You might not know the name of it, but this character
| is called a pipe. It’s also called a vertical bar or a vertical line.
Don’t use them to separate words that are human readable. Not in a printed menu, not on your business card, not in your web application.
John Smith | Dog Walker | 555-1212
They’re bad for accessibility. VoiceOver reads them as “vertical line”.
They’re bad for legibility and scannability. They are meant to divide information, but are often distracting.
Pipes have special meaning in programming, and thus have made it to the computer keyboard.
Because they are a special character that’s visible on the keyboard, and aren’t hidden in a hard to find menu, some decades ago they began to pop up in text, both on screens and on paper.
There are some alternatives for separating disparate information that appears on one line.
In print, whitespace works. But on the web, multiple spaces are not preserved in HTML, and collapse to one visual space. Instead, use commas or dashes.
John Smith, Dog Walker, 555-1212
John Smith - Dog Walker - 555-1212
When it comes to dashes, don’t forget you have the choice of short
- and long
You should not use slashes either.
John Smith / Dog Walker / 555-1212
VoiceOver reads them as “slash”, and it should. But it doesn’t sound right in your email signature.
Save slashes for when they’re semantically appropriate. For example, “when the doctor arrives he/she will first ask you some questions”.
There’s always the good old period
Use of tried and true punctuation ensures universal readability and doesn’t necessarily sacrifice esthetics.