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— Aug 22, 2014 —

Farewell, web safe fonts

I've begun work on a redesign of this site (as everyone does on an almost monthly basis) and one of my aims was to see how fast I could get the site in terms of performance, what with that being the big thing lately (as well it should be).

One of my target areas would be to reduce the number of requests on a page and to minimise the amount of, if not completely remove the need for, JavaScript.

And as much as I love typography and the almost endless amount of time you can spend flicking through the likes of TypeKit just to find the right typefaces for your preferences or personality, I thought that I could make the site faster overall by passing up the beautiful web font options and resorting to web-safe fonts. You know; Georgia, Arial and the like.

I was also quite looking forward to the challenge of creating an easy-on-the-eye, readable experience with what I imagine most web designers consider to be the most basic of available typefaces. The "bottom of the barrel" as it were.

However, whilst watching a Typecast seminar recording on Mobile First Typography & Layout by Jordan Moore, I was told that:

"There is no such thing as a web-safe system font anymore."

And it's true.

Jordan has put together TINYTYPE, a compatibility table showing the available system fonts across different mobile platforms. Although, as he states in his seminar, it turned out to be more of an incompatibility table.

Without employing web fonts, we are no longer able to provide a consistent typographical style across all platforms.

And it's Android's fault.

According to Jordan's compatibility table, Android only ships with 4 fonts; Droid Sans, Droid Serif, Droid Sans Mono and Roboto. So using a small font stack like font-family: Georgia, serif; would not give me Georgia as my chosen typeface across all devices. Android, not having this font installed as a default, would resort to Droid Serif.

Obviously this isn't the end of the world in terms of web typography and the graceful degradation we've come to expect from using font stacks in our CSS. Just like the rest of the web and the incessant advances that are constantly occurring, the world of web fonts will only become stronger, more reliable and easier to use over time.

For the last few years I've only really been employing the artists formerly known as web safe fonts as fallbacks for some wonderful typefaces, I just feel a little sad that there is no such thing as a web safe font any more.

Call me sentimental, but I'm going to miss the reliable foundation those system fonts gave us, from when I first used them as the only options I had available back in the earliest days of my career, through to today, and the last moments that I can use these old friends as a trusty fall back.

Farewell old friends, I'll pop by the bottom of my font stacks from time to time to make sure you're still hanging in there.