In praise of Georgia (again)

by / Filed under Web

By which I mean the typeface, not the former Soviet Union state, birthplace of Stalin, nor the southeastern US State, birthplace of Coca Cola.

In 2012 IA effectively announced the death of Georgia:

Georgia works perfectly as body text up until 16 pixels. As soon as you go over that size, it starts to look odd. This is not a design deficiency of the typeface. It was simply not designed to work for big body text sizes and dense screens. New Site with Responsive Typography

… and pretty much since then we’ve seen Droid Serif (yuck), Freight Text, Tisa, Chaparall, Skolar, Minion et al supercede Georgia, through @font-face, Typekit, Fontdeck and Google Fonts. Some of these typefaces look great and are eminently readable (some look not entirely dissimilar to Georgia), some pull off a cooler, more modern feel. There’s lots of choice out there, some of it usable.

So is Gerogia dead? I’d argue no; there’s still life in the old typeface yet. Here’s why.

Big and readable

IA are of course right about denser screens and our need for larger fonts: 16 pixel Georgia does look quite small these days, although until fairly recently some designers still had a thing about keeping text in neat, small type columns.

And Georgia was always relatively large. Compare it at 16 pixels to, say, Cambria. Ironically enough, this makes it ready for the modern age. (Actually maybe not so ironic; after all, it was the first serif designed for the screen.)

It is true that Gergia becomes perhaps too heavy and blocky at larger sizes, but I’d argue it retains its roundness up to 18 pixels, rather than IA’s 16 (your mileage may vary across devices).

18 pixel Georgia is still big enough for modern, text heavy websites, and it renders type reliably on pretty much any screen, regardless of its age.

Fast and reliable

Nearly every desktop computer in the world ships with Georgia (and most Linux users grab it for free when they set their computer up). Android doesn’t, but the default Droid Serif shares a similar set of proportions – you can use a georgia, serif font stack and get reasonably predictable results. iOS comes with Georgia.

Which means your readers don’t have to download Georgia from the internet – it’s probably already on their device. If you’re using regular and bold weights with italics, a serif you fetch from Google or Typekit will weigh in at anything from 70–160k. Even if you defer loading the font until the page has rendered, you’ll still get a flash of unstyled text, and if the external site’s slow or down, the page will either hang or render in a fallback font. Georgia feels snappier on most websites, and you know it’ll work.

Mighty fine looking

Georgia pulls off the trick of looking classical and warm and anonymous enough for any text. Compare it with Skolar, which has too much character for, say, a football match report.

Put it this way: If Microsoft had never commissioned Matthew Carter to produce a screen serif and we’d been stuck with Times New Roman since 1996, Georgia would be a hugely popular font on Typekit. It’s highly legible and has bags of character.

This is a call to give Georgia a fresh look. Yes, there are lots of excellent typefaces out there, and many will work better at 24 pixels, but we’re only ignoring poor old Georgia because it was ubiquitous for so long and anybody can use it. If you want something that’s highly legible, characterful, fast and free, Georgia’s still a top choice.