The Fontsplosion & Bread

Somebody at WordCamp asked a question at Robert O’Rourkes branding talk:

Is typography led RWD making web design dull – excessive reliance on type to carry the design?

Exactly What fontsplosion would this be?

Back in the good old days of Netscape, IE6, tables, and layers, we had to choose from the system fonts for our designs. You could pick Helvetica if you really wanted, but Windows didn’t come with helvetica, OS X maybe, and so arose the websafe fonts. Websafe fonts were those that you could put in your fontstack and be sure the end target had at least one. Examples of ‘web safe’ fonts include:

With the right fallback fonts you could be sure your website was rendered as intended, albeit with some variation, and a limited palette to choose from. Many such as Microsoft attempted to fix/secure this with initiatives such as the Core fonts for the web program which made Arial and Times New Roman etc freely available.

Then came font embedding. With the CSS2 spec, developers finally had a method to include more exotic typography, and we’re now seeing them abuse the hell out of it.

To see why this is happening, one need only think of this in terms of bread:

Imagine you lead a fulfilling and exciting life. Popular, rich, loved by all, physically and intellectually stimulating. You had the best house, a beautiful partner, and a wonderful job.

But you ate bread.

You only ate bread, always the same brand, always the same plate, the same size, type, texture. Never changing, with nothing on top save for maybe some button every other day. You ate no other foods, always bread. You never saw other foods, but you knew they existed, they were just out of reach. Bread was your entire diet, breakfast, lunch, dinner, day in, day out. Every meal, every bite, bread, monotonous, boring, sameness.

One day you’re taken to a restuarant, and behold:

Food that isn’t bread! Rice, chips, pork, sausages, vegtables, fruit, desserts, so much goodness, so little bread!

Suffice to say quite a lot of eating is going to happen and none of it will involve bread.

It’s also true of web fonts. From the recent mad rush for slab fonts, or the splurge of Lobster, people are rebelling against the monotony of seeing the same webfonts again and again, and with good reason.

This is a time to experiment and see what works, and I’m sure, given time, we’ll settle on a more subdued, subtle use of fonts ( probably not proxima nova ).


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