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Fine Tuning Taken to the Maximum

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It’s rare to have a client so detail-oriented as Dan Appel, but when one comes along, we have to bring all our design and code skills to bear to make sure the job gets done right. It takes an eagle eye to see small differences on the web—a pixel here and there is basically invisible to most eyes, and don’t even get me started on the small differences between how a page renders from one browser to another. But Dan Appel is special, as you can see by looking at the creative video work he produces with his team at danAppelcreative.

Dan’s particular design vision meant that we were looking at integrating the use of a specialized font in order to display the minimalist navigation system for his site. There are several ways to approach fonts online, each with a certain set of limitations and difficulties. The easiest route would probably have been to simply create each navigation item as a graphic in Photoshop using a transparent background to allow the wood grain background to show. Browsers handle images well and it’s easy to control layout using nice rectangular images. But this is only the easiest route from a production point of view. Using images has some serious drawbacks in the realm of SEO but also for making changes and additions down the line. Since we wanted the site to be very easy for Dan to update in the future, images were simply a bad choice. After all, anything that makes updating your website harder or more time-consuming has one effect: the website doesn’t get updated. And that’s no good.

So images were out. The solution we opted for was the technology called Cufón. Cufón allows you to take an existing font file, and assuming the use license permits it, create a file that encodes the font for display on the web and then render it using JavaScript. If you’re not a tech nerd, the important thing is that you can use fonts that are non-standard, meaning fonts that aren’t already installed on the website visitor’s computer. For a designer, this is a real gift! Cufón isn’t designed to allow you to replace body type; it’s best suited for use in headlines and other short bits of text. We pushed that boundary a bit with Dan Appel’s site by using it as body type and for navigation. Since there isn’t much body type on the site, however, we decided to go for it.

With Cufón in place, and a content management system running the backend, the site can be easily updated if Dan ever decides to add an additional section of content, or wants to change the name of an existing one. In our book, that’s a win.

Dan himself was very focused on making sure the site conformed to his personal aesthetic, and we worked closely with him on tiny improvements like text leading, and interactive effects. It was exciting to work with a client who is so invested in creating a high-quality experience for visitors to the site across all areas of the site, from content to design to functionality, and at such a detailed level. Thanks for the challenge, Dan!

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