Crafting Type instructor Thomas Phinney takes you through 8 optical corrections in this hour-long video tutorial, hosted by Fontlab
Answers include one by CT instructor Thomas Phinney, who will be leading the Portland and Chicago workshops that are just around the corner!
These are live blog notes from the lecture by Gerry Leonidas at the 5th Encontro de Tipografia, Barcelos, Portugal, November 29, 2014.
Usual disclaimer for live blogging: These are informal notes taken by me, Dave Crossland, at the event, and may or may not be similar to what was said by the people who spoke on these topics. This is probably FULL of errors. What do you want for free? If something here is incorrect it is probably because I mistyped it or misunderstood, and if anyone wants corrections, just should tweet me – @davelab6 – or post a comment. Thanks!
[ Slides at https://speakerdeck.com/gerryleonidas/on-minimum-quality-in-typeface-design ]
We were talking about industry yesterday [the usual libre font fight – dc] and we had a good discussion. I thought of the car industry in the 60s and 70s. This Renault was a hatchback. This renault was a joke, badly powered, badly made, and none survive. They did the Citroen na, a rust bucket too. But they also did this, the most interesting car in Europe.
An industry that makes really good and really bad quality things is unfortunate. We all want a minimum level of quality in things. What is the minimum level we can achieve in type? That is something we can all work towards. We can not always makes works of genius, but things that are good enough.
For European cars this has happened… Reviews, magazines that look at things, standardisation, collaboration… You can buy a car now and it will not be terrible. It will be good enough.
Lets consider 3 key ideas and some extensions to them.
Industry and ownership.
Value and visibility of it
Information and quality, to judge it by
Then trends, genres, and creativity, and an intent to act.
We touched on this in the panel discussion. This is the manchester drawing office of Linotype in the 40s. The people there are little cogs in a big gear. This is Joana’s desk; could be anyone, anywhere. There are no longer limits on the supply of type.
The early DTP equipment was expensive by today’s standards. The printer was thousands of euros. The drawings people made were a lot of work, a lot of decisions, and they kept some memory of the process. They were the output of a highly organized process. This contains a lot of value; the company sees this as a product to print books and magazine with, and that is one part of the nature of typeface; what a typeface is.
This is Victorian technology: High Victorian technology that lasted a very long time. It relied on centralised machines. They are glorified lego pieces, they are merely machines and you could understand how they worked and fix them.
In the 20th century, the technology became opaque, first as electronics and then as computers. The machine may not have any connection to the way you use it. Who really understands how my intentions translate into the machine? We have a different world, we operate in abstractions… but the old ways determine the language we use. That drawing from the 40s is an outline contour, and its no coincidence that this drawing in a computer it also an outline contour.
The pace of change in the type industry in the late 80s was astonishing. In old company the board rooms minutes and ATypI records you can see plans for growth, for development in the late 80s of the pre-digital technology, and how it was a total surprise how quickly the industry was disrupted by computers; new kinds of machines that changed how cheaply and quickly things could be done.
What tools like fontographer and pagemaker did was allow people to take forms that were captured in a physical medium and capture them instead in a digital, transferrable medium. PostScript, platform independent technology, severed type from printing.
The browser is a typesetter. Webkit is a typesetting engine, it is the engine behind Chrome, Safari and Opera. A web font service’s server machines somewhere that serve the font files are like the floppy disks with font files for the first platform independent technology.
When industries open up, existing ideas about ownership and contribution change. There is no longer a physical object that you can patent and own and secure.
Next, visibility. You could store drawings, there was a Monotype Collections Room, and when the pre-digital Monotype collapsed as a hot metal company, those drawings were the key thing that was preserved. Machines were saved too, but they were secondary to the type designs captured in the drawings.
Linotype survived the transition to becoming a digital type technology vendor, but in the process everything for the typesetting business was destroyed. Linotype survived as a rightsholder.
Also in Germany at that time, URW’s Ikarus was a digital tool for the previous technology; the original fontographer, and then fontlab, for many years, and today there is glyphs and robofont and fontforge. There are also people working on metafont and similar technologies, and web based versions which are still interfaces to data somewhere.
