Why three typefaces rule the web, and what you can do about it

Design Systems expert Nathan Curtis* tweeted this the other day:

This got me thinking – anecdotally, those three typefaces have been the ones primarily used on every project that I’ve worked on for maybe the last four or five years. This very blog is (currently) set in Source Sans Pro. It’s impossible to compile statistics on this (or is it?), but it his statement rings true in my experience.

Why do those three typefaces – Proxima Nova, Open Sans, our Source Sans Pro – seem to rule the web? What are there any pitfalls of using them? What do they have in common? What should we look for in alternatives? What are some example alternatives we can consider?

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If you could only have five Google Fonts

The late, great graphic designer Massimo Vignelli famously used only five typefaces in his career –

  • Helvetica
  • Futura
  • Garamond
  • Century
  • Bodoni

Source

Why would a designer place such a constraint on himself, especially considering the breadth of his career? Typefaces are a tool to be used in design, and he knew these tools well. He knew how extensive those typefaces were, what their strengths were, and where they were weak. He felt he could address the tone of any project with these five choices.

It’s not a bad idea, in this age of widely available digital fonts. You will certainly be moving along with a design a lot faster if you only have to pick from a handful of great fonts, rather than sifting through hundreds of mediocre fonts.

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Google Fonts – Version 2!

Check it out – http://www.google.com/webfonts/v2!

Google Fonts offically (soft) launched the new version of their Google Fonts directory late last week. It’s a huge improvement in every way imaginable. They did some really great work on it. I was privileged to be part of the user research process, and I can tell you a LOT of very hard work went into getting this thing right.

One of the stated goals for version 2 is that they will have 1000+ web fonts to choose from in one year’s time. This new design will definitely handle that volume of web fonts better than the original version.

There are also many more tools that let you look at how your fonts will be used. The “Test Drive” feature is particularly nice.

I think one of the smartest new additions is the data impact indicator that is shown on the last page of the process. It’s great to know how much load you are really adding.

So, go take it for a spin, and get using those web fonts!

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