Open Source free Web Fonts have made it a lot easier for web designers to be artistic. Forbes recently wrote an article about the web design trends to watch in 2016 and in that article, they pointed out to be on the lookout for more exotic fonts to accompany a more minimalist design trend. As the article mentions “Artistic, and calligraphic fonts are becoming popular because they feel personal and tangible.”
Services like Google Fonts have made it more easy to embed a whole library of custom Web Fonts into websites through GitHub without having to host it yourself. Plus, they are 100% free for commercial use so that eliminates the issue of costly licensing. The availability of all these free fonts seems to be a web designer’s dream. The type trending site typewolf.com has a list of their favorite Google Web Fonts that work well and we have already worked with a client that uses Karla (mentioned in the list) as their main font on their retail site.
However, as with any choice in design and particularly with website localization, if you know you will be also translating your materials in other languages, you should take into account how the choice of font affects the global brand and if it makes it difficult to go global. The choice of Google Web Fonts comes with challenges. Not every font is as professionally designed as the next and some fonts may not have many variations or weights or proper kerning mapping. However, many of these bad fonts can be filtered out through popularity listing or by researching sites like Typewolf.
One other aspect any designer should take into account is the availability of the proper glyphs to display other languages. Google already allows you to search for fonts that have, for instance, a Latin Extended script for languages like French or Spanish. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find any font that covers most languages and finding one is challenging because of the often narrow approach of designers to create fonts specifically for their language.
Even popular fonts like Karla seem to be limited in variations and language support. And in researching this particular font for a client, we found out that the c-cadilla (ç) or œ ligature was not supported and reverted to Helvetica, the default font. We investigated for the client and emailed the font developer and came up with the resolution – check out the Karmilla font which is a tweak on Karla and has support for French and also has added mobile support. One advantage of these fonts is that they are open source and so any need for support -especially the more popular ones- is often satisfied by a group of clever volunteers wanting to make the font better. However, as we found out as well, even though we did find a substitute font based on Karla and it was created to address some of these issues (and it was hosted through GitHub), Google Fonts yet has no official support for this extended script for this font and the designer is working on getting it added to the Google Fonts library.
The availability of easy access and open source fonts creates a wealth of possibilities in design. However, this seems to go against every recommendation in the book for global sites. Looking at some of the most global sites out there (Adobe, Microsoft, Google), and most of them support a uniform platform with a single set of fonts that supports all languages. Being prepared for global expansion means that at some point in designing your brand, you’ll need to make some choices on how to address font issues. If design trends tend to slowly move away from uniformity to artistic freedom, what do you do as a designer?
- Do you choose a font and worry about languages later or do you try to find a font that supports most scripts?
- If you do have to substitute fonts for other languages, how do you evaluate these fonts based on your original design philosophy? E.g. What’s considered personal and tangible in fonts in other languages; or is that even desired?
- For Latin extended scripts, does the availability of open source fonts invite you to add accents or create specialized glyphs rather than seeking out substitute fonts?
If you know that your company is expanding globally, as a web designer you can be one step ahead in the game and start researching your font library now for extended character support. Google Fonts allows you to search for different scripts and there are plenty of resources out there to get sample text in other languages to try.
Want to go a step further? Start by assembling a style guide for your organization and document the fonts that will be used for your multilingual websites. Make it part of your brand guide.
Ultimately, your Language Service Provider should be able to work with you on font selection. With the introduction of many open source fonts and increased artistic freedom, the need for qualified linguistic and multilingual typesetting services seems to be a growing field of expertise that designers should take advantage of now. If you need a partner to help you understand the myriad of issues that arise with website localization, be sure to contact us to see where to start or where to continue.
Your global experience counts and can help you be competitive in a market where these global skills increasingly become a marketable differentiator. Partner with your language service provider to help grow your global competence. That’s exactly what we do with our clients.