Arial. Or Not?


A note on the fonts by Marianne Plano

I think that Times New Roman and Arial are beautiful types. Not only because of their outline, but because of their omnipresence in my digital environment. Being the default serif and sans-serif fonts used on my operating system (Mac OS) for all browsers, I happen to meet them a lot in the websites I'm visiting, where no fonts are specified. They slowly became friendly companions on the web, often thanks to developers who leave the font as parameters for the operating system to handle. That is a state of mind I like: don't specify the font as a web designer, leave it to the operating system. Let go of the full control of the lay-out, leave blanks that can be filled in by other local technologies or local users. Leave space for fall-backs, learn that it's not all up to you to decide. A website is brought to life by a lot of different hardware and software, by a lot of other people, and you have no power over all these different parts. You can't know all the default fonts for all systems, and you have no idea which fonts users have chosen for theirs. So be it. Live with it. Learn not to be that diva designer, who snaps if the margins are different using Firefox and Safari, and keeps complaining when their website appears in the wrong font. Digital objects, like websites, whether you want it or not, pursue their own software depending lives. So don't fight that stream of differences in implementation: let yourself go in and make it an asset.

The non-font-choice turns out to have unforeseen consequences. Instead of giving everyone the same website to look at by providing the fonts, you make your website intentionally different for each user. That difference slightly flirts with the very scary trend of over-personalisation, which some people regard as the destroyer of our common world. It flirts with it slightly however, because it's not as if you give users a website tailored to them. Most people aren't even aware you can change the default system fonts, and others (like me) don't see the point. What you provide is space for the operating system, to fill in the gaps of the not-specified font.

In the end, I just think the goddamn fonts are pretty. I'm not ready and not willing to let go of fonts I admire, just because they carry the “wrong” license. So let’s lean in to that very tenderness for the default.

And now I shall live with the guilt.