What is a typeface in the world of data?
What I see when I hit print? Is it what is seen on a web page? What is the typeface? Can you point at it and say, “this is it.” Which is truer to the forms? Is my intention in the font editor’s drawing environment the ‘real’ thing? When I scale it down and color-in the outline contour black, it looks different.
Having a good answer to this is important if you are trying to make a living making typefaces.
The growth of tools has another effect. Font making environments themselves become commodities, and that means their price trends to zero. We are not there yet, but in terms of investment in software, it is negligible for someone to start making fonts. Soon anyone can go to any internet cafe, open a browser, and start designing type. I think in a few years we will have reasonable web-based font editors.
Improving font editors impact the speed of type development. For many Fontlab was annoying and cumbersome, but the move to alternatives like Glyphs and Robofont has not improved the quality of type. What has changed? The speed of production, the speed designers can learn to become type designers. It is a distraction to talk about the tools themselves – what are the typefaces?
The marginal cost of a new font trends to zero, too. (That means, the cost of the next typeface is zero.) If you need to spend x days to make a new type, is that too much hassle for the revenue the type can generate for you? There will be someone somewhere who will design a typeface for a smaller fee, and they will do it. So will typefaces become valueless? But I am talking of typefaces in the most generic sense. A font file. Everyone has the means of production. to manufacture type, to generate font files.
That leaves me to think that if we look at the files we miss the point. The type isn’t to be judged by the files. We must look outside the type to make sense of them. Which are good and which are bad?
Information and quality… How do you evaluate quality? If one thing costs zero, and then another costs thousands of pounds? In the presence of something that is free, how do you justify a market of people charging a lot of money?
I love this font, I love these shapes. I would like them 3d printed so i could touch them!
So what we need to do is look at this separately, to look at it in the content of other things. To look at that font in relation to 8 others.
What was it intended for? There was a brief. It is not a piece of art, it serves a purpose, for a client – imagined or real – and made within a budget of time and money. There are documents intended for it to be used it in, and those inform its decisions. This is a typeface for continuous prose. This is interesting, this is normal, this is not good, and so on. Now I can judge a thing with references outside it, even if in my memory and not in front of me – and if so, even that that is a subjective and hazy process, as we all have different experiences and awareness of what is out there.
A typeface does not have enough information to explain itself. You can say the curves are well formed. It is easy to hit that mark. A typeface can only be evaluated in relation to a context that is external to the typeface.
There is a famous book, “Godel Escher Bach,” a book about A.I. that talks about the meaning of the self. The author Douglas Hofstadter worked with typefaces, and asked, “What are the patterns that people use to recognise letters?”
Ownership and contribution change with the means of making, but our language and ideas span technologies
Value of design is disembodied
Evaluation relies on context
This car, who remembers it? This is Citroen in bed with Mazarati! They made a beautiful car, but it is totally useless. You must take a great deal of care of it, it is temperamental, all the things a car should not be. It is build for one thing: Gazing at it.
So if you want to make a text type, Minion is hard to beat. Then there are types like Cardea which are a bit individual, and then things like Capucine which are outliers. You can graph this in a cloud.
Trends. The dense core of this “context cloud” changes slowly over time. Normality in text type 40 years ago was serifed, but today my kids see sans as the normal. The smart designer tries to second guess this, and capture something that will be desirable in a year or two when their project reaches publication.
Genres. These change, as screen resolution changes and our ideas of what is comfortable to read changes.
Motivators. Things that are in a genre that make you aware there is something different, that motivates you to use it instead of something you already had. That something may not be as unusual as Capucine, but it will be something interesting. Types in this area often win competitions.
We can set objective criteria for well formed shapes, spaces and behaviours. You need to have a fair set of evaluation criteria in a university. I already have a deck on speakerdeck about this; pointers for type reviews.
When I sat at the ATypI Amsterdam Type Crit, reviewing Rui Abreu’s work (http://www.r-typography.com) I found this to be a stressful experience. At the University where I teach, people have weeks to get to know me, but an on-the-spot review with someone for the first time who does not know what I am like, or will think about or say, is a challenge.
