Speak UpA Former Division of UnderConsideration
The Archives, August 2002 – April 2009
advertise @ underconsideration
---Click here for full archive list or browse below
Internet Typography �� Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Whenever I’m in a room with a bunch of print guys, I always hear at least one snicker if I put the word INTERNET in the same sentence as TYPOGRAPHY. I do believe that reaction could be justified say three four years ago. However more and more I see the web taking shape and becoming as legitimate as any of the other mediums. Firms like Fork out of Germany, Digit London and WDDG NYC are a few shops that have a good grasp of designing for the web.

I’m interested in hearing what fellow �Speak Upians’ as well as any print designers that still snicker, have to say about internet typography.

Maintained through our ADV @ UnderConsideration Program
PUBLISHED ON Jun.03.2003 BY Christopher May
armin’s comment is:

I just need some clarification, by "internet typography" do you mean Verdana/Georgia/Arial/Times typography? Or does the definition include typography by creating and optimizing images? Are bitmap fonts part of the discussion too?

On Jun.03.2003 at 09:49 AM
Sam’s comment is:

Chris, do you mean to make a distinction between internet typography (html- and css-controlled fonts) and designed typography (that is, the usual bunch of fonts appearing as jpgs and gifs) as it appears in web design? It seems to me, the use of type (say, the Clarendon on Fork's site) is not really that different on the web as it is in print--the type is the same, the use of it is good and bad in both realms. However, the use of system fonts and web-safe colors etc when dealing with system fonts on the web--this is a different kind of typography than print typography. Different controls, different technical limitations, different opportunities.

You know who one of the most influential designers on the web is today? Mena Trott. Aside from the templates for Movable Type, her general clean, airy look-and-and-feel is huge these days. Even pk hisself is affected. (Nice update, by the way, patrick).

On Jun.03.2003 at 09:53 AM
Sam’s comment is:

my question, too, armin--you posted while i was checked links, you bastard!

On Jun.03.2003 at 09:54 AM
armin’s comment is:

>you posted while i was checked links, you bastard!

hehehe... you worded it better though.

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:05 AM
Michael S’s comment is:

I think if your interested in typography, you're going to challenge yourself to express the text in an appropriate way, whether it's going to be read on paper or pixeled monitor. Between all the ways we read text on monitors today (cell, pda, computer monitor, tv etc...) and all the print formats (too many to list), there's issues that each format presents that makes typographic life interesting. Between paper and monitor I find the typography to compliment each other.

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:08 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

You can put type on paper. You can put type on screen. You can do either well, or poorly. Both have different limitations, as they are different mediums.

So, uh, yea, I guess I would just say that typography exists wherever you can place type.

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:10 AM
Sam’s comment is:

you mean the "while i was checked links" part? i have got to stop drinking first thing in the morning!

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:10 AM
Christopher May’s comment is:

...distinction between internet typography (html- and css-controlled fonts) and designed typography (that is, the usual bunch of fonts appearing as jpgs and gifs) as it appears in web design?

I leave it open for people to comment on either. I think we could also open up the discussion further to include any issues/problems/irritations that anyone has with web typography, either from an �observers’ point of view or �designing in the medium’ point of view.

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:14 AM
armin’s comment is:

No, everything except that, that was just piss poor grammar dude.

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:15 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

BTW, ANY design firm that has the balls to maxmize *my* browser does *not* have a good grasp on how to design for the web (ahem...digit).

Yea, they can flashturbate. Bravo.

WDDG seems to like to put medium grey type on a slightly less dark grey background. I call that pretty crappy typography. Pretty, but unreadable.

Fork's site. Now that's not too shabby. I like that one!

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:19 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

any issues/problems/irritations that anyone has with web typography

- low resolutoin (monitors are still woefully behind paper)

- Poor browser support (inconsitent rendering, font resizing abilities, etc.)

- Limited type options (though I personally find this a benefit ;o)

- User can overide your type choices (again, I find this a benefit)

- Still no real SVG support (other than Flash)

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:21 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

I just posed this quesiton to a web friend of mine. He did some simple HTML for me and the rag was just awful. When I asked if this can be controlled in HTML, he responded with something like "It's the internet, there is no typography.'

Type is type in whatever medium (sure there are advantages and disadvantages), treat it with respect.

On Jun.03.2003 at 10:29 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Typography on the internet is still in its infancy. Yeah, there's good typography here and there, but it's like debating typography in a phone book. Usability, functionality, and the tech parameters of the medium makes it hard to compare against typography in print.

They aren't peers, eventhough they may look like peers. Typography on the net is just a facade of the structure -- whereas in print, it is an integral component of the design.

Interactive information mapping on the other hand, is fascinating -- and a source of much visual innovations. But the organization and structural engineering of information is not typography.

And to date, I've yet to meet a pure web designer that can match typographic skills against a seasoned print designer.

On Jun.03.2003 at 11:15 AM
Christopher May’s comment is:

And to date, I've yet to meet a pure web designer that can match typographic skills against a seasoned print designer.

