The days or our lives

Today, browsers support Web fonts, and we’ve got the valid CSS to make the fonts work. Of course, as old browsers changed and new browsers (and extended font families) emerged, valid CSS became an ever-moving target.

On the DIY side, a big “Thank you!” to Paul Irish, who gave us the “Bulletproof Syntax” to fool Internet Explorer (IE) into loading the correct font file (remember using a smiley face for the local font name?); to Richard Fink, who gave us “Mo’ Bulletproofer Syntax” to fix a font-loading problem in Android; and to Ethan Dunham, who gave us the “Fontspring @font-face Syntax,” which even works in IE 9. You all thoroughly explained why your syntax works, which enabled each to pick up where the other left off. On top of that, Dunham, your @font-face generator brought valid syntax to those of us who (please, I beg of you) just want our fonts to work.

Web font hosts such as Typekit and Fontdeck deserve a shout out, too. You worked to support multiple weights and styles of a font family cross-browser. Your variation-specific font-family names (which is a shorter and sweeter way of saying, “Hey everyone, you need to use a unique font-family name for each weight and style of a family”) require longer CSS, but they are valid and allow more than four weights and styles to load in IE 7 and 8. Those of us who can’t live without light, regular, bold, extra bold, and black weights are in Web font heaven!

One aspect that Lie missed in his article was the need for more Web fonts — how could we take Web design to the next level if we didn’t have a lot of fonts to use? This, of course, meant that you had to gain the trust of the type design community.

Web designers — especially those of us who care about type and are trying to be thoughtful about the fonts we use — need more than access to thousands of Web fonts. Frankly, we need access to high-quality, appropriate Web fonts. And we need to be able to find them.

We’ve visited your websites. Some of you have thousands of fonts for us to use. But you know what? More isn’t always better. Sometimes more becomes more-stuff-to-wade-through-to-find-what-I-want. In 2010, a New York Times article, “Too Many Choices: A Problem That Can Paralyze,” reported on the debilitating effect of too many choices. Too many choices make it harder to choose. How do we know our choice is the best one? How do we know it’ll fit when we go for a hike? And if it does fit, how do we know another one won’t fit better?

Benjamin Scheibehenne, a research scientist at the University of Basel in Switzerland, suggests in the article that debilitation comes not only from too many choices, but also from a “lack of information or any prior understanding about the options.” Hmm. While we’re at it, how do we know it won’t shimmy on the highway?

You’ve given us thousands of Web fonts. Now give us useful information about the options. Help us understand them. Help us ascertain which ones will work best for us. Which ones will work for a particular project. Which ones hold up cross-browser. Which ones will integrate seamlessly in our workflow.

Most of you show us how your fonts will sort of look in context. You give us just enough to see whether a font might be appropriate to use (“Hmm, this one is a slab serif, so it might work.”), and you help us to eliminate those that definitely won’t work (“Nope, I don’t want such a round-looking font.”). OK, that’s a start. But that’s not enough.

Take a page from history. Before type went digital, printers and type designers sold their typefaces to clients by showing how they looked in context. They’d provide broadsides or books, often setting each typeface in paragraphs at various sizes. They’d show available weights and styles of each family. And because the specimen sheets and books were printed, publishers and designers could see how the typefaces held up when the ink hit the paper.

You had to protect the fonts.

Remember when type designers wouldn’t design or provide Web fonts without the guarantee that their files were secure? Typekit, your article “Serving and Protecting Fonts on the Web” (2009) laid out how you set up hurdles to “discourage casual misuse” and created a reasonably secure system for serving fonts.

Thanks to everyone’s tenacity, at some point in the last four years, “reasonably secure” was enough for type designers to take a chance. And now they’re hooked. In a recent interview, Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones of H&FJ said: “We’re requiring that every new project have a way to thrive not only on paper, but on desktop and mobile screens.” How freaking awesome is that?

So, in the span of only six years, you’ve come a long way, baby. Web font syntax is valid and supported by most browsers (our fonts load!); we have thousands of Web fonts to work with; we have multiple options to deliver Web fonts (DIY or through a service provider; and free, monthly, yearly or a one-time purchase); and you are constantly improving your services, so Web fonts are easier to implement and they (usually) load seamlessly!

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