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Typography in web design

Published on August 10, 2012
Tags: Web Design London

Typography is a discipline that has been around for as long as there have been words to read. It is all about creating and displaying the written word so that it is readable and can be understood by those who see it. Typography has developed a lot throughout the centuries, but arguably one of its biggest developments came with the advent of the internet.

Screens offer a special challenge to typography, because something that looks great on printed paper might not necessarily work so well when displayed on a screen. This means that web designers have to be very careful when choosing font and setting out written content on the internet, as to get it wrong could render a webpage unreadable.

We’ve probably all been onto websites where we have questioned the choice of font – it’s too curly, it’s too blocky, too light, too dark. As well as issues of aesthetics, which we will come onto shortly, there are very clear practical issues relating to typography. It needs to be right, not least because the majority of the internet is based around written content. When we talk of web design, the focus is often on graphics and imagery, but we can’t forget that the look of the words – as well as their content – matter too.

The main issue here is communication: webpages are there to communicate a message to us, and how successfully that is achieved has a significant impact on the overall success of the page. This means that if we’re unable to properly read what has been written, it almost doesn’t matter how good the content actually is because the aim of communication will have failed. It can sometimes seem as though typography is a largely aesthetic issue, but this helps to illustrate the fact that its importance goes deeper than that.

Another of the important typography issues we have to consider in web design is, as mentioned above, the fact that screens are very different to print. Because it is a different medium, it very often requires a different approach. For instance, the layout of the screen has requirements that you don’t have to deal with if you were, as an example, creating a promotional leaflet that you were planning to print. There are different segments of the screen to take into account, as well as the issue of display – the typography a web designer chooses has to display as it is intended to no matter what browser someone is using or what device they are using to access the internet.

The different resolutions of computer screens can also have an impact on the choice of typography; the last thing you want is for your text to appear too pixelated. We also have to consider the fact that typography is related to the issue of layout – as well as making sure everything is readable so that the content can be communicated to the web user, the typography can also have an effect on how a site is actually laid out and can influence how information is put to the web user.

For instance, the choice of a particular font might help to convey the importance of one section of a webpage, while another font might be used to put the web user in a particular frame of mind. This means that even though the selection of font has clear aesthetic links, its purpose can also be much deeper.

Staying with this idea, font can be very important for mood. Often websites are trying to portray a particular image or idea, and the typography can help with this. A professional, serious law firm for instance, might decide to use a crisp, formal font to help put their image across. A site targeted at young people might go for something a little funkier, and a site with a slight romantic angle, such as a florist or wedding-related site, might be tempted by the more flowing fonts.

As well as the look of the font, the aesthetics also incorporate the colour: does the content of the text and the overall web design demand a strong, bold colour for the text or something a little more subtle? Of course, black is a very popular choice for content that is part of a body of text, but there is still plenty of scope for creativity in choices.

Overall, typography in web design is certainly an important issue, one that has aesthetic and more practical implications. The choice of font and how it is displayed says a lot about a website, and getting the selection right is definitely worth our while.

By Chelsey Evans

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