A public service message on Helvetica Neue Ultra Light


2015 is less than two months away, so its time to clear out the drafts folder. This post was drafted in January.

Here in 2014, the Georgia font is out, and inscrutable meatstack icons (pardon “hamburger icons”), fonts as big as your head and full-height banner images are in. Every second site is now also employing Helvetica Neue Light and Ultra Light, presumably in an effort to ape iOS 7.

Unfortunately for us, such efforts are hopelessly misguided. Apple was able to employ these fonts on iOS 7 because every client using it (save for the first iPad mini) would have a Retina screen. Regular displays lack the resolution to render ultra-lightweight fonts with sufficient detail to be readable. This is why lightweight fonts were seldom used on computer displays before.

Subpixel rendering and antialising improve the appearance of many fonts. If you’re relying on it entirely to make your text readable, you’ve doing it wrong. If you’re basing your exploit-friendly CSS font imports on user-agent, by all means give Retina clients that XSS malware vector. Otherwise, please stick to regular weight fonts at a minimum.

Believe me, I’m looking forward to the day we all have Retina-grade screens and such fonts will be fine. The irony is by the time that happens, Helvetica Neue will be passé.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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