Using fonts on the web

This week I want to talk about typography. Well, start a discussion about typography really – as there’s too much to talk about in one post. So I’ll kick off with fonts.

When designing for the web it’s easy to forget the plethora of available fonts and stick to the old standards and favourites of the web years. Graphic renderings of fonts may look good, but are not in the spirit of the web and often cause accessibility problems. So for body copy, we are practically limited to a restricted number of fonts that are installed on most computers.

Although the main fonts used for body copy are unlikely to increase significantly in the next year or so, a greater variety of fonts are creeping into the web again. And web design is all the better for it (most of the time!).

One of my favourite sites at the moment is ‘I love Typography’, a visual feast created by Brit in Japan, John Boardley. And created is the right word, not designed, built or written but lovingly crafted. I love the design and the content is just as good.

Many typographically rich sites use sIFR (or Scalable Inman Flash Replacement). Although sIFR has been around for a couple of years, many designers have never heard of it, let alone used it. sIFR can generate small amounts of text in any font, as long as the reading browser has Javascript turned on and Flash installed. Otherwise the reader’s browser will automatically display the traditional CSS based styling.

And it’s fully accessible.

But it is only practical for small headlines of text due to the amount of processing power required to render large blocks of copy. It’s just too slow.

So what’s the future of online font display? Well that opens a whole can of worms around embedded and distributed fonts that I’ll attempt to explain in my next post.