Unorthodox Web Fonts: The Next Big Thing!
By Zack Rutherford
Mar 24, 2015
Live text is important to any website. The increasing importance of semantic html markup dictates an increased emphasis on live text as well. In fact, it’s of ever-inflating importance in regards to ranking with search engines and ensuring compatibility with modern browsers.
So obviously you’ve got to have fonts that meet web standards and serve user needs. After addressing these concerns, the problem then becomes one of presentation. If you want to design a website that stands out, especially one driven by written content, you can’t be using the same boring old fonts that have been around since the inception of internet text.
For example, here’s a headline I wrote in Courier New:
A Bold New Product From An Utterly Disposable Company With Little To No Creativity!!!
It’s missing something, don’t you agree? A certain je ne sais quoi…
A Bold New Product From An Utterly Disposable Company With Little To No Creativity!!!
There, that’s better.
There’s just nothing attractive about something you’ve seen a million times before. Instead of relying on traditionally “safe” (read: boring) web fonts, you may just want to try something new. In fact, you’d be jumping on an exciting new bandwagon that’s just starting to get into gear.
Novelty In Typography.
These are exciting times in the field of web design. It’s an exciting time to be alive in general, but web designers, in particular, are at the forefront of an emergent field. One that will determine the human race’s view of aesthetics for the next hundred years—at least. And if an observer’s eye can tell you anything about the direction we’re going, it’s that our collective attitude toward beauty is only growing more diverse.
One important aspect of the ongoing stratification of aesthetics is the look of the words we read. Many an unthinking erudite might not have the foresight or imagination to ever consider whether or not the shape and style of the text they read could ever affect the texture of their own understanding. The long and short of the discussion is that it most certainly can.
Almost in response to this unconsidered, yet somehow innate wisdom, comes a veritable tsunami of new, progressive, and interesting fonts. Many are open-source, free to use, and already conveniently web safe. Google’s Web Fonts API comes immediately to mind. The library is already expansive, and continues to grow.
The inverse of this free resource would be the even more exciting tidal influx of paid fonts, which understandably bring about a higher quality product than one would expect to see for free. To get truly unique work, I suppose the old adage would have to apply: you’ve got to pay to play.
Is that an old adage? Maybe I just hear it a lot. Regardless, truth is truth no matter when it’s uttered.
Anyway, the point is our little universe is expanding outward, and we have a lot of options in determining new aesthetics in website design. Of course, there’s another idiom that may be at the forefront of the dissenter’s mind: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Too true, my hypothetically antagonistic friend.
It is a valid point to bring up: why would you ever need to divert from the well-trod path of ubiquity? Why on earth is it necessary to evolve away from our troglodyte typeface origins, onward to newer paths on the evolutionary trail? In short, what can an unorthodox web font do that the run of the mill text choices can’t?
I thought you’d never ask. And if ever you did ask, I never would have thought you’d ask so eloquently.
What Unorthodox Web Fonts Say About Your Website Design.
The use of unorthodox web fonts serves a dual purpose. It establishes you as unique, but it can also act as a bridge, solidifying disparate branding messages.
Brand distinction is an ever-present concern in web design. When you create a website, using an unorthodox web font can put your brand in unique standing. It sets your website, or your client’s (as the case may be), apart from the competition.
It also grabs user attention. The great thing about novelty is it always has an effect. Even if you pick a font that a particular user can’t stand, if it’s new and different, it’ll have their attention. Any publicity is good publicity, as they say. Even so, it’s better to get a web font that’s attractive as well as unorthodox.
Finally, unorthodox web fonts just aren’t boring. Run of the mill fonts can get old in a hurry. Your users want to read content on a website, not a novel filled with volumes of similar typeface. Seeing something for the first time always carries an element of excitement and intrigue, even if it’s for something so commonplace as words on a page.
Perhaps of even greater interest though is unorthodoxy’s ability to complement your branding, while still making it stand out. After all, if your on-page text matches your logo, that’s all to your advantage.
Which brings us to our next point.
While standing out is important in its own right, we can go in the opposite direction as well. Perhaps you want your text to fit in, not with other brands in the same niche, but with a theme, concept, or idea. Fonts can display emotion, tone of voice, and even points of view. Choosing a unique or creative font will add a little bit of quirky flair to your text that can influence the way a reader interprets your messages.
Unorthodox web fonts can add an element of uniformity that when manipulated correctly. As I mentioned, picking a font that matches your logo is a great idea for a header. Supplementing that font with another that’s in the same family for the body text will only add to the aesthetic.
Such an effect can be very difficult to duplicate without actively trying, which would be plagiarism. This prevents your web font choices from becoming ubiquitous. In other words, it’s just one more element in your work that makes you stand out as an outstanding designer.
