Friday, April 8, 2016

“In Defense of Webfonts” ↦

Robin Rendle defends the use of webfonts against complaints that they are too slow, among other things:

All of these points lead to Adam’s vitriolic condemnation of web fonts as being lazy, useless things; they’re not worth the effort to implement or stress over because they have no value whatsoever. On this point I heartily disagree.

Although Adam does make some good points towards the end:

System fonts can be beautiful. Webfonts are not a requirement for great typography. I entirely agree with this sentiment and, in certain circumstances, system or “web-safe” fonts should be used instead. When we download a typeface that is almost identical to Georgia or Helvetica then there’s not much of an advantage that can be had from requesting a large font file.

With that said, I don’t believe that all of human experience can be elegantly communicated via Helvetica, Times, Georgia, or San Francisco. And when I read that “typography is not about aesthetics” then I sigh deeply, heavily and come to the conclusion that 1. yes it is and 2. aesthetics is a problem for the reader. The more ugliness that is pressed upon us, the more lazy we become. Beauty, legibility, subtlety, these are the qualities that are possible with the help of web fonts and without them we are left with a dismal landscape devoid of visual grace or wit.

I agree heartily with these sentiments, as you may surmise from my own use of webfonts. Oscar Wilde once wrote, “All art is quite useless.” It’s true; art is not useful in the same sense that a hammer is useful. But then, as Stephen Fry wrote in reference to Wilde, “It is the useless things that make life worth living[.]”

The concern about web page load times is a genuine one, and one that too few web developers seem to care about. But it’s too easy to blame it all on webfonts; that’s mere scapegoating. The download size of a web site shouldn’t be thought of in terms of specific resources like images and webfonts but rather in terms of a download size budget. Once a total budget has been settled on, all resources—images, webfonts, CSS, HTML, JavaScript, and whatever else—should be made to fit in that budget. Sometimes that requires tradeoffs, and sometimes webfonts may be sacrificed. But other resources can be sacrificed as well, such as images or even, dare I say, that bloated JavaScript framework that’s everybody’s excited about but takes forever to download and execute.