Web Fonts: The Time Has Come

Loose notes from SXSW 2010 session Web Fonts: The Time Has Come

On panel: Bert Bos, member of w3c, co-father of CSS; Jeff Veen: founder and CEO of TypeKit; Stephen Coles (Typographica); David Berlow (Linotype and Bitstream); Roger Black (typographer 15 years).

We’ve had 15 “lean years” (Verdana, Helvetica, etc.). We “made do” with a few fonts, images, interactivity, but no typography. Everything starts to look alike. There’s no branding.

Led by webkit consortium, all the top browsers have a adopted W3C’s standard @font-face.

And target matters. You have to send the right font to each combination of browser and operating system. We have very little control over rasterization, so we need to use fonts that work under a wide variety of browser/OS rasterization methods.

October 1994: The author-reader balance. Previously, styling was all in the hands of the reader; the author had no control. Now most users aren’t even aware that they control the appearance – the options are submerged.

@font-face {} didn’t come along until CSS level 2 (1998). The question was still “How to let the author’s fonts appear on the reader’s screeen?”

EOT was opened up by Microsoft, adoption started to creep upwards. A very good standard, really. Thanks to MS for this. By end of 2008 EOT was looking really good.

But EOT was not loved by Webkit, Opera, etc. Web Open Font Format (like compressed OpenType wbut with a new header). So it looks like WOFF is the way forward.

Veen: 600 years of typography were chucked when we started on the web. After 15 yrs we got to a whopping 18 fonts.

MS tagging behind on font support… they’ll embrace open standards in a proprietary way.

Many font foundries outright forbid the linking of their fonts. TypeKit is a centralized service so that typographers can have a bit of control.

NYT, WSJ, Harvard Business Review, Mena Trott’s “Sew Weekly” doing wonderful stuff with TypeKit.

Fonts were never conceived as something that would be shot around the network at very high speeds. At places like Google, bandwidth matters so much – you can put dollars on performance.

Internationalization? Almost no fonts include every char in the unicode spec, and if they do they’re many megabytes. No way to load this reasonably in anything like real time.

Gruber: The fonts you’re allowed to embed aren’t worth using and vice versa. But that’s changing. Fonts designed specifically for the screen are becoming viable. FontShot specializes in this.

Some of these custom fonts look outstanding in form fields.

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