What are great fonts for information-heavy data tables?
I'm designing a web application which has lots of data tables with business information both as numbers (sales, hours etc) and text (product names, region names etc).
What fonts are great for dense information displays? I've played with usual suspects like Helvetica, Helvetica Neue and Tahoma, but are there others that would add a splash of unique feeling, but still would be an excellent choice for displaying tabular data?
Typically with lots of data you're looking to do two things:
- Cram lots of data into a limited space, and/or
- Make it readable.
If you get both, that's ideal.
When it comes to the "safe" web fonts, I think that Tahoma tends to be a little more vertical and thus can get more data squished in. Typically Verdana and Georgia are regarded as the most well-designed of the six or so; Verdana in particular is very readable but takes up a lot of width to do so.
Depending on who's using the site, you should definitely take a look at Calibri. Microsoft's ClearType fonts are well-designed, fairly well-regarded, and not ubiquitous enough to be annoying yet. Calibri is modern, made for the screen, and is pretty narrow - a good compromise. If you need something monospace, look at Consolas over Courier New. ClearType should be pretty well saturated by now; anyone with Vista or a version of Office that's 2007 or later (2008 for Mac) will have them. And apparently you can get them freely as well; Wikipedia has more on this.
If you're looking to buy, check out FF Info. Haven't used it but it has a good pedigree and seems to be well-built for lots of data.
And, as Joonas commented, fonts aren't the only way to make something readable. Watch your line-spacing and cell padding, stuff like that. It can make a world of difference.