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Fonts for websites

Al Macmillan (@MacmillanArc) asked me good question today.

Q. Do you have any tips for using unusual fonts via WordPress (VAG Rounded natch), or is it a simple ‘don’t’ ?!

I like to keep things simple, so I avoid custom fonts. I’ll explain why below, but I’ll also explain how to use creative fonts the right way.

I’m boring because I like Arial

To be honest with you, I don’t think about fonts too much because I simply choose a Wordpress theme from somewhere like Themefoprest that I like. The font is part of that theme style that i’m buying. As a general rule though I avoid custom fonts and stick with Arial. I use it across all my collateral including word docs, business cards, etc. My graphic designer friends call me boring, but I have a pretty strong rationale for using it now.

Does the end user have access to the font?

When I was first designing sites and doing my business branding I experimented with all sorts of fun fonts, but I came back to a basic font for a lot of good reasons. The first is that when you use a custom font you’re relying on the person reading what ever it is to have access to that same font. You can do that by embedding the font in a PDF, or by linking to a font depository, or by using what you know they will have. If they don’t have it then you’re creative font is replaced with a default like Times New Roman. Ouch! That scenario is more offline related, but it’s part of the foundation of why I avoid custom fonts.

Custom fonts are temporary

The second reason why I avoid custom fonts is that I find them very temporary. They are fun and cute and they speak something beyond the words themselves, but I find their attraction fleeting. After a year of using a cool font I’d find myself wanting to change it and going through a complete rebranding process again. The documentary Helvetica talks about this and is well worth a watch. The font Helvitica has stood the test of time and has some form of ubiquitous longevity. It can mean everything and nothing. Its safe, its modern and readable. Some people hate it. I love it. Arial is the generic version of Helvetica. While i like the idea of a custom font for something particular, like a poster, I personally prefer a simple font for my website because its part of my business branding.


The third reason why I keep using simple fonts is that as I take my business online and use more and more web tools like Google Docs, the fonts I have access to become limited. Using a simple font means I can keep some level of consistency.


For some reason fonts don’t seem to look the same online. Italic text, for example, just doesn’t render properly. Neither do very thin fonts. And their is also a problem with small text. I’m guessing this is because of the reduced resolution of web browsers (72DPI). What ever the reason is, you want to make sure the font you use is web readable.

What if i really want to use a custom font?

Then i’d stick to fonts from font depositories like Google Fonts. This way your website can tie into a pool of available fonts. I’d avoid any 100% custom fonts (companies sometimes have these) and use one these instead.

The other option is to just use a custom front in your logo. You create a jpg or png image and the font issue is eliminated. You can then keep your corporate branding if required, while leaving the rest of the website text to something simpler.