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The Evolution of Web Fonts

Posted on Monday, June 16, 2008 by Rick Breslin in Web Design

We've seen web design trends come and go, including those of the web font.

In the early days of the Internet, the typical web site design was nothing much more than a light gray background with some black text aligned to the left of the page. Any hyperlinks on the page were underlined, and had the original color conventions: blue for a link, purple for a visited link, red for an active (or clicked) link.

The Evolution of Web Fonts

Since then, we've seen great advancements in web site interface design, seamlessly incorporating images with engaging animations and text (copy) that prompts a call-to-action. Along the way, we've seen web design trends come and go, including those of the web font:

Courier

Courier font used on a basic web site

1994 - 1996: It started out with Courier - a wide, easy to read in short bursts, and it had a "techie" look to it. It was also the standard font on typewriters, which eventually transitioned to keyboards, and eventually the World Wide Web. With the design of web sites looking pretty boring, no wonder advertisers originally thought "you couldn't make money on the Internet."

Times New Roman

Times New Roman font used on Yahoo.com

1996 - 1997: Then came Times New Roman - a "grown up" font, which would be easier to read with its serifs and taller stature. Popular web browsers such as Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer adopted the font as their default. Browsers also made the transition from a gray to white background color, in an effort to improve the "readability" of web sites.

Arial

Arial font used on Google.com

1997 - 2000: Before long, everybody was switching to Arial (and/or Helvetica), and the web browsers followed by replacing Times New Roman with Arial as the default web font. A classly, clean font with no serifs, this font was extremely popular in the business/financial sectors. Arial font also scales nicely, as a bold Arial font could serve as an easy-to-spot headline.

Verdana

Verdana font used on Adobe.com

2000 - 2004: After millions of web sites had adopted Arial as their font style, a new font trend would take the web design world by storm - Verdana. It's a more playful font, round and clean, and when scaled down to a small point size, was still easy to read. Designers embraced the font, squeezing the tiny Verdana font into small columns on web sites, and creating razor-thin navigation menus that were sometimes a challenge to even find on the screen.

Tahoma

Tahoma font used on FaceBook.com

During this same time, there was also a very strong case being made for Tahoma, which is very similar to Verdana. Though, it was a very Microsoft-influenced font, being the default for the popular Windows operating system and web-based email service, Hotmail. The influence was strong, and still carries over today, with sites like FaceBook.com using Tahoma as their web font of choice.

Trebuchet

Trebuchet font used on Blogger.com

2004 - 2007: As the PC monitors and laptop screens grew larger, smaller-width web sites and their 8-point Verdana and Tahoma fonts were seeming to become increasingly small and difficult to read, along with looking a bit dated. A more hip font by the name of Trebuchet started taking over with the advent of blogs, with Trebuchet being the default font style for the incredibly popular Blogger.com. Soon after, blogging platforms would continue to lead the way in web font styles...

Georgia

Georgia font used on NYTimes.com

2007 - 2008: Georgia - it's the new Trebuchet. Originally made popular by several blog templates, including those published by Wordpress, Georgia is a beautiful font that I like to call "Times New Roman's Big Brother", being a little more wide with cleaner serifs, and definitely easier to read. Even giant web sites like NYTimes.com made the seamless (and direct) transition from Times New Roman to Georgia. It's best suited for large point sizes, though, as it gets a little "squished" when brought down to 9-point and below.

Future Trends in Web Fonts

So what's next? I couldn't tell you. Maybe a sans-serif font like Century Gothic or the classy Garamond will get popular, since they are common system fonts on nearly every PC made today. As web site designers, these days we're having fun with a good blend of Georgia and Trebuchet, helping to keep our small business web design clients relevant in terms of style and web design trends. Of course, it all comes down to what font style best suits your brand and subsequent web site design, but it's ok to be a little trendy.

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