app interfaces.

Precisely to fully understand the impact that a wrong typographic choice can have on our app, it is necessary to know a few elements that are at the base of typography.

Typeface and Fonts

When it comes to typography, the first step is to choose the typeface and font.
A typeface refers to a family of fonts, like Arial, Times New Roman, or Helvetica.
Fonts, on the other hand, are specific styles and variations within those families, such as Arial Italic or Helvetica Bold. In app design, it's essential to choose a typeface and font that aligns with the app's purpose.

Choosing fonts that are easy to read is crucial for accessibility. Sans-serif fonts, like Arial or Helvetica, are widely preferred for their legibility and simplicity, especially on digital screens.

For example, common letters such as uppercase 'i', lowercase 'l', and digit '1' should be easily distinguishable from each other to avoid confusion.

Visualisation of 'i', 'l', '1' for different typefaces

Additionally, characters with similar counters, such as lowercase 'o', 'p', and 'q', must be distinguishable when written consecutively to prevent visual strain on the reader.

Visualisation of 'p' and 'q' for different typefaces

Apple has created system fonts like San Francisco to cater to its user-centric design philosophy, specifically designed for readability across all their devices.

Fonts section of Apple's design resources

An essential factor to consider while designing the interfaces is the font size because it's one of the ways in which you can ensure the accessibility of your app for all your users. Since not all users have the same visual acuity, providing the option to adjust text sizes according to their preferences is essential. The Apple ecosystem provides a useful feature called "dynamic type", which enables users to customize the system font size across different apps.

By incorporating dynamic type into your app, you can demonstrate your commitment to respecting users' preferences and ensuring that all content can be read comfortably.

As developers, we have to design and foresee this feature. If you want to know more about Dynamic Type, you can read our article about it.

Supporting Dynamic Type and Larger Text in your app to enhance Accessibility
Understand how to prepare your application to support Dynamic Type.

Line Spacing and Letter Spacing

In addition to font choice and size, line spacing (leading) and letter spacing (kerning) are crucial factors that impact the readability of text. Appropriate line spacing prevents text from feeling cluttered and helps users read and understand the content more easily. Similarly, proper letter spacing ensures that each character is clear and legible, avoiding any overlapping or excessive spacing issues.

Large x-heights and Counters

x-height and Counter are two important factors affecting the legibility of a typeface on screen. It is the height of a lowercase x which should be considered in relation to the total height of the letters. The counter is the area fully or partly enclosed by a letter. It impacts the legibility because the more open spaces, the better the legibility.

x-height, counters, cap line, mean line and baseline visualisation
When it comes to accessibility, generous and carefully designed spacing can be particularly helpful for users with visual or cognitive disabilities, as it allows them to distinguish each line of text more easily. Adjusting letter spacing can also benefit users with varying visual needs by ensuring that each character is distinct and recognizable.

Accessibility guidelines and  best practices

Typography is a powerful tool for enhancing accessibility within your app. In this section, we delve into the symbiotic relationship between typography and accessibility, exploring how thoughtful typographic decisions can make your app more user-friendly and inclusive.

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