Problems With Unorthodox Web Fonts.
As with any progression in human history, there’s a push and a pull, a give and a take, a dynamic force and its static resistance. Unique web fonts bring about unique problems. As I’ve stated, there’s an impressive amount of diversity running rampant throughout the web font world at the moment, the textual dark matter slowing down this expansion is simple confusion.
This confusion exists in two states: human comprehension and technological progression (or the lack thereof). On the one hand, not all fonts are all things to all people. In other words, more than a few fonts out there can be hard to read, and some have a harder time than others. What might appear simple, legible, and clear to you, may more resemble scribble and squiggly lines to someone with a less educated eye.
The Tech Isn’t There.
On the other hand, technology hasn’t quite been able to catch up to the speed of creativity. There are untold numbers of fonts in the world. Thousands at least, hundreds of thousands likely, and possibly millions. How many do you think are actually “web safe?”
You might need to reinstall Windows 98 to find out for sure. *Rolling my eyes so hard I develop astigmatism.
The truth is, many users won’t support the unique font of your choice just yet. And until we find a way to instantly render new typefaces as they’re conceived across all platforms, there will be a time lag between the distinctive look you want and the full apprehension and appreciation from all of your individual viewers.
Which isn’t to say that all hope is lost. By no means! Thanks to recent innovations in @Fontface, 3rd party hosting/licensing services (like Google fonts API), and Font stacks the amount of people who can easily and actively support an absolutely insane number of typefaces is greater than ever before. That being said, there’s still a long way to go before your most obscure font choices can be viewed as prolifically as your standard Sans Serif.
Too Much Of A Good Thing…
…is almost always bad. The problem with using a wacky, wild, and way-out web font is it can get to be irritating in very short order. That’s why their use is often relegated to headlines to grab attention, or small blocks of text to keep the typography from going stale.
It’s not impossible to find a fun and fantastical web font that can be as easy on the eyes after a thousand words as it is after ten, but you’ve got to be cautious. The ever-popular choice for the cautious web designer is usability testing. So if you’ve got the time and the budget, let your font choices run the gauntlet of public opinion and see how they hold up.
Oh, and it’s also possible that you could choose one of the world’s worst typefaces.
Wild Web Fonts That Are Sure To Stand Out.
Now we get to the good stuff. Those wild and crazy fonts that will hook user attention and drive their engagement as well. First though, a quick disclaimer. These are not fonts for all occasions. Don’t be a dunce and just take any font that meets your momentary fancy. Choose a font that’s appropriate for the occasion, one that matches the mood or theme you’re trying to go for in your design.
Obviously, Bernard MT Condensed should not be the font choice for a blog about kittens. Can you imagine?
How wildly inappropriate. I guess it kinda makes sense if you read it in a British accent.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system we can move on to the important matter of looking at some lesser-known, and soon to be better-loved, web fonts.
Abolition. Serious, stylish, and mildly subversive. Abolition is a distant cousin of fellow Hold Fast Foundry creation, Bourbon (which is also worth a look). It’s a sans serif with an outspoken, commanding attitude. Perfect for ordering executions, or perhaps spreading propaganda about the barbarian hordes that are bound to invade our quaint society at any moment.
Lust. Woo. Is it get getting hot in here? There’s no other way to say it, so I’ll just go for the gusto: this is one sexy mother****ing font. Luxurious curves, immaculately thin lines, and serifs for days give this typeface that perfect hourglass physique that makes a fella feel like howling at the moon. I’m getting all nervous and sweaty just thinking of more descriptions, so it’s probably best for everyone if I just move on.
Typometry. Geometrically inspired, Typometry is line heavy and mathematically beautiful. Each letter has its own sort of sublime symmetry that speaks to a robotic and tech-savvy usability. Fairly obscure, and free to download, Typometry looks like the font of choice in a Kubrickian futurescape. It’s probably best utilized as headline for an article about how the government faked the moon landing.
4. Metro Nova.
Metro Nova. I had to take it up a notch to match the otherworldly quality and obscure appeal of number three, so here’s a whole family of fonts, that isn’t the least bit new or psychologically numbing. It’s simple, minimalist, and goes great with any sort of flat design as well as an abundance of white space. With 26 fonts in the family, it’s also highly versatile.
5. Zombie Sunrise.
Zombie Sunrise. Confession time. This font’s insanely awesome name may have more to do with its inclusion on this list than anything else. Even so, it’s still an excellent homage to the early Romero film posters that titillated horror fans long before zombie flicks became so en vogue.
You should download it so your viewers can feast their eyes, rather than be feasted upon.
What do you think about the future of unorthodox web fonts? Let me know in the comments.
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