As you may have already ascertained using the standard rule of “If the headline is a question, the answer is no” the answer to the question in the headline is “no”, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use one.
For a long, long time the web was a barren landscape when it came to typography, we had to stick to the standard web safe font selection (Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman, Tahoma, etc). In some ways this made life easier, certainly the answer to the question “can we use our brand font for the body copy” was generally “Nope, sorry, not unless your brand font happens to be Arial”. There were many attempts to get around this typographic limitation: sIFR, dynamically generated images, vendor specific extensions, just rendering your entire website as an image, flash, but all had heavy drawbacks and were at best a little bit clunky.
Then suddenly (well over a bit of a while) web-fonts were upon us completely changing the (type)face of the web. We now have an almost unlimited number of fonts we can make use of on our websites, through Google Fonts and other services such as fonts.com we are overwhelmed with options. This is good, we can now achieve our typographic dreams and bring the text based beauty to our web-pages that we’ve always wanted.
I love web fonts, we use them often and they add a glorious touch to a website. We must however be cautious, and not just of over-excited designers plastering 15 fonts into a single design there are other factors at play here. None of these are killer issues but they should be borne in mind when planning a site.
Firstly there’s cost. Although there are plenty of free web-fonts out there many come with licensing costs (as well they should), if you’re putting together a site for a client, make sure they understand up front that they may be paying an annual license fee for that pretty headline you’ve added to the homepage. Fifty quid a year may not seem much to be paying for typographic perfection but when it’s not an expected cost it may cause unwanted friction. We recently had a client whose heart was set on a specific font which was going to cost them upwards of £100 a year in licensing.
Legibility is a concern. Sticking to the traditional web safe font selection guarantees legibility (aside from poor colour/size decisions), do make sure that the fonts you’ve selected are going to be readable. An obvious point maybe but I have seen sites which have moved away from the safe path of legibility and into the brambles of incomprehensibility.
A large majority of web-fonts are supplied via a third party as a service (via a CDN), while this is generally a good thing (you don’t have to host them yourself), you are at the mercy of the service, if it falls over your fonts stop working. If it goes out of business or the service is retired (as happened to WebINK) you’ll need to update your sites to use a new provider who may or may not have the fonts you were using.
Finally, the additional load on a site. We sometimes forget sitting in our offices with super fast internet connections that not everyone else is on the same. The bandwidth cost of a font is not that high, but combined with the additional assets required by a modern website (jQuery, Analytics, etc) it all adds up, especially if you choose multiple fonts with multiple weights and styles. Think of the poor customer trying to access your website on a smartphone up the top of a mountain (come on, we all have customers trying to read our websites from mountain tops).
So, do you really NEED that web font? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it, just take care. They are a wonderful way to add a bit of style to a design but remember, the web is about exchange of information above everything else, don’t let your fonts get in the way of this.
Have you got any good stories good or bad on the use (or abuse) of web-fonts?