Everyone in the type world seems to be talking about web fonts, which is a bit of a bummer when you find other typographic challenges more fascinating. Nevertheless the subject has become something of a juggernaut in the past couple of years, and it's not one you can easily ignore if you're working in type. What can be frustrating, though, is how little people seem to be talking about web fonts outside the world of type design. I don't think people making and using web sites are uninterested, but I suspect they're still waiting for font vendors to say: "Right, all this stuff we have works just fine so here's how you use it."
Realistically, though, that day is far away, if it's even likely to happen at all. The ideal solutions to the technical and design challenges of web typography are moving targets, and are likely to remain so. Complicating matters a bit, font vendors are being challenged to invest an enormous amount of time and money without being entirely sure there will be a payoff at the other end.
No doubt web designers just want something that ‘works’, but my point is that the type industry isn’t enabled to instantly produce hundreds or thousands of fonts that will be adequate as text web/screen fonts. And, yes, they should be ‘adequate’. The font industry needs to communicate with the web designers what constitutes ‘adequate’. Web designers should educate themselves and not blindly implement new technologies that make the web a uglier place to be. Such technology should be let into the wild carefully, lest its supposed benefits bite its own head off.
This is the issue that's been on my mind quite a lot lately, mostly because I've been preparing a workshop around that very thing. Web Fonts: Type Choice & Type Use will be part of the Brand Perfect Tour coming to London, Hamburg, and New York in the next couple of months. I'm going to present a look at a bunch of the typographic issues involved in using web fonts. (Note that I say "typographic" and not "type design" there — this is about type use more than font creation.) I'll review what the challenges are at the moment and offer some advice about using web fonts well, but the real point is to get designers and developers to look closely at available type and how it behaves on the web, and make informed choice about which web fonts they use and how they use them.
Essentially, I don't think the use of web fonts is a seismic shift in the practice of typography. Rather, I think web fonts are yet another technological shift requiring sensitive, informed use of the typographic resources available and an understanding of the medium. Smart use of web fonts, after all, is probably the best way to figure out what to demand from the people offering the fonts themselves.
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