This is the list of things in my mind:
fit of typeset text within the brief
key dimensions within a paragraph body. A poem needs lots of space. A dictionary is compact. So, ‘it depends’, on the context of use. What is regular? What is bold? How to decide? If you superimpose all regular fonts, there are the 2 strokes in an ‘n’ and the thickness of the stroke to its height, or the proportion of stem to counter – these are in a narrow range. The bold has similar constraints.
stroke thickness range. So the generation that grew up with super hinted screen fonts, have really heavy bolds, because regular was 1px in stem, and bold had 2px stem. Double! Because you didn’t have the resolution. Verdana bold is really extrabold or black. We had a silent agreement, that its not really bold, its what we need at at that time. And now screens are different and we wish for a semi bold Verdana.
in/out stroke recipes
alignments in h and v axes. This is something you come back to again and again during the development of a typeface.
transitions between letter elements.
relating of inner and outer strokes
letter shapes within key patterns
integration of exceptions. There is one letter that sticks out. The galliard lowercase ‘g’. The f of bembo. You look at it and you think about this. Is this intentional? Done so i would notice it? Does the type say ‘look at me!’? The raygun fonts were doing this a lot. You make the reading process appear to the read, you had to try hard to read raygun. But when is the f arm to get long enough to give identity without catching the eye and distracting a reader. That is something a type designer can spend a lot of time on.
And now everything is global. How do we support this on a global scale?
As the collapse of the industry did away with us and eu centric industry, that have control of means of production, then you get people like kris sowersby who have an international impact from new zealand.
Verdana and Georgia embody Microsoft’s first moves away from print in 1996. They put a lot of money into moving reading from print to screen. They saw dial up modems and early web as being important medium of reading. A lot of effort was spent to make the rendering crisp.
The Cleartype collection in 2003 represented a bet in portable, flat screens. 8 years later, Microsoft put a lot of effort here too. Flat screens were becoming cheaper, we had these massive screens. You had a computer your dad bought, desks, towers, cables around the back. That stuff went away. It became cheaper, flat screens and then laptops led to mobile. The tablet had 3 attempts, and this was one of those failed attempts. Laptops with a screen that flipped and turned back on itself. The idea was portable computers. Microsoft found limits to how much people would read on screen before hitting the print button: If someone sent an article over 1,500 words they would print it. They knew you had to have type you could read on screen for long texts, and the subpixel rendering and the Cleartype collection was an important attempt to do do just that. The fonts were made for Windows Vista in 2003, but only shipped in 2007 – when Windows had a different Cleartype engine.
The idea of type given for free that would be …
Adobe Source Sans and Serif are notable examples in a very long line of fonts that set baselines. You need to enable people that work with texts. Before that there was Vera, Lato, and a lot of fonts made freely available by Google and other large companies or institutions with specific agendas. Brill made a font available freely for all academics, that has all the academic typography glyphs they need for their complex documents.
Businesses that are not type businesses are a critical enabler. People will always put money into new type.
Google is one participant in going global. I hear Google say, I want to make something that sets a base point, not to threaten anyone, and in the same way Verdana and Georgia transformed reading on-screen for the scripts they support, I want people to be able to read on-screen globally.
I’ve talked to people associated with Google about responding and supporting this initiative. I have 2 phases planned for it. I want people to understand the basics, publishing a list of things that people need to keep in mind when designing a typeface. So if they are in the middle of nowhere, in a village in India, and they discover they can make a type for their own script, then they can meet their need to know how to think about type in context.
Some things are general. How to set parameters for a typography brief, is another way of saying, what will this be used in? Here you have a text with levels of hierarchy, so you need type family variants for annotations, main text, captions. You may need different numbers for different contexts.
The web uses CSS to define visual design, and we need to map family styles to their CSS structures. There are 9 weights per family. This is interesting: How many things can you fit in to the 9? Do you really need all 9 weights for text? Is 9 different styles what typographers really need? Or is it 7, or 8, or 5? I don’t know. But CSS is out there and it says you can only reliably address up to 9 styles at a time.
