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Flash Professional Basics

Typography Overview

Type is not simply "the grey stuff that goes around the pictures." It is an important element of the communications process and far too many web designers have overlooked this in their efforts to pursue "cool". Forget cool. People visit your site to read the information. If people can't "read" the information, how can they be expected to understand it?

The web has been around for about a decade. Typography has been around since the mid-1400's. It was when type moved from atoms of lead to digits on a disk that the problems started. The rise of desktop publishing, between 1985 and 1990, also marked the decline of the typographer/typesetter. The craft, which usually involved a five-year apprenticeship, virtually disappeared and the job landed on the shoulders of the designer. When the web arrived, the art of typography essentially disappeared because, when it comes to the web, there is no typography. There is only type.

Overview of typography

The best you can hope for is the user viewing your page has Arial, Verdana, Helvetica or Sans Serif on his or her computer thanks to the <font> and <Font Face> tags. Though Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) address the limitations of the tags, they are still rudimentary when it comes to typography. Even then the older browsers below version 3 don't always render CSS accurately Fine typography, the use of fonts and typographic technique to reinforce or present a message, is now in the realm of artwork. This isn't to say that the type designer, Matthew Carter, didn't do some great work by designing Verdana and Georgia, but even these two fonts don't work all that well outside of a browser.

What happened? The pixel is a good starting point. Graphic designers who work in print media get to pack thousands of them into their images. They also have thousands of them come spitting back out at them through their laser printers and ImageSetters. We lowly toilers on the web don't get to interface with our audience in a high-resolution universe. We get to light up a hundred or so pixels per inch, depending upon the platform, as we "interface" with our audience through a computer screen. At our resolution, the fine nuances of the serif on a Times Roman "T", looks, roughly, like a serif and the distinction between Stone Sans and Univers is difficult to discern, at best. The page that looks great at a screen resolution of 800 X 600 pixels may require a magnifying glass to read at a screen resolution of 1024 X 768.

Without postscript and TrueType to help us along, enlarging type simply enlarges the pixels used to create the letterform on the screen. The result is a complete degradation of the typeface. Suddenly Times looks "blocky" and "chunky". Loops lose their smoothness. The "leg" of a "k" starts to wander. In short, the type starts to break up. Then it gets worse.

Web designers, to take advantage of vectors, deal with it by converting their type into artwork. Realizing this works, they then proceed to make a readable and legible line of type both, unreadable and illegible. They toss fonts into their work, not for aesthetic or artistic reasons. They get tossed in because they are in the font folder and look cool. A bad situation starts to become ugly.

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photo Tom Green
Tom Green

Who is tom green?

Teacher, author, raconteur. Here's a run down of what I have been up to over the past few years. My Bio.

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