Typeface Characteristics

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Because traditional typefaces were difficult to read on computer monitors, special typefaces such as Microsoft’s Verdana were designed specifically for the computer. The Verdana typeface family were designed by Matthew Carter and hand-hinted by Tom Rickner, to "address the challenges of on-screen display" (Microsoft, 1997). The new font was stripped of all features that were redundant in other typefaces when viewed on the Web.

"The balance between straight, curve and diagonal has been meticulously tuned to ensure that the pixel patterns at small sizes are pleasing, clear and legible." Carter focused on commonly confused characters such as the lowercase i, j, l, the uppercase I, J, L and the number 1, to give each one maximum individuality. Another reason the Verdana font achieved greater legibility on screen was because it allowed more spacing between characters. When traditional fonts are reduced to small sizes they appear as dense blocks of colour; Verdana re-addressed this issue. At equal font size, Verdana appears much larger.

The reason why some viewers are unable to see fonts the way website creators intended is due to the fact that file formats don’t actually save fonts in the file itself. If a font is to be displayed properly it must be installed to the user’s system font directory. If the font isn’t installed, the browser will select a default typeface to display the text. Times and Courier are pre-installed with just about every browser. The Mac and Windows computers however ship with a different set of fonts.

The ASCII code set on which HTML was created includes only the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet and the most basic of punctuation. Given this and the reliance, which browsers have on Times and Courier is no wonder (according to DiNucci et al, 1998) that "Web pages often look as if they were created on an IBM Selectric." Because certain characters are missing from the ASCII code set, a special set of entity codes were built in to the HTML specification. These begin with the ampersand symbol (&) followed by a number or an abbreviation. For example to insert a pound sign, the code is £. Entity definitions can be used as shorthand, as a substitute for longer phrases.

In the early days of the Web, when typefaces other than Times and Courier were uncommon, web designers had to find a way to overcome the problem so they could incorporate their elaborately styled fonts on to their web pages. HotWired’s, Jeffery Veen (1997) explains: "Virtually no typographic control was available on the Web at that time, [1994] so if we wanted to make something striking and visually compelling for our frontdoor [homepage], graphics were our only option. They found that if they created the font using an image-editing package such as Adobe Photoshop and saved their type as a graphic they could display the desired font using HTML's <img> tag.

Publication Date: Friday 6th June, 2003
Author: Ukwdc View profile

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