In a satisfying moment of serendipity that web browsing allows so many of us, I found an extended discussion about recent developments about the expanding opportunities to use creative fonts on websites to follow up on yesterday’s brief history of two popular print fonts (Baskerville and Gill Sans). The development of fonts from the scribe’s quill through the Gutenberg Bible to modern desktop-publishing software and laser jet Open-type printers have been driven largely by the creativity of font creators/designers and the technical issues of building the fonts either in space or via software. Either way, the font was an integral part of the process of information-creation for the user of that font. With the development of the internet, though, the creator of the information (the blog author or web copywriter or email spammer or …) became untethered from the font he or she might use when writing the information. He or she was dependent on the fonts that the recipient had on his or her computer. Imagine the plot your favorite novel coming to you as a series of 0s and 1s, from which you decide the shape of the letters, the size of the pages, the color of the ink, etc. That ‘passive’ system (at least to the designers’ point of view) worked in the online universe, but they still wanted to regain some control of their traditional roles as font choosers, if not outright font designers. Recent developments might give them that opportunity back. But if you are not a font designer, why should you care?
Look for a website built way back in the Web 1.0 generation (way back to, say, 2000). They have survived, though they are usually rediscovered only to be ridiculed (See the original movie database, IMDB, here or a site about Irish shipwrecks here – the latter one is part of a collection at MyWebsiteBites.com). What they had in common (and had no control over) was that they had to keep the font face simple and universal. Arial and Helvetica were the first go-to fonts because one could safely assume that any Mac, Windows PC, or Linux box had those two fonts installed. Thus the website creator could be reasonably sure that what s/he designed at his/her office was what would show up on the recipient’s screen when the recipient’s browser (and collection of fonts) got hold of it.
HTML5, and the designer can now be much more creative with the uses of fonts because the new technology carries the font as part of the website’s information. Thus, if I don’t have a crazy font installed on my machine, but the web developer used it, the font’s information is carried to my computer to help me out (the font geeks out there likely know that the foundation for the technology is the ‘@font-face‘ command in CSS3).Zoom to ca.2008 and Web 2.0 and the growing development of web-font services, along with the expansion of design opportunities presented by
The discussion mentioned at the start of this post is from SmashingMagazine.com, which presents a superb list of resources about the history, development and new resources available for fonts and web development. The links will take you to designers’ blogs, font foundries for purchasing or leasing licensed fonts, and some examples of what some really creative designers are up to with the new services. The compendium has something for everyone, so we encourage you to go to the topics that interest you and your work.
Even for those who neither design fonts nor build websites – but who strive to communicate their organization’s good work to the online universe – the developments mean a unity of style and ‘feeling’ can return to your communications. That special Didot font chosen for your organization’s newsletter can also be brought to your organization’s website, which reinforces brand and ‘attitude.’ But wait. There’s more.
The development of web-based font services means that the font and the words are both conveyed across the internet. Which means that even the fanciest fonts can be left as searchable words on the website, rather than as generic images that can not be searched by Google et al. So that crazy Amoeba font from your charity’s fund-raising mailer can be used on the web page advertising the event and the blog that reports its success. Continuity of feel, message, and searchability! Not only will people find your site, they will have a seamless experience across media as they get involved with your organization’s good work.
Written by: Christopher Gardner, PhD
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