Experimenting with Different Fonts

Your website can use a wide range of fonts these days – but you should restrict your design to a small number of standard fonts.

Time and again in the translation we come back to the issue of fonts. You may not think too much about fonts in your work and daily life, but in my business, we encounter a lot of funky fonts in the original texts we’re asked to translate, and believe me: The wrong font can go a long way towards making any project into a misery for your otherwise cheerful translation pro.

When it comes to the Internet and websites, fonts become even more important. A font is an art project, really; we all know the 26 letters and 10 numbers and punctuation marks we use in written communication, but their design can be quite fanciful even if their use is very specific. When choosing a font for your website or online project, you have to consider two things: Distribution and perception.

Font Distribution

There are thousands of fonts out there. Once you figure out how to download and install fonts, your computer quickly becomes a font haven, with hundreds or thousands available to you at any time. But a font is a local resource; it’s a file on your hard drive. If you choose a font for your website that isn’t ‘standard’ (i.e., widely distributed to just about everyone) it will look different when someone who doesn’t have that font on their hard drive views your web page. Their computer will substitute a different font, and since fonts have different weights and character widths and some fonts lack italic or bold versions, your website might wind up looking very strange indeed.

So, you should always use ‘standard’ fonts. Those are fonts that are so widely-used they’re literally on every computer in the world, and so are very safe. Those fonts are Arial, Courier New, Comic Sans, Georgia, Impact, Tahoma, Times New Roman, Trebuchet, and Verdana. Use just these fonts in your website design and your page will look exactly as intended no matter where it’s viewed.

These days you can use style sheets to better control your fonts in websites, but the fact remains it’s better to use the safe, standard fonts than crazy fonts – because of the way fonts are perceived.

Font Perception

Fonts are visual, and they have an impact on people. Take Comic Sans, a standard font that was invented to approximate the sans-serif font commonly used in comic books. A fun idea, and it’s a fun font – which is the problem. No one can take anything seriously when it’s written in Comic Sans. You could publish the bible in Comic Sans and people would laugh at it.

Some fonts are a lot of fun in short, punchy uses, like in headings, but get tiresome to the eye when used in blocks of text. There’s a reason, in other words, why we use a short list of standard fonts – they afford readability and some flexibility without being flashy enough to irritate.

Image courtesy handcutdesigns.com