August 10, 2005

Lucida Grande

Lucida Grande is the default style sheet font on many (most?) of the coolest and hottest of cutting-edge websites. A random sample currently includes Jeffrey Zeldman’s A List Apart, Dave Shea’s Mezzoblue, quite a number of the official CSS Zen Garden entries, Mike Pick’s minor reworking of the ubiquitous and influential Kubrick template for Wordpress, and just about any site designed by anyone with a Mac, not least the Apple site itself.

As someone consigned since (cyber)birth to the Windows operating system, yet notwithstanding this with a fervent interest in CSS theory and practice, the initial proliferation of Lucida Grande in the stylesheets of my heroes (which I deconstructed avidly if surreptitiously long before the advent of the magnificent Web Developer toolbar for Firefox) was something of a mystery, putting it mildly. This was because I had never heard of the font.

I had Lucida Sans or Lucida Unicode as standard Microsoft installations, but these were rarely, if ever, stipulated as alternatives in the stylesheets in question, so I ended up back in Verdana or Arial as usual, which were generally appended as habitual afterthoughts just before the final sans-serif catchall for those sad users who didn’t have anything at all (especially RAM).

For others equally deprived of Mac culture, Lucida Grande comes as part of the default font set of the Apple OSX system. Accordingly - presumably - it was thus assumed by Mac world denizens to be as globally available as Times New Roman is for the rest of us.

Well, its not. In fact, it took me quite a while to discover anywhere I could download a free version of the font re-engineered for Windows. I finally found the best emulations of all the OSX system fonts here, or a zip file of just the emulated Mac Lucida fonts here.

Since I discovered how good, and legible, Lucida Grande appears to be, I must say I have begun to put it into the style sheets of other sites I’ve been working on. Often (like my heroes) as the first choice. However, in the knowledge that perhaps 90 percent or more of any likely visitors will not have it on their systems, I also list Lucida Sans and Lucida as alternatives (which I think most people should have) and always add Arial and Helvetica as well - having gone off Verdana of late and never having seriously been into such outre choices as Trebuchet MS which have swept the web in the past.

I also test how a site which may have Lucida Grande as first choice looks in its Arial alternative, which is quite a bit different, to say the least. Lucida Grande is, as the name implies, quite a lot larger than either Lucida Sans or Arial at the same pixel size - which is what is most attractive about it as well.

In my most private moments, I sometimes dare to ask myself how designing a site primarily in Lucida Grande fits in with the ‘Standards-compliant’ philosophies which all my greatest heroes espouse so energetically. I presume its as cool as they are.

Posted by Iain Stewart at 10:39 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack
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