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4 Fears of @font-face

The future of web typography seems to be almost here with Firefox 3.5 supporting @font-face, making web-safe fonts a thing of the past. Through CSS3’s linking/embedding of any font file, @font-face opens the floodgates to the millions of font options available to designers. The design possibilities are extremely exciting, but in the coming @font-face infancy, we can likely expect a dark period of uglification.

  1. Bad typography is too easy
  2. Illegible and annoying sites
  3. @font-face + CSS3 effects = disaster
  4. Pirates and the shipwrecked

Bad typography is too easy

A lot of bad or amateur-looking print design is victim of poor type decisions paired with improper typographic finesse. With all the choice out there, why pick Papyrus or Hobo for a menu or brochure? It happens far too often in print and now it can happen easily online with @font-face. For every beautifully crafted typeface, there are probably 10 mediocre ones, and 25 really fugly ones; the odds are stacked against us, but hopefully designers will exercise restraint and common sense.

Illegible and annoying sites

@font-face has the potential to marry beautiful typography with usable, accessible, and indexable content, but there are also foreseeable legibility disasters in this free-for-all. One of the best things about web-safe fonts, such as Verdana and Georgia, is that they are fairly cross-platform reliable, and have proven legibility. With its large x-height, giant counters, and distinctly varied characters, Verdana was designed to be read easily on-screen at small sizes. However when used in print, it sometimes falls comically flat – look at how IKEA just screwed their print branding by using this traditionally web typeface.

Techniques like Cufón and sIFR are technologically hefty, often limiting use just to headline text. Since @font-face is lightweight enough to use throughout an entire site, paragraph text styled poorly in an awkward font can easily impede legibility and annoy users. It’s not worth sacrificing access to the content just to make something look nicer.

CSS3 effects + @font-face = the internet circa 1995

Pair a little cheesy text-shadowing with a “funky” typeface and the internet has been set back 15 years. There is probably never an online situation that calls for drop-shadowed, glowing, or flaming type; we’re talking web design, not cereal boxes. Like crappy flash intros, just because it exists, doesn’t mean it should be used. Let’s hope that clients don’t get a whiff of this one and start requesting it for home page headlines.

Pirates and the shipwrecked

Though it can be argued that pirates will always find a way to get what they want for free, why make it any easier to steal fonts? If used incorrectly, @font-face can offer up copyrighted font files for free. Solutions like Typekit are taking steps in the right direction, but there are bound to be inexperienced slip-ups at first. Browser compatibility issues with @font-face may also end up leaving users on older browsers behind, viewing (in theory) less typographically rich content. It will be fun watching the online typographic revolution unfold once copyright issues are resolved, and cross-browser support is ready. Hopefully @font-face will make the internet a more beautiful place, and not like a bunch of designers got drunk on the punch and barfed typefaces everywhere.

6 Responses to 4 Fears of @font-face

  1. robotpanda says:

    This feels like a pandoras box – ugly fonts may dominate the internet! Though, as mentioned, this would just be a throwback to 1997, when everyone had their awful geocities sites. I guess we can only hope that society in general has a better design sensibility than that.

  2. Richard Fink says:

    It’s gonna be godawful at first and I’m really looking forward to it.
    For the first time in history, authors are their own typesetters.
    With the power comes the responsibility. Choose your templates wisely.



  3. Toby Lee says:

    The fonts you’re allowed to embed legally aren’t worth using; the fonts that are worth using aren’t embeddable.

  4. Marie Poulin says:


    I wonder though, how likely it is for such ugliness to take effect, when the type of people likely to make such decisions (aka the untrained) can already do so via images…?

    I’m asking that knowing full well the answer. Give people the power, and they will abuse it.

    I’m going to naively hope and/or go on pretending that those using @font-face are the trained professionals, and hopefully those choosing to make the web look ugly with ridiculous decorative fonts will have a hell of a time getting hired to actually build professional websites…?

    who knows, should be interesting to see! I am hoping it will separate the men from the boys (and i mean that in the most gender neutral way)

  5. gyo says:

    I don’t think we should worry about all the bad designers that could use funky fonts and effects on the text, because they will be easily ignored by the users.
    Just because bad designers could make a mess of fonts, it doesn’t mean the good ones can’t enjoy of the possibilities of using @font-face.

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