Whether it's the Web API Working Group publishing a Working Draft of “Progress Events 1.0 or the CSS Working Group defining the syntax for using namespaces in CSS, have no doubt that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has been hard at work trying to keep our dear web world in line. About a month ago in an attempt to finalize the standards for the features of CSS 3 -- the third version of Cascading Style Sheets -- Jason Cranford Teague, a member of the W3C CSS Working Group and perhaps most notably the Director of Web Design for AOL Global Programming, posted an article on his blog covering the specifications for CSS Fonts and CSS Web Fonts and in the same quill stroke called for input from the design community.

The Difference: CSS Fonts vs. CSS Web Fonts

According to Teague, the difference between the two is as follows: CSS Fonts The CSS Fonts module defines how type is displayed on the page -- which font is used, its size, and how it is styled (bold, italics, small-caps, etc). Font styles effect how the individual glyphs (what's a glyph?) are displayed whereas text styles, such as underline, are applied evenly across all glyphs. CSS Web Fonts The CSS Web Fonts module details how to download a font file for use in a webpage, similar to how images are downloaded. It also includes the ability to better match fonts for design with those that are available to the end-user or even synthesize them as needed. While Fonts and Web Fonts can be semantically tied together, there are significant technical and logistical implications that will keep them separate. There are more details up for debate within the CSS Web Fonts than there are for CSS Fonts and as a result the Working Group does not want to hold up its development and deployment.

CSS 3 and Downloading Fonts

At the heart of the matter is how CSS 3 will handle how fonts will be downloaded for webpages. The typeface issue has less to do with CSS standards and more to do with intellectual property of those foundries who create fonts. On a technical level, it is possible to place font files on a server and have the browser download them. However it poses two bigger quandaries, namely how to ensure that the end user doesn't take the font files and that the designer using the font has the rights to use it.

Delivering Better Specifications

For web designers working with CSS and HTML, CSS 3 modules hope to deliver better font specifications, relating to font properties and character styles, but not those that include styles applied over an entire block of text such as underlining or rotating text. How designers actually use and understand the ins and outs of CSS and HTML could affect what specifications are recommended. Yet, what they don't know could impact them even more. In a recent post from the 37Signals company blog, Signal vs. Noise, David Heinemeir ranted about how Web Designers Should Do Their Own HTML/CSS. He wrote:
...designing for the web is a lot less about making something dazzle and a lot more about making it work. The design decisions that matter pertain directly to the constraints of the materials. What form elements to use. What font sizes. What composition. What flow. Those decisions are poorly made at an arm’s length.

What Do Designers Want?

So what kinds of feedback has the Working Group received? Among the comments gathered from Teague's site, designers want everything from typographical options for downloading typefaces, to the ability to provide different styles for each fallback font, to font strokes that will allow users to specify a stroke around a glyph including the stroke weight, color, pattern and whether it appears inside, outside or centered on the glyph outline, as well as issues of hyphenation and kerning. The Working Group has been reading the feedback and providing qualifications and explanations in return. For example, font attributes that require changes to the syntax can't be considered as they wouldn't be compatible in earlier CSS versions. The CSS Working Group will assemble again in August for a presentation of revisions for the CSS Fonts and Web Fonts modules, so there is still time to offer up your input. You can leave your feedback via the CSS Public discussion forum, www-style or Jason Cranford Teague's blog. In addition, drop us a comment here if you've got a strong opinion.