Type Systems, Part 1

Shhh.  Don’t tell anyone.  Visual concept is not why someone comes to your site.

Type Systems

If not for the visual concept, why do people go to sites on the web?

People use your site for one of two general reasons: To read (or view, or listen) to what is there, or to complete a task, like purchasing a ticket for a flight.

The latter general reason – completing a task – is far too complicated to get into today.  Rest assured however that this is very important to consider for any web project.  The former – to read what is there – means that the way the actual text is laid out means more to the success of your site than most other visual considerations.  And, by way of standards,  this is what I look for first in evaluating designs.

A type system is the result of the deliberate choices a designer makes to display text across a site.  The reasons a designer might choose one type face over another might be:

  • legibility : some fonts are made for big displays but would be unreadable at smaller sizes
  • history: like all designs, fonts have very human reasons for being, and connote the historical periods they were created in or meant to imitate
  • availability:  there are some fonts that are common to nearly every computer, many freely available fonts and even more fonts you’ll need a license to use.  The budget plays a big role here
  • performance:  Fonts must account for a variety of weights, styles, and usage.  Loading all the possibilities is a big drag on performance as it’s usually many files (which means many HTTP requests) and each file is quite large (since they must display all of the necessary glyphs like uppercase A-Z, lowercase A-Z, and numbers)
  • branding standards:  whatever font/s are chosen must be congruent with the overall brand of the organization that is publishing the site.

On a typical web project, it’s not uncommon for there to be a font selected for Header elements and another for body copy, and in addition to the concerns above, a designer needs to be aware of how each would pair with the other.

This is only the beginning of talking about maybe my favorite part of web design.  For more, check out Typekit’s excellent (and free!) resource here, or consider purchasing the amazing work of Yesenia Perez Cruz at Mijingo.