Last week, Wikipedia launched a typography refresh. This is a big deal for a variety of reasons, especially given that Wikipedia may well be the most content-focused mainstream website out right now. No ads, no “likes”, reblogs, or comments; Wikipedia is a lovably no-nonsense site that serves its purpose well.
The change was subtle, but noticeable, like a good typography change should be. Mainly, headings were now serif, and the body remained a sans-serif. The contrast between the headings and body are used to inject subtle visual interest. This is a widely-recognized typographic technique, and it’s not hard to find examples of it in print and web journalism, from blogs to mainstream news outlets.
(In a nutshell)
Wikipedia not only puts content front and center, but it also gives content creators unparalleled control over the look of the page. In fact, it’s surprising how well most pages have maintained their internal stylistic consistency. Up until the change, text was kept simple and neutral, embodying the core values of Wikipedia itself. More importantly, when a page required special visual elements in the shape of an infobox or a timeline, the neutral styling let that visual element tell its story.
The old style was the spiritual peer of Helvetica, with no intrinsic statement or meaning of its own. On many pages, the new style’s added visual contrast creates a clash between default styles and unpredictable user-created content.
An arbitrary infobox article. Which version of the the thrice-repeated title doesn’t belong?
Jared Zimmerman, Wikimedia’s Director of User Experience, said that this effort is far from done. I think this is an excellent way to approach the challenge. It’s hard enough designing one page at a time, let alone the millions of articles and pages spread across hundreds of wikis. Congratulations and kudos for getting this first iteration out the door so quickly.
The goal of making the typographic experience more consistent is a very worthy one, just please make sure the consistency is aligned with the content, and not just the platform.
— Mahmoud (@mhashemi)