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Verdana & Georgia

Until now, most web publishers and designers have lived in a chocolate and vanilla typographical world. Web browsers have defaulted to using two typefaces: a serif font for standard text and a monospace font for code.

The trouble is, the basic font choices in browsers are bland at best. Arial and Helvetica suck! They are "ugly." In fact, all the fonts that ship as default fonts on the various platforms are "ugly" What makes them ugly? Here's a short lesson in identifying the ugly factors.

Digital type is generally not well hinted (the uniform spacing between letters) for the screen. Letters often touch one another, making them hard to read—especially in very small sizes (9 pt. and below). Serifs (the slabs at the ends of lines on each type character) improve readability when printed at high resolution, but they actually interfere with readability on the screen. Italics are even more problematic and are almost illegible in many sizes and on many platforms.

For us to get a wider range of choices for type on the Web, fonts must be designed for the screen from the ground up. Microsoft took a leadership role in this endeavor by hiring renowned type designer Matthew Carter (ITC Galliard, Snell Roundhand, Charter, and Bell Centennial—the font used in phone books) to develop two screen-based font families for them.

Matthew Carter's two fonts (Verdana and Georgia) are beautifully designed for web delivery.

The differences between these font families make up a primer on what features work for screen-based typography. They were designed with a larger x-height (the size of ascenders, such as the letter d, and descenders, such as the letter g). Letter combinations such as fi, fl, and ff were designed clearly so they do not touch. Uppercase characters are a pixel taller than their lowercase counterparts when displayed at key screen sizes to improve readability. In addition, the spacing between characters is much looser, making it easier to scan quickly.

It took Matthew Carter two years to create these typefaces, and Microsoft gave his fonts away for free. This did the online community a great service, but giving away fonts won't work for people who earn their living designing type. You can read more about this subject later in the chapter when I cover font embedding.

Figure 2.59Figure 2.59 This figure shows a comparison between Carter's Verdana and its counterpart, MS Sans.

Figure 2.60Figure 2.60 This figure shows Georgia compared to Times New Roman.


Verdana and GeorgiaAn excellent article about these two fonts written by Daniel Will-Harris.

Matthew CarterAn interview with the font creator.

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