websites, fonts, coding

November 7, 2008

Today I have a meeting with a web designer. But he’s primarily a flash designer, and hasn’t got anyone like me in his portfolio. So the brief I’m giving him is as exact as can be, and I’m masterminding the aesthetic side of it myself.

To this end I spent yesterday evening – again – on the internet thinking about typography for the web, looking at typefaces, scrutinising people’s websites, comparing all the little nuanced bits of all the common fonts that you can use for a website – the trick of course being that you have to use something people have on their own machines, since the website coding is simply a set of instructions to their own system.

This is the reason why, four years ago, I got into trouble with all those people in Stepney who said I was being anti-equal opportunities because I “wouldn’t” do the website in Bengali as well as English. That’s largely another story, but the gist for our current purpose is that Windows doesn’t support the Bengali character set, which means the only way you could use it would be as a graphic image file, because – well – you just can’t have it. Maybe this is something for the sub-continent to take up with Gates’ mob.

It would be the same if I decided to download the font of my dreams right now and stick it on my website. No, the thing to do is to stick to the tried-&-trusted ones, of which there are several.

And lo, for a variety of reasons I’m coming into line with the idea of using Helvetica. I said as much on Facebook and got an instantaneous flurry of comments, with a lot of people considering it to be the Gap of typefaces, or something – so we’ll see how that debate flutters to earth. You could equally place it squarely (but with nice fat vowels and cute ascenders on the g’s) in the fifties that it came out of. Is it the Eames of fonts? Surprisingly, I’ve come round. Yes, I know it is everywhere, but I’m seeing it differently now. (The clip above makes it look like the quintessential New York typeface, though see my note.*)

Or maybe it really IS Obama, and maybe the whole world really DOES look different now!

* Note: Obama’s font is Gotham, which was originally developed by two young New Yorkers for GQ magazine, and was inspired by the industrial – and very beautiful – lettering over the doorway at Port Authority. There’s a bit about it in the DVD of the Helvetica movie, which by the way is currently nestling in my basket on amazon. Gotham is a great font, but I don’t think it’s really me. Interestingly it was described by its designers as “very masculine.”

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