A type designer can draw interpolatable ‘master’ styles, and spit out anything in between them as an ‘instance.’ Should the instances be equally spaced? Should they be based on the same recipe, with point parity?
For a typographer, the very light styles are used sparingly and in very large point sizes. The black may need to have another receipt because it is used for headings, and the regular has again other forms for long-form reading. So I think that the way CSS has 9 weights in a line is not an intelligent way of looking at this stuff.
How do you plan the weights? …
Are newspapers dying in Portugal? A broadsheet spread typically has 8 entry points to reading; 8 things a reader can choose to start reading. So there is a typographic hierarchy to match that. In tabloids or berliners which are smaller, there are 5. When you go to tablet size, you lose the space to have the objects themselves declare the hierarchy. All the articles look more similar. There is an external hierarchy; lists of things to pick from outside the page.
A newspaper on a tablet is using a sidebar for navigation which drives reading order. And on your phone, you can not see the list and the content at the same time. Its either/or. The designers are counting on the short term memory of their audience, and mine is about 3 seconds
So, here are a set of problems. Changing the typographic environment, a changing environment for type making, and some ideas for things to link them. I think this is important because we have communities that do not share our livelihood and our interests, who make decisions that affect us.
There is now very good OpenType support in web browsers, and that will effect Google, Microsoft, Apple and their businesses and other businesses. You can open a web browser anywhere in the world and it will work with your writing system.
Wherever you are, the type you see should not offend you.
We have a simple scripts in the West. You can reliably spell-check all European languages. Typographers have well-established and widely understood rules for typesetting these scripts. But globally this is atypical. Many Eurasian communities have their script, that is connected, with regional variations, and its another world for their typographers.
Early typography machines were made by Europeans, for Europeans, and then later they were adapted to the scripts used by other communities. People wanted to sell things in Thailand, so they wanted Thai typewriters, and how do you fit a script into a typewriter when it has letters you can not fit into the physical restrictions of such a machine? Hot metal also had similar limits – the hot metal would cool before the entire matrix could be created, putting a physical limit on the size of the glyph set.
So what do you do when you have 350 letters and the engineer says that you could only have 250? How many Germans give up the umlaut (diaeresis), or Spanish give up the Ñ (eɲe/énye)? To simplify the script to accommodating the technology, well, maybe you can do it, but it is not ideal, and it would be better to respect the script. Yet the people who make those decisions are not aware of the importance of such issues. We always talk to communities that are not type designers or typographers.
That’s the easy part for me I have some suggestions.
Be perpetually curious. We are lucky to be in a world that is changing, with constant innovation. Type designers are actively engaged in making our world better. With better phones, they are making things that enabled someone who buys a smartphone in Africa to do microbanking with a better experience than traditional banking. Someone in this room may make the font that makes that possible. We go from the metal machines to a smartphone in africa doing banking, this is amazing progress. It is amazing to live in such a world. How can we move things along?
‘The next billion’ is a big phrase in business right now. There are about a billion people online today, and that’s a small part of humanity, and the next billion will join us soon. That matters. The young generation will grow up as professionals in this world. This is a privilege and a responsibility. You must be informed, to fight the curse of “design is making things pretty.” That aspect of design is just the top, the cherry on the cake; design is making things work well in context, then making them exciting and fun to use, and then making them look good doing it.
That’s your job to do.
Pedro Amado: thanks for that, was nice. I have 2 questions. Designing with a specific environment in mind. Frutiger made univers for the lumitype system. The drawing was motivated by that tech. Once emigres fonts were outliers …
Gerry: 2 things. Well, telephone directories are cost driven, if a typeface saves a line per a page, on 800 pages book, and then printing 100k books, that’s a valuable typeface. They are designed for a specific image setter. They design the dots the image setter places the ink. Its like verdana, designed by bitmaps, and then drawn to vectors, and then hinted to recreate the pixels. … I think depending on the project, you have type made for a platform, or not. Emigre’s types can be seen as design research and practice integrated. The confluence of the mac, of pagemaker, fontographer, and postscript, that allowed people to make things they could throw away for the first time. Type specimens look a certain way at that time, as they said, lets play. But quickly they released if you wanted people to read, you needed to respect conventions somewhat. They saw you could make type to look at and type to read with. They saw some type was only useful for some display usage. They could have no impact, or impact you could not anticipate. Emigre were questioning conventions. Its like your naughty cousin who does a terrible thing, then what you do wrong is not so bad. So after emigre we saw a wave of new humanist sans serif, and so syntax was odd at the time it came out but it became became very typical.
