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Typography - some questions

Hi I have been looking at the Typography advice in the Australian Government Design System with a view to implement the same, and I have following questions:

  1. The design system suggests using system fonts, which is fine from the point of view of download speed. But for government services, users are from all over Australia and they use a range of different devices.

So is there a possibility that the set of system fonts might prove to be somewhat limited, and some users might not get a good experience?

  1. If I remember correctly, the previous version of design system referred to Google Open Sans as the preferred font which seemed to work quite well.

I would like to know why this is not the case anymore, and whether using a single family of commonly used fonts is not recommended at all. What is the trade off?

  1. Are there any known issues with the Design System typography that I should be aware of ?
    This is because I have been reading the communities of practice and it seems that the default body font-size of 1 rem / 16px is quite small on mobile. This could be an issue.
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Hi @Bree - welcome to the community!

  1. The DTA design system suggests using system fonts, which is fine from the point of view of download speed. But for government services, users are from all over Australia and they use a range of different devices

So is there a possibility that the set of system fonts might prove to be rather limited, and some users might not get a good experience?

There’s a brief overview of the rationale for system fonts at:

The font stack is articulated at:

System fonts will provide a consistent, but not necessarily uniform, experience across users’ devices and operating systems. Our experience doesn’t suggest that there would be any user limitations as a result of using system fonts, but there is a download penalty to pay for users whose devices are forced to download web fonts, and a potential penalty for users who may feel disoriented with the use of inconsistent fonts across Australian Government websites on the same device + OS.

System fonts also tend to have the broadest level of support for CSS attributes like font-variant:numeric (very useful when formatting numeric data in tables) and extended character sets, providing a solid set of defaults for adopters to start with.

We don’t yet have extensive guidance on typography usage with the Australian Government Design System, but the materials available from the USWDS could be useful background reading:

  1. If I remember correctly, DTA’s previous version of design system referred to Google Open Sans as the preferred font which seemed to work quite well.

I would like to know why this is not the case anymore, and whether using a single family of commonly used fonts is not recommended at all. What is the trade off?

Previous iterations did use several Open Sans fonts, yes. These were removed in December 2017:

The Design System does not prevent substituting one or more web fonts for system fonts, but this substitution would need to be traded off against the increase in total page weight / download time, the potential reliance on third-party font providers, and any perceived user or business benefits from delivering a body font that provides near-pixel-perfect consistency with an agency/product style guide.

What were the benefits you were hoping to deliver to users by adopting a non-system font?

  1. Are there any known issues with the DTA Design system typography that we should be aware of ?
    This is because I have been reading the communities of practice and it seems that the default body font-size of 1 rem / 16px is quite small on mobile. This could be an issue.

We’d still regard this as an open issue, pending further research. Did you have any user research findings you could share that indicate what issues your users are experiencing on mobile devices with 16px body size?

  • Are they using the system font?
  • What contrast levels are used?
  • Do the issues occur with large swathes of body content, links, or text in tables, or somewhere else?

A scan of comparable sites in mobile view suggests 16-18px is a commonly-calculated value for body text sizing:

  • abs.gov.au – 16px
  • humanservices.gov.au – 18px
  • ato.gov.au – 18px
  • gov.uk – 16px
  • uswds.gov – 16px
  • govt.nz – 16px
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Thanks Gordon. Your answer will help in refining our typography elements.
We do intend to test across different devices, and will share the findings.

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Maybe you could try a text size control if that is a problem for your users. I think by design 1 rem on a phone is smaller, for information density. So, by necessity, you need to cram more in on a small screen for lines of words to be the correct length, or for complex interfaces to be useful.

Also, responsive stylesheets allow people to use larger devices like tablets when font size is an issue.

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This is an interesting subject as it is question that is both technical and user centered.
I think for the sake of compatibility it is a good choice, but in my humble opinion misses the mark on thoughtful design.

For example SIL International has done a lot of work in this area and they have developed some very robust fonts which feature a wide range of character sets and are designed for readability.

Andika is one example of a font they have developed that has the features I speak about above.

It’s worth noting that while most of our websites are design centered to be navigated by the blind as it is one of the most apparent disability challenges we can meet immediately. I would venture to to make and educated guess that far more people in the population have issues with dyslexia and other learning disabilities that are predicated on peoples ability to discern textual information.

So I personally think this needs to be looked into more and not treated as an after thought with respect to the rest of the system.

I am not apart of the Austrailian government, so I don’t have a stake in that overall debate. I do however work in a local county government and I might be a bit more aware of how our choices have the ability to affect our constituents in a more direct fashion.

Just my two cents. I think this is a great topic for discussion.

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This is something I completely disagree with.

Using system fonts to reduce page weight isn’t a good enough reason to mandate it across the design system.

What about the typographic qualities of using system fonts in regards to:

Spacing?
Line heights?
Widths?

Also, which one do we use to design the UI with?
Each produces a different layout in respect to the above issues.

We need a single font with a few weights.

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