Webvanta Blog: Creating Effective Websites

Jason Santa Maria on Web Typography

Jason Santa Maria on Web Typography Image

Jason Santa Maria spoke with Webvanta at An Event Apart Seattle about web typography, web fonts, Typekit, and more.

Jason has his own design studio, Mighty, is the creative director for Typekit and A List Apart, a cofounder and the designer of the books at A Book Apart, and creator of Typepedia. And in his spare time, he’s vice president of AIGA/NY and teaches at the School of Visual Arts.

Jason’s personal site not only has lots of interesting content, it is a unique design exercise in itself. Jason creates a visual design for each article, rather than fitting everything into a template.

Interview Transcript

Michael: Hi Jason, thanks for spending a few minutes with us. I’m Michael Slater from Webvanta. Would you to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Jason: Sure. My name is Jason Santa Maria. I am a graphic designer from New York. I work with Typekit, A List Apart, A Book Apart, and lots of other side projects too.

Michael: You talked a lot about web typography in your talk. I was just looking around that Voltage site, and it is really quite amazing what they have done. How well does all this work if you have to deal with the whole range of browsers out there and people on slower connections? What are people giving up by pushing all the typography to the edge?

Jason: I don’t know that they are giving up that much. It works surprisingly well across a wide range of browsers, even dating back a number of years. I’ve always seen it more as another asset on page. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a photographer loading in large images to show their work off. I think that if you use fonts responsibly it just becomes another asset that you load into a site. I think that is a good trade off for some of the advantages that it gives you for design.

Michael: In terms of choosing fonts thoughtfully, you talked about choosing them for the impact that you are trying to achieve. We work with a lot of freelancers who are dealing with, say, a $3,000 small business site, and there’s not that level of sophistication and thinking and time, resources really, that go into it. How would you suggest somebody like that approach it? Do you think sticking with a few old standbys is a solid approach?

Jason: Yeah, I think that is a good starting point for them. But there are a number of more conservative options that don’t break out of what’s commonly accepted too much that I think can be really useful. The barrier to entry is very low and these things are remarkably inexpensive too. I mean, a lot of the services out there either have lower-end, free, or trial accounts. There are a number of free or low-cost font sites. Even Typekit doesn’t cost very much to get started. It’s remarkably affordable to use these things in your designs.

Michael: It seems like, when we have used it, that the hinting on some of the fonts is definitely an issue. Particularly, there seems to be a lot of people out there running Firefox on Windows XP, which seems to be the worst-case combination of things. How quickly do you think that’s going to get cleaned up, to the point where you are not sacrificing quality? In some cases, you pick a font and it looks beautiful on a Mac, and maybe even looks pretty good on IE8 on Windows 7, but then you get the people on Firefox 3.6 on Windows XP and it looks really crummy. How do you balance that, and how quickly will that change?

Jason: I think it’s going to change very rapidly. Even where things have come in the last year with regard to the web fonts—it has moved so quickly. So many advancements have been made not only from the browser makers, but from the technical side, from font providers too. And I think that is going to just keep happening. Luckily now, so many of the browsers autoupdate or heavily suggest updates to the user. It’s not something that you have to go and seek out so much any more. That’s a huge advantage for any kind of new technology that you want to use on the web.

Michael: So if somebody is going to Typekit and they want to branch out a little bit, I think overwhelm is a common first reaction. Also, we know some fonts work better on more browsers than others. Some are better hinted than others. Some are better for body copy. Headline fonts seem a little more forgiving and a little easier to pick. Choosing a body-copy font that is really going to work well across a range of browsers seems challenging. How should somebody pursue that?

Jason: It can be. We actually have a designated tag, a “paragraph” tag, and these work well at text sizes. So we can suggest comfortably that people can use this stuff. And this is a project that I am working on right now, trying to get better tools to discover fonts, to help people build their templates. To help people get to the stuff that they want to use and not be searching endlessly through pages and pages of fonts.

Michael: Are there any issues with the JavaScript font loader versus other ones using CSS techniques? Is this just a non-issue that people should just accept?

Jason: Some people consider this an issue and some people don’t. I personally don’t think it’s an issue. I really enjoy the advantage of the things the JavaScript is adding in. It works around a number of problems, but I also like some of the things being developed like WebFont Loader with Google, which gives you a lot of events and classes to tie into, so you can control how the fonts are being embedded in your page and control the look of the page as it’s being rendered. That’s a huge advantage in my mind.

Michael: Anything outside the webfont arena that you think is really exciting in web design these days?

Jason: I guess it’s not so much just web design, because I am so consumed with typography all the time. I still am obsessively into KickStarter. I just cannot get enough of the projects going on there. I will back something every time I go there.

Michael: Tell us a little about that.

Jason: KickStarter is a website that allows people to post ideas about projects, and the community of visitors can back that project. Basically, serve as investors to help get that project funded so that it can become a reality. This ranges from musicians to artists wanting to make something, people wanting to write a book, a product that they can sell. As a backer you get some kind of incentive. There are different levels of money that you donate; you might get a product, you might get something else, there’s tiers of incentives for money you invest. It’s such a fantastic idea, and so many good things are coming out of it. Very interesting projects, and artists being able to see their ideas visualized—it’s fantastic.

Michael: I will have to check that out. Thanks for your time.

Jason: Thank you so much.

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