Times New Roman (1992 – 2009)… at least on the web.

Using professional fonts for the web has been a problem for designers since the days when the Mosaic browser was being developed at my alma-mater, the University of Illinois. Here’s the problem in a nutshell: most good fonts are intellectual property, and cost money to put on your computer – as a result, there are really only a handful of universal and interchangeable fonts (Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, Garamond, etc.) that are available on all computers. This issue has restricted designers to only very specific set of fonts – if you don’t use universal fonts, nobody can read your page. Web pages quickly became pretty boring and lacked any kind of vitality. To resolve this problem, a number of workaround solutions were developed. First, designers wrote text into a photo file such as a .jpg or .gif. This was effective for about 2 years, until Google and Yahoo started scanning pages and couldn’t read the words. To the search engines, all they saw was the file name (“rc_1_head.gif” instead of “Big Sale Today” for the right column header). Next, some really smart guys worked on the problem and decided to replace the text with a small Flash file that would convert the plain text into a highly styled Flash file. This is called sIFR and is pretty commonly used today. The only problem with sIFR is that it’s kind of a pain in the ass. You have to create the files in Flash Professional (if you’re willing to shell out the cash for it), then you have to upload the files, then you have to put the sIFR code and javascript into the web page, then you do a workaround hack to include the sIFR text because search engines (still) cannot “read” a flash file so the text still wouldn’t get picked up by any search engine. It’s not impossible, but it is kinda wonky and is really not an elegant solution. Well, the next great leap in the quest to eradicate boring text from the web is coming very soon. It’s TypeKit.com and from what I have seen, it will become a dominant force for the web over the next 10 years. Its simplicity will make it accessible to all developers, and its library of highly professional fonts is growing fast. So far, it’s only in Beta testing, so it’s not widely available. But you can find out more information on their blog. Typekit seems to work like this:

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  1. Sign up for an account.
  2. Register the web domain that you plan to use their fonts on.
  3. Pick the fonts you want to use and insert a small javascript into your webpage header.
  4. Add a small CSS tag to any text that you want styled.
  5. That’s it!

You can see a demonstration of this in action on Chris Coyier’s website: http://css-tricks.com/video-screencasts/69-first-ten-minutes-with-typekit/. Chris made an on-the-fly screencast to see how it worked and to me, it’s elegant and brilliant. BRAVO to the TypeKit people for coming up with an elegant and simple solution to such a complex technical and legal problem! I can’t wait to test it out for myyself!

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