Webfonts for Print Designers

For the traditional graphic designer, there's no better time to start discovering the potential of the web.

Webfonts may be being hailed as a revolution in some quarters, but that doesn't necessarily mean we're going to see a repeat of the lawless disregard for aesthetic values and systematic thinking that marked the early wild west days of the dot com boom. Web design matured some time ago, and in a way webfonts are a natural outcome of that maturity rather than being the cause of it.

Thinking of design for web and screen as print's poorer cousin is to miss the point that, some time ago, the paths of the two disciplines diverged. The web design and development community haven't been working on the implementation of online typography so that screens can now behave more like paper — although, should that be the desired outcome then no one will complain — but instead have recognized that the lessons learned through centuries of creative typographic endeavor shouldn't be lost in the transition to more flexible, dynamic, portable and interactive modes of reading.

For traditional designers interested in the point of view of web developers, the way to think is in terms of search optimization, accessibility and scalability — all concepts that no longer need to be compromised on (or fought over), since webfonts allow for live text almost anywhere your website uses written language.

In the print world, a designer would buy a license for a font family, either as a one-off cost directly associated with a project, passing that cost onto the client; or they would view their fonts as they would their production software and build the purchase of font licenses into their studio's running costs. Webfont licenses will mean designers do far more of the former, in that a license can only be associated with one site owner — effectively making the site owner the licensee, not the designer. The good news is that with MyFonts, that's a one-off design phase cost rather than an ongoing fee like a hosting service or a domain name.

Finally, designers educated in the hands-on, rigorously controlled and atomically precise world of print, must learn to let go: Even though it's now possible to specify any one of over 30,000 fonts for your web page, if the end user decides to set their browser to override the specified style with their own choice of font, there's nothing the designer can do about it. There could be someone out there reading your site in Comic Sans right now; if that thought horrifies you, then you have a long way to go.