I totally agree with you Tan. But consider that a pure web designer would connote that they would have only designed in the web medium - which would be approximately 5-8 years of practical application? whereas a seasoned type designer could have 30 years of experience. I think that as time goes by, web designers will be better and in greater numbers.

On Jun.03.2003 at 11:26 AM
Tan’s comment is:

I used to think that there's less craft w/ web design because most typography that you can see is so crude. But now I've realized that it's only partially true. On the net, the effort of craftsmanship is weighted at 80% structure and engineering, 20% design and typography.

In print, it's the reverse. I know I'm simplifying here...

On Jun.03.2003 at 11:30 AM
Tan’s comment is:

> I think that as time goes by, web designers will be better and in greater numbers.

Definitely. The medium is here to stay -- so it can't help but improve. Software will get better, more universal type formats will be invented, and the mass audience as a whole will mature and become more sophisticated.

Pretty recently, I saw a classic NBA game on ESPN. It was a 1981 playoff game between the Celtics and Lakers. When the score popped up on screen, man the type was HUGE. The type filled the screen, the display was crude, and it was projected for about 15 seconds, which seemed like it was an eternity. I don't remember it being that way when I was a kid.

Then I watched a current NBA game on NBC. The score display now seemed absolutely tiny -- it was no larger than a thumbnail, it was on a semi-opaque, complicated background, and it flashed for about 1.5 seconds max. But the type was sophisticated, and the design was optimally designed for user experience within the parameters of the medium. As I watched, I realized how far the visual sophistication of television viewers had come. Design had both trained viewer's visual tolerances while responding to it, all while taking full advantage of technological advancements of broadcast design software.

I see typography on the web taking the same journey.

On Jun.03.2003 at 12:10 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Tan, was that the game that Larry Bird stole the ball with like a second to go, passed it to DJ in the lane, and DJ laid it in to win?

Oh man, I've got chills just remembering that game!

On Jun.03.2003 at 12:16 PM
Christopher May’s comment is:

well put Tan.

One thing that people ( and JACOB NEILSON) overlook is the realism that users will learn and adapt to systems over time. Usability practices of today will most definitely advance so that users wont have to be led by the hand through a website. What this means to us is more freedom to push the design of the interface/screen and get away from the classic hockey stick navigation model that so frequents our world wide web.

On Jun.03.2003 at 12:23 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> that game!

Yeah, what a finish. I was devastated by that game -- depressed for weeks. I used to hate the Celtics -- especially Danny Ainge. Couldn't help but love Bird though. Some great matchups back then.

What the hell's happened to the NBA now? Shame.

On Jun.03.2003 at 12:36 PM
Nick’s comment is:


I have been using Century Gothic in most of my new designs. And by "use" I don't mean within the confines of a GIF or JPG.

I think each designer should take a close look at the log files and see what OSs and Browsers their site's users have installed. From there you can determine what fonts they will have by default.

The tricky part is understanding the comperomise of the design. Not everyone will be in that 95% of your site's users who have IE5, so you have to accomodate them. Through the use of CSS this can be done with ease if you you know what you are doing.

I use Century Gothic in some key content for some of my more recent designs... 95% of my site's users will see the typography I intended them to see... the remaining 5% will see either Verdana or Georgia and maybe even Arial depending on their platform and browser.

Century Gothic is not the only font you can do this with. Both Microsoft and Apple have extensive resources where you can research what fonts your users have to make a decision on what kind of typography your site's design will use.

On Jun.03.2003 at 12:49 PM
pk’s comment is:

quick notes:

sam: thanks. i wasn't influenced so much by mena's work (i don't like it very much) as some of the sites which aspire to more literary models. trying to simplify my site into a better reading space while moving the image content to a more visually-driven environment. nobody every visited my portfolio while it was at patricking.com anyway. most people didn't even know it was there, which mad me wonder how good of a designer i really am.

christopher: the classic hockey stick navigation model

i call this "der klamp." it's an unbending vise holding content and any semblence of creative decisionmaking at bay.

On Jun.03.2003 at 01:14 PM
Su’s comment is:

Most typography on the web is bad because almost nobody tries. The main problem is that designers want an entirely unrealistic amount of control over the end result. Anything you specify on the web is a suggestion at best, which your users can do any number of things to countermand.

Factor in that it won't look the same in every browser(*gasp!*) and you have a bunch of pouty control freaks who just can't be bothered to factor in variance, or the possibility of just hiding a portion of the pretty from a given browser that will just mess it up. Rather to make everybody suffer with boring presentation instead.

For the moment, let's ignore that it's a crapshoot(because the user can override anything you say), and assume the person on the other end is using a browser that does what it's supposed to, which is slowly becoming more and more of a realistic expectation, assuming you're not one of those people who insists everything look the same in Netscape4 as in Mozilla(and if that's the case, then your unhappiness is your own damn fault):

[...]rag was just awful. When I asked if this can be controlled in HTML, he responded with something like [...] there is no typography.

