Evolution of Typography in Web Design

What is typography?

The power of typography in web design is often overlooked. When a designer chooses a specific font, it has the potential to go beyond a simple element or a subtle enhancement, it has the ability to tell a story on the page. Typography has come a long way in all types of media like movie posters, package design, video game covers, print design, and of course the world wide web, to name a few. But what exactly is typography? Typography is a technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and aesthetically appealing when displayed.

At the beginning of a great design, the most important questions to ask are, “what do you want to say and how do you want someone to feel when they first see your website/design?” These questions have created waves of creativity within the design community for decades and there is always something unique and interesting being made by modern artists. I love that typography has the power to evoke different emotions when used in web design and that there is always the perfect typeface to suit any medium of design.

The evolution of typography

The use of typography and the range of availability for web designers have come a long way. It used to be that graphic designers only had the luxury to play with unique styles of lettering and interesting displays. But for years, everyone has become more and more accustomed to the digital experience. Graphic and web designers now team up to create the most artistic and fun designs while still pushing boundaries to create something new.

New hardware, new problems

By the mid-1980s, the personal computer was the next big thing and that meant that ordinary people were interacting with digital interfaces more and more. This was the very beginning of solving any and all typography issues that came from reading on these new amazing devices. As with all great inventions, the best ideas all started with a problem that needed a solution.  

Adobe, a front runner in innovation and problem solving, created something called PostScript. PostScript converted font information for digital display for printing a smooth, vector-curved output. This is when 300dpi set the standard as high-quality typesetting. Fast forward to a new invention called PageMaker. PageMaker was the first-ever desktop publishing program with the ability to choose from a small selection of typefaces that could go to print. 

picture of the first computer and font stuff - typography
Fonts with different sizes and font file types

True Type vs. Open Type

Have you ever visited Google Fonts? It’s an open library of a huge selection of free web fonts that are available across all web browsers. You may have seen font family downloads named TTF and OTF, these are two of the most come font file types. True Type (TTF) was developed by Apple in the late 1980s. It can be resized without losing quality and looks the same when printed as it does on the screen. The TTF is the most common font format used by both Mac OS X and Windows platforms. Open Type was built using True Type as the more modern and scalable choice. It was a format for vector fonts developed by Microsoft and Adobe Systems in the mid-1990s.

These two types of font files may sometimes seem confusing but it all boils down to what it is you are looking to accomplish with your design project and whether you want to print from the web or not. These files have made the creation of more modern typefaces achievable and the software that is used to design and create are continuing to be more powerful than ever.

Enter Steve Jobs

With the proper hardware and font files, all that was left was to design a variety of easily accessible fonts that anyone could use while creating basic tasks for the web. Typographers took on the challenge of designing attractive and readable computer-based typefaces. Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and a collaborator named Father Robert Palladino, met during the year Jobs studied at Reed College in Oregon, where Robert was highly skilled in calligraphy.

Palladino taught Jobs a series of skills and techniques revolving around the importance of aesthetics and design. Whilst Jobs was working on his early projects he needed help cultivating the right kind of typefaces that would complement his systems. He soon hired Susan Kare who is best known for designing fonts that represent the likeness of  “Chicago,” “Geneva,” and “Los Angeles.” Most of us are familiar with the resulting fonts named: Courier, Helvetica, and Times.

A bunch of fonts developed by susan kare
A modern font photo - typography

An endless library of modern typography

It is so exciting for me to browse font libraries because there is always something new to discover. With the basics of typefaces already defined by past typographers, it is interesting to see how modern typographers are breaking the rules and coming up with new ways to display headlines.

There are many outlets to browse through when looking for inspiration. Dafont and Font Squirrel are two of my favorite resources and to keep updated with what’s new, there are even awwwards for some of the most popular and well-loved fonts. You will never see comic sans listed as one.

I’ll leave you with a few of the most hated web fonts used today

These fonts may have once been a little too loved and overused and now are on every designer’s hate list.

Comic sans is a hated typeface
papyrus a hated typeface
courier new hated typeface
times new roman a hated typeface