Designing with Web Fonts

Designing with Web Fonts
The WWW was originally built to be a text only resource. Back in the good old days, the founders of the web didn’t consider images or designer fonts a viable part of the information highway. The web was meant to be a quick and easy way to exchange information in a “plain text” format.

Then came the designers who wanted to create webpages that looked more like their print alternatives. This meant that we needed a way to add images and special fonts to the pages. Images came first, with the gif and jpeg file formats. But, designer fonts lagged behind and the web designer was limited to adding font-based graphics and FlashR to their webpages if they wanted to use a designer font.

If you design websites or just graphics for websites, text and fonts are important elements in your design. It is still almost impossible to avoid the many problems with using fonts on the web. Maybe I should say the lack of fonts on the web.

Up to this point, there was very little web designers could do about the lack of standard fonts for use on webpages. Because it is impossible to know what font files your site visitors have on their hard drive, web designers have been limited to the use of the standard Windows and Mac fonts. It is very common to see a line of CSS code such as the one below that gives the browser a few choices of fonts most likely to be on the viewer’s hard drive.

font-family: Georgia, Helvetica, Arial, "Lucida Grande", Verdana, sans-serif;

You may have heard of one solution to this problem, embedding fonts, that has been around for some time. Font embedding technology was built into Microsoft Internet Explorer as early as version 4. However, this lead to a second problem which was the violation of the font designer’s copyright. It was, and still is, difficult to tell which fonts were released under a license that allowed font embedding. Not only was it a chore to keep track of the many levels of copyright permissions, but the ease of downloading fonts from the web lead to many copyright violation issues.

Another on-going problem is the variations in the way different web browsers display fonts. Because each popular browser, and even different versions of the same browser, can vary greatly in display issues, the only fool-proof way to use fonts on the web is still to create graphics or Adobe Flash each time you want to add a non-standard font to your webpage. However, this leads to problems with search engines because these images and Flash aren't as search engine friendly as text.

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