With the rise of Web fonts as well as affordable hosted Web font services and ready-made kits, typography is reclaiming its title as design queen, ruler of all graphic and Web design.
At the same time, for far too many designers, the main concern about typography today seems to be aesthetic in nature. The problem is, we tend to use typography and lettering as two interchangeable terms, which they are not. A quick look at the “typography” tag on Dribbble reveals this trend.
The allure of well-executed lettering — and, boy, I could spend hours just looking at lettering portfolios! — can affect the way we view typefaces, because both typography and lettering share common visual concepts. If we seek only the next most Beautiful Typeface™ all the time, this habit alone can drive us away from the functional role of typefaces and their advantages as versatile, reusable and flexible design systems.
Moreover, we are often eager to try the latest OpenType feature, prettify our copy with discretionary ligatures, slap on partially executed CSS hyphenation, and then stare at our masterpiece in awe, unaware that anyone other than a typography geek couldn’t care less. Of course, reality hits right at the moment that the text has to be read and understood by normal people on a variety of devices, from the latest Retina laptops to 72-DPI cathode-ray-tube monitors with Windows XP to a range of sci-fi smartphones that can measure your blood pressure.
Seamlessly digesting written matter is possible only when the typography is well thought out and legibility is facilitated by a considered reading experience. As in other fields of design, before doing anything else we should conduct some research. In developing the habit of research, we will not only discover valuable data, but also develop our ability to quickly jump into the reader’s shoes, shifting focus from our worst enemy — our own ego (which I play tug-of-war with all the time).
As you are most likely aware, the main components of a digital experience are content, context and the user. You probably address all three in almost every design project. But if we focus exclusively on typography within each of these components, then we’d find a handful of assessment methods and some considerations that would be useful to take into account and that would ultimately improve the overall reading experience.