I <3 Typography
Fri Jul 10th 2009, 5:27pm
For a while I've been reading I Love Typography, which describes itself as a means of bringing the subject of Typography to the masses. I am definitely part of the masses, I know I don't have the critical eye and patience needed for good page design, as made evident by my site with its uninspired look, horrible colors, blocky layout, and general failure to render properly in any browser but Safari. But as I Love Typography says, it is truly inspiring at times to see these beautiful fonts and what people have done with them. Each article showcases numerous typefaces and sometimes works of art created with them. It's a fascinating read on a beautiful topic I now realize I know so little about.

One humorous thing that's stuck with me is the professional typography community's distaste for Arial. Why hate Arial? As an outsider reading about it, it seems like one of those things that really only those in the know, know. One detailed explanation can be found here. About the closest thing I can compare it to is why do computer hackers generally hate Windows and love Linux--you really can't explain that to a normal person who uses Windows for normal stuff, and it generally works just fine. On the surface, the whole Arial thing has to do with it being a notably poor knockoff of Helvetica, the beloved font of designers everywhere. While it was created to be a drop-in replacement, certain things about it are subtly different and look ugly to the trained eye. Compare Arial on the left to Helvetica on the right, and judge if you think one is better than the other (you might read How to Spot Arial first):
serif serif

I'd have to agree that Arial's R is indeed, well, rather pointy and unattractive, like a pirate's peg-leg or something. Since learning about this, it's become fun to try to spot Arial when used in various everyday places. For example, one of my favorite magazines, Discover, uses what appears to be Arial on their web site and on the top of every magazine (the 'R' is the dead giveaway, as well as the 'C'):
Discover brand

Compare this to what I created in TextEdit with Arial Narrow, it looks like all they did was squish it together a bit:
Discover written with Arial Narrow

It's easy to get carried away. America's Most Fonted: The 7 Worst Fonts describes several fonts you should never use, including Comic Sans and Papyrus, which (ack!) I think I had on my wedding invitations.
Papyrus

If nothing else, this shows how easy it is as to make what more trained eyes would see as a n00b mistake when it comes to design. Hire someone who knows, when it matters.

In the news recently, Firefox 3.5 joins other browsers in supporting the CSS tag @font-face. Designers can now instruct a visitor's browser to download and use specific fonts on your page, which seems great, given the otherwise unpredictable and varied selection that otherwise exists by default. Again, it's highly browser dependent, but with Firefox now supporting it, there's a good chance a fair percentage of your audience will benefit. I switched the heading at the top of every article to use a cool looking font, Graublau Sans Web (freely licensed), with the following css:
@font-face {
  font-family: "Graublau Sans Web";
  src: url("http://www.kehlet.cx/fonts/GraublauWeb.otf") format("opentype");
}
@font-face {
  font-family: "Graublau Sans Web";
  font-weight: bold;
  src: url("http://www.kehlet.cx/fonts/GraublauWebBold.otf") format("opentype");
}

#articleHeading {
  font-family: "Graublau Sans Web", "Lucida Grande", "Lucida Sans Unicode", sans-serif;
.....
}
As you can see, it will try to use the new font first, but fall back to how I had it before: Lucida Grande (on Macs) or Lucida Sans Unicode (on Windows). And it looks like the following, compare it to what you see:
font-face tag

To much to say on this topic. Some interesting links:



Visitor comments
On Thu Aug 13th 2009, 3:09pm, David posted:
Great article. I admit that I chuckled a bit at how picky some people can be. Only to realize I am one of those people. Thanks, now I'm going to be looking for ugly R's and funky C's.


On Wed Nov 4th 2009, 5:50pm, Deb MacPherson posted:
HAH! I got it after entering on Facebook 1 >3 makes a heart, so after all you do love typography. Cool.