Then your friend isn't trying hard enough. There are CSS properties that allow you to define letter- and word-spacing, text alignment and justification, how whitespace should be treated, and there are character entities that allow you to suggest or disallow breaking points in words. And There's More. Some of these don't work in some browsers. But guess what: You have no way of making sure the user sees the same colors, fonts, or even layout you specified, and they can turn off images wholesale or piecemeal! All arguably much more important. Get over it, and get used to it. Most developing web technology is being built with these things as basic assumptions, and even purpose, not exceptions.

With a few lines of CSS, I can specify for only the first paragraph after any second-level headers on a page to be Verdana, (crudely)justified, have a double-size Helvetica drop cap with 5px of padding around it, and for the first line of that paragraph to be automatically tranformed into lime green small caps. No typography, my entire ass.

And to date, I've yet to meet a pure web designer that can match typographic skills against a seasoned print designer.

*sigh* All together now: The Web Is Not Print. And vice versa.

Straw man, Tan. Yah, I have no idea how to tell Quark to make that ridiculous paragraph effect above. But gimme a seasoned print-only designer, and let me tell him to do it in CSS, understanding that his "page size" could expand or contract by any amount and and we'll see what happens. By the same token, print allows many elegant layout options that are simply not possible on the web right now; of course I won't match up, I have absolutely no reason to know how to use them. Different media, different rules, different requirements.

On Jun.03.2003 at 01:14 PM
Su’s comment is:

Kiran: I should add that if your friend was literally using only HTML(doubtful?), then he was pretty much correct. It was never intended to deal with presentation, and the few options available within it were shoehorned in, and badly.

On Jun.03.2003 at 01:25 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Straw man, Tan.

I like that!

On Jun.03.2003 at 01:30 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Maybe it's the blog world in general--there's a huge number of simple, clean, easy-to-read sites. I guess it started with suck.com, then mcsweeneys.net, then the deluge. The movable type templates are actually very bland, but the aesthetic is reigning supreme. I guess it's typography+lay-out, not just the type treatment.

On Jun.03.2003 at 02:03 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

the classic hockey stick navigation model

How is that different than the 'classic table of contents' or classic 'glossary' or classic 'front page newspaper layout' or 'classic business card presentation'.

My point being that if something is used to the point of it being standard, is not necessarily bad. In fact, it can be very good.

Graphic designers LOVED RayGun and drooled all over it when it first came out. But it was shitty communication design. You couldn't use the damned magazine. It shore looked purty, though.

(Good comments, Su)

On Jun.03.2003 at 02:18 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

Thanks Su, I agree. I will pass it on.

On Jun.03.2003 at 02:24 PM
plain*clothes’s comment is:

my appologies if this has been previously noted. as usual, I have little time to review the overflow of comments here.

I find it interesting that the firms offered as positive examples/role models in the original post showcase poor typography on their own sites. the only readable bit of the three is in WDDG's "news" field. I can't make any assessment of their client work, but I would hope that their own sites would present only the finest typographic detail.

as a print designer with heavy classical influences, I am very disappointed with the development of web design. typography for the web is drastically different by necessity, so a great deal of examination should be given it. in a medium where content is homogenized to such an extent, general principals of readability (rather than fashion) should be the priority.

one widespread trend that bothers me is black or grey type on white (no offense Armin, you have an otherwise wonderful site). we should all be well aware by now that a ground composed of 100% output from R, G, & B is _not_ pleasant on the eyes! I can understand such things for minimal use (such as print type reversed out of black), but for any extended reading (extended in web terms) this stylistic touch is unreasonable.

On Jun.04.2003 at 03:21 PM
Christopher May’s comment is:

I find it interesting that the firms offered as positive examples/role models in the original post showcase poor typography on their own sites.

You are entitled to your own opinions.

the organization and structural engineering of information is not typography

I think that people sometimes put induced limitations on what is �legal’ typography on the web. Many people refer to the web as a database or equivalent to a dictionary / encyclopedia. I think that is a very bold generalization to make. To me that would be no different than saying all print has to be structured like a dictionary. Granted that there are many instances where information on the web reigns supreme - but there are other objectives, audiences, and purposes that warrant a multitude of different approaches, executions, and ideas. People appreciate Mr. Carson and his illegibility in context to his insight. Why cant the same appreciation and understanding apply to the digital medium?

On Jun.05.2003 at 08:53 AM
armin’s comment is:

As a sidenote... what is the deal with Clarendon and the web? It is the latest trend in fancy-schmanzy--designy web sites. Well, I declare it a trend. And one that I'm already bored with.

On Jun.05.2003 at 08:58 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

but for any extended reading (extended in web terms) this stylistic touch is unreasonable.

True...though web sites really aren't meant for extended reading.

That said, this is really an OS-level issue. Most software these days (Word processors, spreadsheets, email apps, etc...) all default to white backgrounds...which is, as you state, an eye killer.

You are entitled to your own opinions.

Well, I completely agree with Plain...those sample sites are pretty, but unreadable.

On Jun.05.2003 at 09:24 AM
jonsel’s comment is:

At least Martha has nice web typography.

On Jun.05.2003 at 01:37 PM
armin’s comment is:

aaaaah... the power of the web.

On Jun.05.2003 at 02:00 PM