Re: How to decide which font to use for website

Subject: Re: How to decide which font to use for website
From: Arlen P Walker <Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- jci -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Thu, 04 Nov 1999 10:12 -0600

>The second is that Netscape has a technology called "Dynamic Fonts" that
>lets you attach a font to an HTML document, after converting the font to a
>special format. However, since this solution isn't cross-browser
>compatible, it isn't used much.

The technology is actually Bitstream's. Netscape ships it in the browser, and
I'm told there is (or will be soon) a plug-in for IE.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft also has a downloadable browser font technology.
Yep, you guessed it; it doesn't work with Netscape, though there are rumors of
a plug-in for Windows/Netscape (no Mac version on the horizon at all).

<sarcasm>Of course, neither font technology works in any other browser. Aren't
we *so* glad the browser makers are so supportive of standards?</sarcasm>

As for the font face, there's a fine line to walk there, and it's hard (at
least for me) to give absolute advice. On the one side, there's the factor of
user preference; one of the strengths of the web is the control it gives the
user over the viewing experience. But, if we hew to that line, we may as well
toss out style sheets and everything we know about page layout.

If we accept the premise the user is in full control, any sort of layout beyond
paragraph markers becomes an affront to that control, and should be expunged.

OTOH, if we accept the premise that the designer is in control, we're just
publishing paper on a less permanent medium. We might as well put everything in
PDF's and use our traditional layout software.

I see the web more as a partnership, where the designer makes suggestions and
the user listens and accepts some while rejecting others. (For my part, I
*hate* small print, and since PC web designers are usually blissfully unaware
that their platform of choice magnifies fonts, PC designers are the typical
target of my annoyance.) It's foolish to assume there is one optimum font or
font style; one of the reasons there *are* so many fonts is that different
people react differently to letter shapes.

Test your font choice. (Remember to include machines in the test which don't
have ATM or other font-rendering aids on board.) If your pages use CSS, this
isn't hard. Just specifiy your body font in the site style sheet file (you *do*
use a site style sheet, rather than individual style sheets for each page,
right? Riiigght?) and let people look at the site. Then change the font in the
CSS file and try again. What fonts are easiest to read will vary with culture,
habits, and eyesight. Map those variables to your audience.

My own preferences? I've long been in the sans serif head / serif body camp,
but I'm testing the borders of that right now. I brought that attitude with me
from print, and I'm not so sure it translates to low-res media very well.

But remember, whatever font you select, your audience may not have it
installed, so be conscious of what the page looks like in other faces. And even
if you insist on one (or both) of the font downloading schemes, your page will
render first in the default font, so that will still be the first impression
your page will make.

Have fun,
Chief Managing Director In Charge, Department of Redundancy Department
DNRC 224

Arlen -dot- P -dot- Walker -at- JCI -dot- Com
In God we trust; all others must provide data.
Opinions expressed are mine and mine alone.
If JCI had an opinion on this, they'd hire someone else to deliver it.

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