Making your own web a more elegant place

Time to do a few real posts, not the stuff I’ve been doing…but maybe not quite yet.

This one’s a good Friday post–but it may give some of you ideas.

To wit: Over the last month or so, I’ve seen most web pages (and nearly all blog posts) as a little more elegant than they were in the past–and found myself ready to read more before I click to the next post or the next site.

The specific choice I’ve made isn’t one I’d recommend for anyone else (and it wouldn’t be available to 99% of you, I’d guess), but the approach will work for most everybody.

I’m reading more of your posts because they’re in a typeface I find both elegant and readable, even though it’s really not very well suited to the screen. Namely, you’re writing to me in Berkeley Oldstyle. (Not Berkeley Book–that’s even more print-oriented, a little too light for the screen. Also, there’s no boldface in Berkeley Book, so it winds up “emboldened,” which is a little strange. You see Berkeley Book in Cites & Insights and in Cites & Insights Books publications, using Berkeley Bold when boldface is needed.)

What’s that you say? When you look at your own blog, it’s in Arial or Helvetica or maybe some other, slightly more interesting, sans serif face? Probably–and I’d guess 90% of all blogs and websites are in Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, Tehama, or one or two other sans faces. I just got tired of all that sans. Even on-screen, I much prefer serif. (You may note that this blog uses serif type–but not Berkeley, since you have to pay to have Berkeley on your computer and almost nobody’s likely to do that.)

So here’s what I did–and you can do it, too. Should you? That’s your choice. In my experience, FireFox 2 and IE7 both render well enough that doing this radical thing shouldn’t screw up too many pages. Usually, this choice will also affect printouts, although not always.

Here’s what you do. I’ll use Book Antiqua (probably Palatino on the Mac) as an example, since it’s commonly available, but you can use any typeface that suits your fancy:

  • In Firefox: Click Tools, then Options. Select your preferred typeface as “Default font” in the Fonts & Colors section. Then–this is the vital step–click on Advanced and uncheck “Allow pages to choose their own fonts, instead of my selections above.” Click OK. Click OK on the Options box. Shazam! Most of the type on your webpages–not quite all–will be in the typeface you prefer. You may need to change the size option a little (I use 17), as some typefaces set smaller than others.
  • In IE7: Click Tools, then Internet Options, then Fonts. Choose your preferred proportional typeface as “Webpage font:”. Click OK. Then, back on the Internet Options page, click Accessibility. Now check “Ignore font styles specified on webpages.” Click OK. Click OK on Internet Options. Shazam!
  • For IE6: First, upgrade to IE7… (actually, pretty much the same options apply, but seriously, upgrade to IE7 or to Firefox, or Opera if you prefer. I don’t have Opera, but I’m sure it has a similar override capability).

You could say this is ignoring the “design choices” made for pages–but do you really believe that everyone consciously chooses the same boring typefaces? Most of the time, that design choice is a default.

You can have fun with this, although you probably want to get to something that suits your preferences (which could very well be Arial or Verdana or Lucida–or just letting the “designer” specify the typefaces).

For current MS users (that is, Vista), there seem to be quite a few nicely readable serif typefaces, e.g., Cambria, Calisto, Constantia, as well as the old standbys Book Antiqua (used for this blog), Bookman Old Style (not my fave), Goudy Old Style and Georgia.

You could even use Comic Sans. Just don’t show me.

Or you could get silly for a few minutes, using something like Rockwell, Mistral (or another handwriting typeface), Corsiva, Matisse, or if you want pages to look like stock certificates, Copperplate Gothic or Engravers. Or, ahem, University Roman. But I can’t imagine spending much time with those typefaces…

Am I serious about this? Well, I normally leave these overrides on for my own web use, unless I’m investigating sites in a way that requires respecting their typography. You might find any such change horribly distracting. Heck, you might just love the standard typefaces that everybody uses. It’s your computer.

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