Pedro: what is next?
Gerry: Anyone can take my list, and I welcome all feedback. The idea that there is a black box in a teachers or a senior designers’ head? This is nonsense. There is a lack of language to express things we have in our head. We need to have words to say why we do certain things. We should not say, Oooo I like it, or Hmmm it is interesting, we should be able to say exactly why and how that is the case. I take part in competition juries, but without giving feedback about why x got a prize and y did not is a missed opportunity. It is a time commitment that is hard to make. Anyway, I want to put what I have so far online, for free, for anyone. I would like to see tools for comparison. Something i do when i go to web design conferences, is to take an on-screen rendering of text and superimpose an old manuscript. Too often web designers are like ‘wow, we changed everything,’ but no, this comparison shows they didn’t, the rhythm and darkness of text is the same as ever. Then, if you are a beginner, and you can upload your font and compare it, that will help. I think I speak from a position of privilege, as I am paid to work for a year with 15 people who are really motivated to learn type. Anyone is lucky if they can spend a year doing what they like. But ought it to be that or nothing? It would be like aristocrats and peasants. No, I want this stuff online so people can do as much as possible. I can not give you all the things, but I can make good pictures of them, and that can be online. That is the plan. The point is to work myself out of a business by the time I retire.
Q: thank you Gerry for a full hour, it was not exhausting, it was very nice. Again, isn’t there a trap for us all designers and people working on this area to take or confuse popularity with quality? Sometimes things are popular and all a sudden the quality standard first determined or granted by experts and expertise, with self publishing means, became more irrelevant with popularity. Ranking on downloads or true designs.
Gerry: Take good fonts, they are notable for attracting attention by people because they are good quality. Say that someone puts online, for free, a good text typeface. Good enough. Not fabulous, just good enough. So, in the communities that use such fonts, those people who do not see typography as core, they see a need that is high enough that say Merriwether is good enough for them. A commercial type designer might say, “ah, there is a need for a typeface like this!” and make something even better. Perhaps the sales or usage data of distributors can show that the world needs type of a certain kind. What is good enough? I will not spend 800 euros on a typeface. I will spend 150, as I will get enough value for it. A type library subscription for 10 euros? This is beer money for me. Where there are collections of type without the friction of cost, I think they can show where the bigs trends and demands will go. The user community of such collections is not restricted by quality concerns, and they may not know how to determine quality. There are more and more ways to learn about it, though. Also, popularity in the type world is not the same as popularity in the graphic design world. So graduates of a course may pat each other’s backs, but the market can be fickle. I can think of popular type which is popular not because of its design features. I bet that any low contrast slab serif that looked okay small and big, could be as popular with the same marketing and positioning. So, there is a shift in what people expect to see, and as people realise they can choose the type they use, they will learn and change their choices. What is quality? Typographica’s list of popular fonts is not the same of what is popular in the real world. What is used in the streets?
Q: Neo Sans was very popular in Portugal.
Dave Crossland: Lobster!
