Digital Typography

Digital Typography

Typography shapes and conveys written information to the reader. As well as making a text readable, typography also incorporates an aesthetic element through the use of different typefaces, ideally giving the reader a feeling of quality and satisfaction after reading.

Typography in the digital space

In the digital space, typography was initially limited to the fonts and styles that existed in the operating system of each computer and could be processed by the browser. In 1995, the concept of <font> was introduced first in Netscape, where it was incorporated into the HTML (HyperText Markup Language).

However, things were not so straightforward because, in order for the user to see a certain <font>, it had to be installed on their computer. This meant that web designers’ creativity was limited to the choices of system fonts that could be read by all browsers. It is no coincidence that the pages produced at that time were almost identical and the reading experience sterile and one-dimensional.

At least a decade later, browsers began to support web fonts and designers had more fonts to choose from. The WOFF compression method for True Type and Open Type fonts and the use of Google Fonts have allowed web designers to change the image of the internet. Now most websites use web fonts and, luckily, more and more font designers are marketing this option.

The only constant is change

We may have forgotten, but until quite recently the internet was a secondary means of viewing content. In Greece, newspapers and magazines were in their heyday in the 90’s and the internet was accessible to only a few (oddballs!). The transition from print to electronic content dissemination has fundamentally changed the way a text is both written and read. Typography in the digital space, after an initial phase of dull repetition, fell into the trap of excess as the possibility to choose more fonts increased. Designers went through a phase of experimentation, an inevitable stepping-stone to today, where we now have data and “rules” exclusively about the perfect digital presentation of a text.

Two basic facts differentiate print from digital typography:

  1. Fluidity

In contrast to the static nature of paper, the presentation of a digital text must serve multiple viewing sources (desktop, laptop, mobile view). The behaviour of fonts and texts must be controlled at a wide range of digital resolutions to ensure the digital content displays correctly.

  1. Flow and rhythm

Print articles are usually designed to be read in a linear fashion, from beginning to end. Printing on a physical page allows the reader to hold the article in their hands and read it at their own pace. The font of a document enables designers to be creative within a stable and secure framework (the dimensions of the paper). Print articles also undergo more careful editing and revision, as they must go through a rigorous editorial process before publication.

In contrast, web articles are designed to be read on a screen, often in a non-linear fashion (vertical scrolling). They can be updated and edited in real time and are often accompanied by multimedia elements (images, videos, interactive elements) that allow the user’s attention to be transferred to another part of the screen or to a new page. The framework of the digital space is fluid due to many factors, and typography is approached from the point of view of dynamic change and interaction.

New data

The internet has now largely replaced the printed press as the main medium of daily communication. Rates of data change in the digital space are extremely fast and the use of artificial intelligence is certain to change our understanding of typography once again. Nevertheless, both font and web page designers, as well as editors, bear a responsibility for the quality of digital typography so that digital content, beyond being a means of consumption, remains a medium of knowledge and aesthetics.

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