There exists hundreds of thousands of different fonts, and the list continues to grow each day. Out of this pool of fonts, there exists the right font for your website. Choosing the right font is not as easy as it sounds, and it’s not a matter of just picking fonts from a list. A lot of thought has to go into choosing the right font based on the studies of typographers past. These faceless artists have worked hard designing type, and have established styles. Just like art, type has a history which continues to evolve. Studying type of generations past can help us to choose the right types of fonts for the work at hand…our website. This blog is a short introduction to type, and will hopefully help you in your selection.
Fonts can be placed in several different categories that have developed through time.
Generally speaking, old style was the first determined style that developed, whose earliest influence was the handheld chisel. Ancient typographers used chisels to carve words into stone at an angle. Out of this method, the traditional serif was born, which helped finish off the stone carved letterforms. Today it is argued that the serif helps readers eye flow from one word to the other, in ancient times it is likely that it allowed the artist’s chisel a smooth transition from one shape to the next. If a modern artist wanted to evoke a sense of antiquity, or stability, or timelessness, a old style font such Bembo, Garamond, or Trajan would work best. These fonts were created with the influence of ancient stone writing and hand written letterforms of the midieval period. They are among the oldest recognized designs in type ranging from about the 1400-1500’s. By this time, artists also began experimenting and lowercase letters slowly began to emerge.
Transitional Fonts developed after the old style in the period of enlightenment, where challenges to old thoughts and tradition were common, and are recorded in the history of the type. Transitional fonts are typically recognized by their shorter or thinner serif, the increased uniform thickness of stroke, and their increased symmetry. This began the slow reduction of influence typographers got from the handwritten forms of medieval times and was a transition for the complete elimination of human influence from later styles. Fonts from this area include Times, Baskerville, and Caslon. They too evoke a sense of tradition, but also take a step away from it in a slow regression of human style. Italic letters were also developed around this time to help distinguish shapes and to help create hierarchy between letters. The formality of these letter forms make them perfect for modern business and school writing. These may be good choices for a modern designer looking for a corporate look, that would make their website carry a feeling of history, yet not tied to it. This style of font gives a sense of flexibility, which a corporate company may be interested in portraying.
Block Serif or Slab Serif fonts were developed along with continued developments in print and technology. The creation of the printing press developed a market for thicker fonts that would allow for easy legibility in a large point size. They are characterized by their square serifs, block shapes, lack of stroke modulation and have a mechanical look. This type of type design is a clear cut from all humanist letterforms and can be best understood by studying the backdrop in history at the beginning of the industrial revolution. Fonts that emerged from this era include Rockwell, Courier, and Clarendon. These fonts can be easily used by a modern designer to create a design that evokes the principles of industry that existed throughout the 1800’s including firm confidence and boldness.
San Serif or Gothic Typefaces began to emerge in ancient times but were not widely adopted into print until soon after the emergence of block serif fonts. They are in effect a reflection of the thought during the Industrial Revolution, when mathematical efficiency was prized and human’s imperfect nature was not. The serif of previous styles was the last part of type design that beared any human influence, removing it was a bold step away from humanist style, removing it was to remove the fallable. Smooth, even strokes and symmetry became the standard and san serif was born. San Serif fonts were quickly adopted as headline fonts but have increasingly found their way into text copy, despite arguments against them. Fonts which have emerged from this style include Century Gothic, Futura, Helvetica, and Arial. If a modern designer wishes to create an art piece that has a modern feel, San Serif is the way to go.
Decorative fonts Have little value for professional designers. They are a modern take on classic letterforms often so abstract that their legibility is questionable. Their usefulness is limited to headline sized text and can often be so emblazoned with decoration that thier purpose is limited to a specific design. What purpose is this I speak of?…The purpose of legibility. Type was meant to be read, and classic fonts that have lasted century are those that have allowed readers to easily read its shapes and figures to distinguish meaning. A highly decorative font will cause a loss of legibility so they are never good choices. Most often these fonts can be found for free online simply because they have no value. Avoid their use and you will begin to notice a growing sense of typographic professionalism as you notice the great amount of flexibility classic typefaces allow you when used creatively.
The use of san serif fonts for modern applications continues to grow as modern low resolution screens cannot capture the neuances of delicate serifs, specially at smaller sizes. San serif fonts have therefore made themselves the font of our current century, and their use has continued to grow. Although San Serif Fonts have better web applications than serif fonts, they too have neuances that cannot be captured on screen. In short, they have not been designed specifically for the web. They are widely used because their shape holds more true on screen than serif fonts, but neither will give you better legibility than fonts designed for online viewing. Fonts such as Verdana or Georgia should be considered when choosing a font specifically for the web. These are amongst the most modern fonts available and have been designed specifically for on screen viewing. Their shape holds true with size and shape better than any other font designed for print. A designer creating a website for the elderly or the hard of seeing may want to consider these fonts for their online design. Likewise, a font designed specifically for the internet should not be used for print material, as their purpose is not being honored. A font designed for online viewing will never give you the printed results a design made for print will give. Therefore be wise in selecting your font.
This is not to say that you cannot use any font for your website. You can use any font, but if you use an abstract font that not many people use, or a font that to others may be unavailable, your purpose in your design may be lost because someone on the opposite side of the country may not have the same font so they will be seeing a substituted font in its place. This is most common in headline fonts, where you may feel that the font Impact for example may be a great choice, as it offers great weight and draws a lot of attention. If a visitor to your site does not have the font uploaded on their computer, they will see whatever similar font you have set as an alternate. What if you didn’t set an alternate? Than their system might substitute any default font, or may not display anything at all. A way you can avoid this problem is to make your font into a graphic. This will allow any visitor to see the type in the way you intended them to see it. This will help your design stay true to its original form, but you loose a great deal of potential SEO (Search Engine Optimization) opportunities. Headlines hold a lot of weight for search engines and they use it to know what your website is about. If all of your headline text is in graphic form, your website will not easily rank on search engines, and your competitors will gain from your loss.
To play it safe with your SEO rankings. I suggest sticking to a list of commonly used, browser safe fonts. Using these fonts will increase the likelihood your visitors are seeing exactly what you intend them to see.
- Times New Roman
If you still intend on using specialty fonts for certain places such as your banners or other graphics, then make sure your type is a graphic image (jpeg, png, gif) and then insert it into your website. Good SEO knowledge suggests you save your keyword rich titles for non graphic type, but if you must use graphic type, remember to add your alternate text tag in order to still be able to communicate with search engines. Actual text carries more weight than alt text, so avoid this practice whenever possible, and make as much text in your website into editable html text to increase your Search Engine Rankings.
If you want to read more into the subject of type. I suggest trying out “The Bible of Typography”: The Elements of Typographic Style, a book by Canadian typographer, poet and translator Robert Bringhurst. This book will tell you everything you need to know about typography. Be ready to take notes, it’s quite a read.
At Saba SEO in San Diego we try to provide useful information to business owners throughout the United States on how to create better websites. Our goal is to help your business grow online. With the decrease of print advertisements, purchases are being made online at an exponential rate. Be sure your company is taking advantage of this swell by allowing us to create a custom web design or by allowing us to optimize your existing site. Countless of clients agree that our services have helped to maximize online profitability. It all starts with a free website evaluation by our team. We will tell you exactly where your website can improve and we back it up with statistical data. Call us today to get started 866-937-1717.