I wrote about fonts in the last post, so it's still on my mind. And it led me to thinking about one of the frustrating things about web development: keeping up with emerging technology. Now, I don't just mean myself, I mean sometimes the rest of the world is slow to catch up on what designers/developers may think is the best thing since sliced cake. (Cake is much tastier than bread, don't you think?)
I'll give you an example. If you click through the "double take" links in the right column of this website you'll see the page design slightly changes for each one — I'll refer to those as themes. If you click on the "classic view", you'll notice there's a different font used for all the text in that theme. Now as I mentioned in the last post, typography is kind of a big deal for designers. And graphic designers have all the fun because there are virtually no limitations on what fonts can be used. However, when designing for the web, we are limited to a handful of standard fonts (e.g. Verdana, Times New Roman, Helvetica, Georgia) — those that are likely to be installed on computers everywhere. Well, that gets kind of old, kind of quick. But hey, that's just the way it is.
But what if, WHAT IF, there was a way to use alternative fonts? Branding should be consistent right? Why not use your company's typeface on your website? You use it on all your print materials, so what's the problem?
The problem is, just because you have a specific font on your computer doesn't mean the rest of the world has it on theirs. The world wide web is a practice in standardization—since there are so many end-user variables that can't be controlled, standardization is necessary to be able to create sites that are functional for people in very different scenarios. It would be great if you could upload your font onto the web server and use it on your pages the same way you would upload an image and place it on your page. The biggest hindrance there is that type foundries do not grant licensing to use many of their fonts in that way. Big no-no. They'll track you down and send you off to jail. Actually, I'm not sure what the repercussions are, but it's not legal, so that's enough for me.
Enter font replacement.
There are a number of ways to incorporate a specific font onto a website. Some font replacement methods are better than others. What I've done on for the "classic view" theme is one method. It works...but it has its pitfalls. If you're using Firefox as your browser, you will see a slight flicker of the default text before the new font is rendered. Not pretty, but that's the way it works in this particular browser. There are some workarounds, but in my opinion, those are worse than the initial problem. In other browsers (Safari, Opera, Chrome, and even Internet Explorer), the pages actually render just fine. But as with most cases in web technology, there will usually be an exception, a problem child, if you will. And this time it's Firefox.
Font replacement is just one example of a great emerging technology, but with limitations that prevent it from being used to its full potential. In this case, "the rest of the world" that's holding this back happens to be a browser that renders differently, and type foundries that do not grant licensing to upload their fonts to your website. I'm not vilifying anybody (Firefox is actually my browser of choice, and type foundries deserve proper recompense), but sometimes innovation is hindered. *Granted, there are services through which you can pay to use specialty fonts on your website; part of your payment goes to compensate the type foundry for use of the font.*
If you want a website that uses a specific font throughout, sure, it can be done! But unfortunately, fancy features often come with a price...someway, somehow. When it comes to web, I love aesthetics as much as the next person, because they serve an ultimate purpose of communicating more clearly. However, my theory is function first, form second. Bells and whistles that ultimately take away from the accessibility, performance, or purpose of the site should be thoughtfully considered before deciding whether to implement.
why cake is better than bread. Uhmm, never mind.