SaneChoice Insights

Optimising Your Website: Choosing the Right Font-Display Setting

Introduction to Font-Display Settings

In web development, ensuring an optimal user experience is paramount. One crucial aspect that often goes overlooked is the rendering of web fonts, which can significantly impact page load times and overall performance. Enter the font-display property, a powerful CSS feature that allows developers to control how web fonts are displayed, enhancing the user experience. This article looks into the intricacies of font-display, exploring its importance, types, and best practices for implementation.

Understanding Font-Display: What Is It?

The font-display descriptor is a CSS property that determines how a web browser handles the rendering of web fonts, particularly when they are being loaded from external sources. It gives developers granular control over the font loading process, enabling them to balance, ensure a visually appealing experience, and optimise performance.

The Importance of Font-Display in Web Design

Web fonts are pivotal in establishing a website’s visual identity and ensuring a consistent user experience across various devices and platforms. However, loading and rendering these fonts can be time-consuming, leading to potential delays and disruptions in the user experience. By leveraging the font-display property, developers can mitigate these issues, ensuring that users are presented with a smooth and visually appealing experience from the moment they land on a web page.

Types of Font-Display Settings

The font-display property offers several distinct values, each tailored to address specific use cases and prioritise either performance or visual fidelity. Let’s explore these values in detail:

Font-Display: Auto

The font-display: auto value is the default setting and represents the browser’s default behaviour for font loading. In this mode, the browser will attempt to render the web font as soon as it becomes available, potentially causing layout shifts and visual disruptions during the loading process.

Font-Display: Block

When font-display: block is applied, the browser will render an invisible fallback font until the web font has fully loaded. This approach prioritises visual fidelity over performance, ensuring that users see the intended font once it’s available, but it may result in longer initial rendering times.

Font-Display: Swap

The font-display: swap value instructs the browser to render a fallback font immediately while the web font is being loaded in the background. Once the web font is ready, the browser seamlessly swaps it in, providing a smooth transition without layout shifts or visual disruptions.

Font-Display: Fallback

With font-display: fallback, the browser will use a fallback font if the web font cannot be loaded within a specified time frame (typically three seconds). This approach balances performance and visual fidelity by ensuring that content is always visible, even if the intended font fails to load.

Font-Display: Optional

The font-display: optional value is similar to fallback, but it instructs the browser to use a fallback font indefinitely if the web font cannot be loaded within the specified time frame. This approach prioritises performance over visual fidelity, ensuring that content is always visible, even if the intended font is unavailable.

Font-Display: Blocking vs Swapping

Two of the most commonly used font-display values are block and swap. While both aim to provide a visually appealing experience, they differ in their approach to handling font loading.

The font-display: block value prioritises visual fidelity by displaying an invisible fallback font until the web font is fully loaded. This approach ensures that users see the intended font once it’s available, but it can result in longer initial rendering times and potential layout shifts.

On the other hand, font-display: swap focuses on providing a smooth and uninterrupted user experience. It instructs the browser to render a fallback font immediately while the web font is being loaded in the background. Once the web font is ready, the browser seamlessly swaps it in, ensuring a consistent visual experience without layout shifts or disruptions.

The choice between block and swap ultimately depends on a website’s specific requirements and the developer’s priorities. If visual fidelity is of the utmost importance and potential layout shifts are acceptable, block may be the preferred option. However, if a smooth and uninterrupted user experience is the primary goal, swap is often the more suitable choice.

How to Implement Font-Display in Your CSS

Implementing the font-display property in your CSS is a straightforward process. Here’s an example of how to apply it:

@font-face {
  font-family: 'MyWebFont';
  src: url('path/to/font.woff2') format('woff2'),
       url('path/to/font.woff') format('woff');
  font-display: swap; /* or any other desired value */

In this example, the font-display property is set within the @font-face rule, which defines the web font and its source files. By specifying the desired font-display value, you can control how the browser renders the web font.

Best Practices for Choosing Font-Display Settings

When selecting the appropriate font-display setting for your website, it’s essential to consider several factors to ensure an optimal user experience. Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  1. Prioritise Performance or Visual Fidelity: Determine whether your primary focus is on fast rendering times or ensuring the accurate display of your chosen font. This decision will guide your selection of the appropriate font-display value.
  2. Consider Content-Type: The nature of your website’s content can influence the importance of font rendering. For example, text-heavy websites may prioritise visual fidelity, while more visually oriented sites might prioritise performance.
  3. Test and Iterate: Experiment with different font-display settings and monitor their impact on your website’s performance and user experience. Use tools like web performance audits and user feedback to refine your choices.
  4. Fallback Fonts: Carefully select fallback fonts that closely resemble your intended web fonts in style and legibility. This will ensure a consistent visual experience during the font loading process.
  5. Preload Critical Fonts: Consider preloading critical web fonts to improve initial rendering times, especially for above-the-fold content.
  6. Subset Fonts: If your website only requires a subset of characters from a particular font, consider subsetting the font files to reduce their file size and improve loading times.

Expert Tips on Improving Website Performance with Font-Display

In addition to choosing the appropriate font-display setting, there are several other techniques and best practices that can help optimise your website’s performance and enhance the user experience:

  • Font Loading Strategies: Explore font loading strategies like FOUT (Flash of Unstyled Text) and FOIT (Flash of Invisible Text) to balance performance and visual fidelity.
  • Font Compression: Compress your web font files using WOFF2 or brotli compression techniques to reduce file sizes and improve loading times.
  • Font Hosting: Consider using a reliable font hosting service or a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to serve your web fonts from multiple locations, improving load times for users worldwide.
  • Asynchronous Loading: Implement asynchronous font loading techniques to ensure that web fonts do not block the rendering of other critical resources, such as CSS or JavaScript files.
  • Font Subsetting and Optimisation: Optimise your web fonts by subsetting them to include only the necessary characters, remove unnecessary metadata, and reduce file sizes.
  • Performance Monitoring: Continuously monitor your website’s performance using tools like Google PageSpeed Insights, WebPageTest, or Lighthouse to identify potential bottlenecks and areas for improvement.

Combining the appropriate font-display setting with these performance optimisation techniques ensures that your website delivers a seamless and visually appealing experience to users, regardless of their device or network conditions.

Conclusion: The Impact of Font-Display on User Experience

The font-display property is a powerful tool in a web developer’s arsenal, enabling them to strike the perfect balance between performance and visual fidelity. By carefully selecting the appropriate font-display setting and implementing best practices, you can enhance your website’s user experience, ensuring that visitors are greeted with a visually appealing and responsive interface from the moment they land on your page.

Remember, the key to success lies in understanding your website’s unique requirements, prioritising either performance or visual fidelity, and continuously iterating and optimising based on user feedback and performance metrics. The font-display property can be a game-changer with the right approach, elevating your website’s user experience to new heights.

More from SaneChoice

Expand your mind by reading other articles and insights from SaneChoice

Elevate your understanding of technology with topics covering SEO, Web Hosting, Web Performance, Security and more.