“Web Safe Fonts Are Dead”: Font Guru Thomas Phinney Talks Web Fonts

Today, 80% of web sites still assume that fonts exist on the end user’s machine. A web designer specifies the “fallback stack” that dictates the order of fonts that the browser will check for: perhaps Verdana, then Arial, Helvetica, and finally just “sans serif.” For all of this to work smoothly, everyone needs to have the same fonts (or very similar ones) on their machines—and at one time this was a fairly safe assumption. But the world has changed, and this assumption no longer holds true.

Most of the mobile devices linked to significant growth in web browsing in recent years don’t support traditional “web safe” fonts. These fonts aren’t available on Android, Chromium or most other Linux devices—which collectively make up the majority of mobile devices sold today—just ahead of iOS. Whether you blame Google or Bill Gates, we all need to adapt to the new world order.

Where Do Digital Designers Go Now?

web safe fonts, web typography, web fonts

If you care about getting the same look and feel for a site across multiple platforms and devices, sticking with traditional “web safe fonts” will no longer do. Use @font-face, or a web font service built on it, to push your specified fonts down to the user. You’ll maintain brand consistency, and you’ll have thousands (versus hundreds) of font choices.

The many font options have been covered by HOW brand, both in print and online at length. You can opt to simply host fonts yourself using @font-face in the CSS—assuming they are free fonts, or you pay for legit licensing that is usually extra; And you don’t want to end up one of the cautionary font lawsuit tales. You will also have to deal with technical issues and changing browser requirements. Another option is using a web font licensing and delivery service such as Google Web Fonts (free fonts), or our own Extensis WebINK. If you want to control what the viewer sees and the “status quo” is no longer working, then “real web fonts” are the best solution.

The Font (R)evolution Isn’t Over

Font delivery methods and licensing models aren’t standing still. Using the web to distribute and seamlessly activate fonts for desktop computers and applications seems to be the next big thing. The Extensis Photoshop web font plug-in, and various third-party approaches, are all variations on this same theme. It’s a wild ride, so keep your eyes peeled for what happens next in the world of web fonts.

MyDesignShop.comWant more web font fodder? Check out the NEW! HOW Design University Web Type course! And don’t forget about MyDesignShop.com, where books, webinars and other materials live to scratch your interactive (font) itch.