Accessibility, Adobe, Apple, Microsoft, Typography and fonts

Accessible Typography: Over 20 Hints to Make Your Site More Readable

I covered this topic more cursorily in an article for NOS Magazine, but I wanted to cover the topic in more depth to help provide web and app designers and developers create interfaces that are accessible to wider groups of readers. While there is no absolute consensus on what makes typefaces accessible, there are some principles worth noting. All the typefaces I’ve listed support Western European languages at the very least, and quite a few also include Greek, Vietnamese and Cyrillic.

Principles of typeface accessibility

  • Low stroke contrast can promote readability. Some typefaces that have low stroke contrast include Myriad Pro, Gotham, Helvetica, Arial, and Verdana. Some fonts have comparatively high stroke contrast, like Bodoni and Didot. Times New Roman has a moderate stroke contrast. Proxima Nova, commonly used on the web, a has relatively low stroke contrast except for specific letters, like “a,” in which it’s relatively high.
  • Disambiguating between easily confused letters can be helpful for some people. For example, in some fonts, capital I and lowercase l can be easily confused, along with the numeral 1.
  • Fonts with open counters (the whitespace between the strokes in letters) can sometimes be easier to read.
  • Sans-serif typefaces, like Helvetica, Arial, and Trebuchet MS, are thought to be more readable on screen than seriffed typefaces like Times (New) Roman or Palatino. Seriffed typefaces have little “feet” on the edges of the letters.

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Adobe, Apple, Date and time, Google, Internationalisation, Localisation

Date-formatting problems from Adobe, Apple, PayPal and Google

Some of the most irritating cases I’ve seen with hardcoded date formatting come from large, well-resourced tech companies that should theoretically know better: Adobe, Apple, PayPal and Google come to mind. I wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft did similar things, though I use more Adobe, Google and Apple products. As a user of non-US UI region formats and languages, I frequently encounter problems with date and time formatting. The Month/Day/Year format is not portable. It should not be the default. Never default to Month/Day/Year, and never hardcode date formatting. As soon as you localise your software to something other than English (US), it’s backwards. Developers should default to the ISO standard Year/Month/Day format and derive settings from users’ set region format or language, prioritising region format. 

Adobe products, both on the web and on the desktop, have a long-standing and pervasive problem with hardcoded US date formats regardless of the language the app or website is set to. I’ve mentioned the problems with Behance, but it’s not limited to that site. The document setup screens on Photoshop, Illustrator and other Adobe applications all display dates in the Month/Day/Year order, even if you’re set to a different language. I use Photoshop and Illustrator in French. The names of the months and days change to French, but the dates are in the wrong order and the 12-hour clock appears. France does not use the twelve-hour clock. A Month/Day/Year date should never appear on any applications on this computer; my UI language is set to French and my region format is a customised one with a Day/Month/Year preference. I’ve brought it to the attention of the Adobe team, but I haven’t seen any changes yet. 

Screenshot of Adobe Illustrator's welcome page. My language is set to French. Dates and times appear as MDY with 12-hour clocks.

On the App Store, Apple thinks that the date and time format of your local store takes precedence over your own region settings if they differ. Everything related to the App Store shows US Month/Day/Year dates, even though my region format is set to UK. The Mac App Store is even weirder. The Available Updates section shows the Month/Day/Year date format, even if you’re logged into a UK account. The correct Day/Month/Year format shows under Purchased and Updated, though. Most Apple apps pick up the correct date format, though. Also, some features in the iWork apps prioritise the UI language over the spellchecker’s language. Just because I have the UI set to French doesn’t mean that I necessarily want dates to appear in French in Numbers, since my spellchecker is set to English. I’ll still take French dates over a date format I didn’t choose though. At least I picked French as my UI language. 

Update, 23 August 2018: Apple has improved the way dates appear in both the Mac and iOS App Stores. On the Mac App Store’s update page on the Mojave beta, the user’s region format now takes precedence over the user’s local store settings. The Updates section of the Mac App Store now shows the Day Month Year date format for me, even though I’m logged into a US account. Before, it forced the Month Day, Year format regardless of what my actual settings were. Since iOS 11, the app update section has respected the user’s region format. Unfortunately, review pages on individual apps still default to the local store’s settings. 

PayPal’s settings are just as asinine as Apple’s. Because of my account location, I’m still treated to Month/Day/Year dates and the 12-hour clock, despite my phone being set to display Day/Month/Year dates and a 24-hour clock. I tweeted PayPal support about the app overriding my settings. The representative told me that date and time settings are based on your account location, not your phone or computer settings. This is silly. How difficult is it to respect a user’s settings? iOS and Android make it possible for apps to detect date formatting using their own protocols. 

Date formatting in Google search is dependent on the region they’ve detected for your search results. Before they changed all the top-level domains (,,, etc) to deliver local results based on your detected IP address, the site you chose determined your date format. I’ve been using for years because it shows dates in the sensible Day/Month/Year format. When I noticed Month/Day/Year formatting on, I wondered what was going on, since it contradicted my language settings. I found out that I had to go into search settings to switch my results to UK in order to bring back my date formatting preferences. This makes it harder for me to get local results. Why can’t I get local results and have my language and date/time format preferences? Other Google products, like Docs, Gmail and YouTube, correctly use language and dialect, not physical location or regional result settings, to determine date formatting. 

Adobe, Internationalisation, Localisation

Be mindful of regional date and time formatting

This entry is related to ‘Use flexible date and time formats‘. Every region and language has its own standard for formatting dates and times. If you get it wrong, or assume that only one format exists within a language, then you may end up annoying – or worse, confusing – your users.

What not to do:

Behance, an online portfolio site run by Adobe, seems to have its date format hard-coded to the US ‘Month Day Year’ format regardless of what your language is set to. As you can see here, my user interface is temporarily set to French. The date says ‘Membre depuis le mai 11, 2013′ (member since 11 May 2013). This is wrong for French; it should be ’11 mai 2013’. If you’re going to have non-English text on your site, do not hard-code the month/day/year format. In most languages, the month does not precede the day; they use a logical format from smallest to largest (day/month/year) or largest to smallest (year/month/day). This is from Adobe, not a tiny company run by two people with a lot of work and very little time. We’re talking about a multi-million-dollar company with enough time and resources to get this right.


A screenshot from the online portfolio site Behance. The site is set to French. The bottom text says 'Membre depuis Mai 11, 2013'. This is incorrect for French.

Actually, even if your site is only in English, you should still be careful about date formatting, since the English-speaking world doesn’t use one date format. Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and most other English-speaking countries use the day-month-year format; the US, some of English-speaking Canada, the Philippines and Belize use month-day-year.

Even if your site is going to be used only in the US, there may be the likelihood that your site will be written in Spanish, or in some regions, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese, Arabic or another language spoken by a large immigrant population. The same rules still apply: make sure your date-formatting system can accommodate these languages.

Just don’t hard-code month/day/year. It’s culturally insensitive. If you’re going to hard-code any date format, hard-code year/month/day.