Atlantis May Not Exist, but Custom Fonts Finally Do

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Web pages have never really lived up to their design potential. Blame it on the fonts: Browsers have had access only to those installed on the user’s computer, so designers aiming for cross-platform consistency were stuck with a miniscule selection of generic typefaces — initially Arial, Helvetica, Times, and Courier. Microsoft tried to address the deficit in 1996, when the company began widely distributing Web-targeted, screen-optimized fonts such as Verdana, Georgia, and Trebuchet.

But that was 14 years ago. And we’re still living with a Web that speaks in about a half dozen fonts. (Sure, you can use any typeface you like in bitmap images, but bitmaps aren’t parsable by search engines.)

Thankfully, this era of restricted design is coming to an end, and the Web is about to become a lot more beautiful, thanks to the Web Open Font Format. WOFF provides a way to deliver any font a designer desires in a compressed package optimized for browsers. And WOFF fonts don’t live on anyone’s personal computer; they live on Web servers, ready to be downloaded and displayed by capable browsers such as Internet Explorer 9.

You can find a great demonstration at Lost World Fairs, styled by a group of graphic designers who’ve dubbed themselves Friends of Mighty. At Lost World Fairs you can visit three designscapes for imaginary events, two of them retro (El Dorado in 1924, Atlantis in the ’60s), one futuristic (the Moon in 2040). All the content is plain text typeset with WOFFs, showing off not only the striking faces licensed for use on the site, but also some new methods for rotating type and adding decorative elements.

The site’s font licensing is handled by Typekit, a subscription service open to all and offering hundreds of Web fonts. Customers include not only Friends of Mighty but also The New York Times, Twitter, and Last.fm.

This story, "Atlantis May Not Exist, but Custom Fonts Finally Do" was originally published by BrandPost.