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I am creating a website / web application where companies can do there accounting. It is sort of a alternative to the regular desktop accounting program.

I want the application to have a look and feel of a normal desktop application, and not of a traditional websites.

What kind of font and font-size do you think comes close to the traditional desktop application.

I am styling in CSS.

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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

This answer won't point you directly to a specific recommendation, but I would like to point out to you that there are fonts which are designed for use on computer screens. What makes them different than other fonts is that they lack detailing that would be either lost or non-gracefully degrading when limited by two important factors of the screen:

  • low resolution (especially compared to print, such as 72+ dpi versus 600+ dpi)
  • small size -- given that apps will typically display type in the range of 10-12 points

The standard-bearer for this was set with the Macintosh which had some fonts intended for the screen and not for print:

  • Chicago, a bold font for menus
  • Geneva, a sans-serif font for on-screen use
  • New York, a serif font for on-screen use
  • Monaco, a fixed width font for on-screen use

I seem to recall that even when the proliferation of outline or vector based fonts came about (via True Type, but Postscript with Adobe Type Manager was a common standard prior to that), there was an insistence by some that the on-screen fonts should be just that. Eventually, though, there were outline versions released for those fonts.

The rule of thumb was that city-named fonts were for on-screen use, and the other fonts (Times, Helvetica, etc.) were for print. Fonts for on screen were available to the operating system at various, common point sizes and there was not a standard system of smoothly scaling the type outside of the point sizes contained in the system (again, excepting Adobe Type Manager or "ATM" and PostScript, and later, True Type).

So if we pay homage to history, the takeaways are this:

  • Choose something that gracefully scales down in size and resolution
  • Ideally, pick a font that was designed for the limitations of video screens

In 2010 Adobe partnered with Typekit to improve some of it's very established typefaces, modifying them for today's on-screen capabilities (improved DPI, antialiasing, and vector based rendering). That partnership has made available over 500 type faces (not quite the same 1:1 as "fonts").

(If you care, see "What's the difference between a font and a typeface?")

Using Typekit, you can very affordably license the use of the standard maker's well accepted fonts. There are over 500 faces in the library (not all are Adobe sourced), containing such well used fonts like Myriad Pro. Personally, I'd steer you toward choosing three types of faces:

  1. a "Heavy" weight for top-most menus, and alertbox titles (possibly Heavy and Condensed)
  2. a Sans Serif font for other non-user generated UI text, two weights: bold and medium
  3. a Serif or Slab Serif font, one that might even been meant to complement your choice of Sans Serif fonts (sometimes similarly named, sometimes it's just suggested as a complement) -- this, I'd use for larger passages of text and or the text that is entered by the end user

Here is a link to the Adobe fonts on Typekit, you can't go wrong with using this as your selection pool:

http://typekit.com/foundries/adobe/fonts/

Personally, I like:

  • News Gothic Std, bold
  • Myriad Pro Semi Condensed, light or regular
  • Minion Pro, regular

(respective of the order of the categories I mentioned earlier)

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This is a strange question.

First because every desktop environment has its own look and feel. Windows XP != Windows Vista != Windows 7 != Mac OS X != Gnome != KDE....

Also, I know mny people who for example use Windows XP with "Desert" theme. And yes, this provides another look and feel. Despite detecting client OS is possible, detecting its current look and feel isn't. And this is what makes your life hard from now on.

But I think I know what you need. You wanna make a site like http://4shared.com, with a desktop look and feel. Well... that's the reference then. Go there and grab their CSS.

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I think you should consider whether the font is easy to read, more than looks professional. I don't mean use Comic Sans for everything, because it would make it look amateurish and basically look like it was intended for school kids.

A font like Helvetica is easy to read and looks stylish, and I'm starting to use this font for most of my websites (which I like to think are professional looking). But aside from the font, you need to consider how the design looks, and whether the design itself (like colours and layout etc). A poor design can negate the effect a font has. A font used by say the BBC for it's news website, might look out of place on a website such as the Cartoon Networks website. And vice-versa.

A font like Helvetica or even Georgia are professional looking, but you need to remember what the actual design of your site is like. If the design isn't professional enough, the font won't even matter.

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Great points to make. Also, simple use of just Helvetica can look very neat, varied only by weight and size where needed. –  Chris Adragna Dec 8 '10 at 23:59
    
I've seen extensions devoted to nothing but putting Helvetica everywhere...I'm more of a Times guy, myself, but your basic sans-serif fonts seem to have the larger fanbase. –  Kaji Dec 9 '10 at 6:17
    
@Kaji: In terms of the web, that's because the general consensus seems to be that serifs help with legibility in print, but sans serif looks better on digital displays. I would tend to agree, though there are definitely designs that work better with serif body text. –  Lèse majesté Dec 12 '10 at 1:14
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reading your question, (sounds an interesting project) a few things come in my mind, if i would be one of your clients, I would value:

  • Readability
    (generally, as well as your specific use for accounting application)

  • Purpose
    support for special characters unique to your purposes/accounting. imagine how embarrasing it would be for a special currency like Japanese Yen or Indian Rupees to not be supported for international traders, instantly reavealing the difference between truly professional software and another cheap application.

  • Aacceptance
    how well has a font proven itself to be worthy of longterm use?

  • Audience
    (older clients have difficulty reading what I think is small and elegant)

  • Numbers
    Accounting is organising numbers and notes. Perhaps an equal challenge is to seek a typeface that presents numbers beautifully too, since i would stare more often at my year income of 426,119.00 $ than all the words combined in a posting, if only that was my income :I

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As long as the font isn't obnoxious and you make judicious use of styles such as bold and italics, you're pretty much on the right track.

Also, DO NOT simply set the font in a web application to simply a font family as the first choice, ever. I had a tech support call once where a lady designed her site on Safari and was quite dismayed that IE wasn't so kind to her header font; turns out she set it simply to "script", which defaulted to the browser's choice for that family.

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