Some of us have been on the internet long enough to remember what a hassle fonts once were on the web. As a designer, you could easily call for any font at all (maybe throw up Curlz MT, if you’re a teenage girl clacking away at your html files in the night) but you couldn’t be sure that your visitors would have that font installed. To solve that problem, you could include the font file in your website, so browsers would download and use it as visitors arrived at the site. Of course, in the dark ages before cable was ubiquitous and nobody was on fiber anywhere, adding larger files for your users to download was not the best plan. Most folks stuck with the web safe font families, each group including a font installed on all Windows machines and a similar font available on all Macs.

As with any very limited set of options, familiarity bred some serious hatred.

Cufon was a revelation when it came on to the scene, offering to overwrite the visual appearance of your text with a different (hopefully better) font. It was a hacky solution, involving javascript and vector image files. The worst thing was that users could experience a jarring visual as unformatted text appeared, vanished, and the newly formatted text was redrawn in the empty space. It was great finally being able to use a font that expressed your style and set you apart, but the drawbacks were still significant. During this time I chose to only use Cufon text for headers, because it delivered the stylistic impact with less of the negative side effects.

In 2010, Google decided they’d had enough of the hacky solutions and bland websites, and gave the internet Google Fonts. The initial list was shorter than what is now available, and some of the tackier fonts (lookin at you, Lobster) got overused and quickly rejected. The change was enormous, though, and not just for web design. Google Fonts are released for full commercial usage, there’s no paying for separate rights and wading through license agreements: if it’s on the site, it’s fine for you to use anywhere. This opened huge doors for independent graphic designers, who were either very limited in their typography options or pirating everything. It also made the internet a more beautiful place, something we appreciate dearly.

By hosting the font files in one place, Google drastically reduced the download time cost for users. Rather than having to pull down a font file each time your browser visited a site, it would keep the Google Fonts files cached and ready to use on not just one site, but any site on the web using that same font. This means for most users, most of the time, there will be no lag at all between the text being downloaded and the proper typography being displayed. Reduced wait times make users happy, and an ever-increasing library of options makes designers do a little jig.

To say that Google Fonts have become ubiquitous would be an understatement. The W3Schools page for web safe fonts even recommends readers go take a look before they settle on the standard 13 family list. Their most used font, Roboto, is featured on over 20,000,000 websites (you can check out the stats here) and many other popular fonts hover around the 5 to 6 million site range. We use Google Fonts extensively across the websites we design for clients and for ourselves, and they also find their way into our personal projects for print and digital display.

We’re always happy to talk with anyone about what typefaces work and which ones we’d like to throw into a volcano and never see again, so comment or drop us a line if you want to nerd out!