A comment on the horrible state of typography on the web

28 Sep 2006

The state of typography on the web is atrocious. Currently we are limited to a small handful of typefaces/fonts that are truly cross-platform and they are the same fonts that have been around since the beginning of the World Wide Web. The fact that the major software developers and companies such as Microsoft and Apple have yet to make any sort of improvement in this area blows my mind.

In the last 10 years of movement towards more online connectivity and inter-operability there has been several updates to Mac OS X and at least one or two Windows updates with many, many service pack and minor updates to both systems. How is it possible that in all of these updates there have been no advances made in giving the online community additional resources in the area of fonts?

To me this is especially confusing since both Apple and Microsoft are making huge efforts to attract large online audiences for their online products and efforts. In the grand scheme of things the online portion of their business is quite small but you would think that even the designers working for both companies would have made enough noise for either company to start including a larger variety of fonts available on the opposite system — even one or two would be nice.

Some developers and designers have started an open letter campaign to Microsoft, Apple and Adobe in an effort to raise awareness of the issue. The problem seems to be licensing and, to some degree, there's probably some greed or communication issues involved somewhere as well.

The reason for this comment

In the recent past I have received the new Microsoft web fonts that were specifically developed for use on Vista for web developers to use. These fonts have been getting some great reviews from various sources and I wanted to try them out. While working on a new client site I decided to use Calibri, on of these new Microsoft fonts.

After creating all of the CSS — specifying Calibri as the main font with Lucida Grand as a backup — I was very pleased with the effort and look of the website. Then I started sending it to the client for review and was asked to fix several type errors that included orphans — single words being forced onto a new line — in the navigation and small gutters between columns to name a few. Since I couldn't see what the client was referring to I asked for a screen shot and this is what I received a screenshot similar to this:

Text size with Calibri not installed

Whereas, since I had Calibri installed, this is what I was seeing (images may be a bit fuzzy due to resizing to fit in this column):

Text size with Calibri installed

Immediately after noticing the fairly significant difference in size between the two typefaces I asked myself how, when using the same size definitions in my CSS file, there could be that much of a difference?! At this point I don't have an answer. This does show that on the surface some improvements seem to be happening we've still got two major problems:

When will companies like Adobe, Microsoft and Apple work out some sort of solution that will give the online community more than five, generic choices of fonts for use on the web? I don't know but hopefully it will be soon, for all our sakes.

comments powered by Disqus