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I'm a typophile. I'm also a web designer/developer. A "slashie", if you will.

As a typophile, I love type; creating it, kerning it, shaping it, studying it. Subtle variations in typefaces entertain me. I can spend a whole night wrapped up in one type sample, studying it and seeing what I would've redrawn to "smoothen the S out" or have the "E match the F." It's a guilty please of mine.

As a slashie, type bores me. To be truely standards-compliant and fully accessible to everyone, everywhere on the internet, there are all of about six typefaces to use. It's a boring thought process. "I haven't used Georgia in a while, let's try it out." [ makes change ] "No, doesn't look correct. Verdana it is." That's about how it works as a developer. Our typeface choices are limited and dull.

But there's no reason as a developer to completely ignore type either. Too many times I've seen poor type treatment on a site. Even with limited choices, can we as developers, please stop haphazardly throwing type onto a page? Type is still an important part to any website - in fact, in most cases, type is what makes the site. There's no reason as a developer to completely ignore type. Too many times we overlook type treatment on a site. For instance, it's not a inch mark for quotations; it's supposed to be a “ and ” (smart quotations). It's not a hyphen; it's a — (endash) or an — (emdash).

Which brings me to the point of the article. This week at work, I was coding a page that was reading my punctuation as "?". I had just dumped the text from a Word doc into the HTML. An obvious encoding issue, I was informed to check out the <meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=iso-8859-1" /> line in my header.

I consider myself fairly well-versed in accessibility issues but, for whatever reason, have never really put much thought into this line of code. So I researched and what I found was extremely interesting, to both my typophile and slashie side.

In June 2004, the ISO/IEC working group responsible for maintaining eight-bit coded character sets disbanded and ceased all maintenance of ISO 8859, including ISO 8859-1, in order to concentrate on the Universal Character Set and Unicode. In computing applications, encoding that provides full UCS support (such as UTF-8 and UTF-16) are finding increasing favor over encoding based on ISO 8859-1.

What?! So this ISO 8859-1 standard that I had been coding in was, now, almost two years out of date? How could this be? How did I let something this large slip? I've never paid attention to this line and, am figuring, the majority of the developers out there haven't either. I read more and found out that UTF-8 is becoming the most accessible of the charset choices for numerous reasons. It's backwards compatible with ASCII characters, it can easily represent any of the Universal characters with Unicode and, at four bytes, has the smallest loading time for each character. Basically, it's flexible and light.

Why, if I'm such a type guy, have I not researched this before? I've never needed to really. ISO 8859-1 worked perfectly in all browsers still; it was compatible and compliant. There are a few issues as to why. I'm a developer in the United States, speaking English and coding that way. That's the audience ISO 8859-1 was created to reach. Even in England, where the € is used, ISO 8859-1 will not translate. There is no € sign in the character set.

If you get one thing out of this article, please be in order to code your sites in the most accessible way, use UTF-8. It's universal (it's in the name! Universal Transformation Format). Pay attention to the details. Just because we have limited type choices doesn't mean we get a free pass. We need to start paying attention to the little details.

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