Gerry: Dino is still here? Ah, well. When a political party needs to rebrand, what do they do? Or what about banks. All the banks rebranded in the last few years with softer typefaces. They had serious fonts before, and now its all italics and nice ‘we are friendly, so, give us your money.’ You know, there’s someone at the brand agency who went to school with the type designer, and they say, a new typeface is 80,000 euros, and its 30,000 for a custom version of a retail type, so the bank says, we stole a lot of money but not that much, we’ll take the 30k one thanks, and then it is seen everywhere, and retail sales pick up. Here is a semi fictional example. Who remembers Heathrow airport signage? They did once have a typeface for the signage system. It was Bembo Bold in black on yellow. No one would pass a project at undergraduate level with such a choice! But you surely knew you were in Heathrow when you landed because of that. Then the companies changed, one company came to own all airports, and maybe they looked at a custom typeface to get away from Frutiger that all airports use… but that cost for a custom type had not earlier been made a separate line item in the budget: when the project was imagined, no one thought ahead about the need for a custom typeface. The 100,000 euros that it would cost is peanuts in the cost of an airport. They said, oops we just cant do it, so we’ll just license frutiger, just like everyone else. Now Heathrow uses Frutiger. And was a business decision, not a design decision. Monotype have put on a branding event for london agencies to discuss this recently. The largest problems with any brand roll out are font related. The brand managers know the least about it. They budget the least time for it. They think, ‘fonts just work,’ but then they don’t work. And then they have to go back and fix the fonts expensively. Its common.
Yves Peters: Brussels airport is using a fontfont design for their branding. I will ask them about why they chose that font.
Gerry: yes, what is Brussels? Just another city? Or something meaningful? The Belgians have a dual language requirement in the same script. A country in the middle east got a FIFA championship, they build airports for it. 6 regional airports, 1 international, and all the rail and bus systems. This went to london agencies. Architects, agencies, sign firms. That means signs in English and Arabic, left to right and right to left. How to balance the scripts? How to present the hierarchy, airside and landside? The symbols? All need to localised. If you have a growing sense of pride and joining the international community of nations that host world class events, do you want your signs looking the same of everyone else? Or something that shows the growing maturity and identidy of the region? The brief says,”Not Frutiger!” People arriving need to find their way, the arrows, the symbols must look different too.
Q: Do the people making a new airport really understand that type can make a difference?
Gerry: Any parent who buys books for their kids, you see type with a single story a and g, and you feel better about buying the kid version of the book. It may be in Georgia or Plantin but with a single story a. The people making the decisions are not the kids. They are the parents. We know from research that kids can read both forms just as well; kids know that there are letters for learning to write with and to read with. The kids do not care about the single story form. But the buyers, the parents, do care, because it signifies that they thought about their kids’ needs. Also, typefaces that are made for dyslexics. Its proven not to be the case that these have a lot of impact. But if I stand here and say, I am very smart – which is impossible to verify – and I say it makes a difference, then the onus is on you to disprove me. The book with the a and g makes no difference to the child, and paying attention to the illustrations is much more important – are they nouns, adjectives, or verbs? Verbs are hard to illustrate. Tom has a house. Fine. Tom likes his house. Hard. But that is too much information for an average parent to know.
Q: It is needed for education, to show people that good typefaces are important
Gerry: I think we will find typefaces are not as important as we think. If the language of a blog is not good, you tune out. Even if the typography is great. Or if you apply the Guardian’s typography to The Sun’s content, it will not be more readable. So if we keep close to the …
Thomas Phinney explains on Quora:
Follow him there, as he’s always active answering questions about type and typography!
A: Graphic design is very competitive. One of the primary elements of graphic design is type and typography. The surge of popularity in typography-heavy design we are experiencing means more and more designers are learning more and more about type. In turn, this means that designers with less insight into typography are at a disadvantage.
Crafting Type helps both design students and professionals to stay competitive by offering you an exposure to the deepest parts of typography - to type itself.
Zooming in to this level is still rare. Designers who attend our workshops tell us that learning how to craft their own type has carried over into an ability to think critically about the characteristics of letterforms that other people have crafted, to understand why they are the way that they are, and how they can best use them. They now really know where the personality of a type comes from.
More broadly, our workshops are valuable for people because they can better relate to their place in the history of making and sharing texts. In modern history we went through phases. First the public gained the widespread ability to read, then, the ability to be published.
The truly novel aspect of our place in history today is that literacy is more than reading and writing. We are expected to design our own documents now, too. For example, enough highly paid lawyers do so that a type designer has published a niche book for that very market, Typography for Lawyers.
Document design is a genuinely subtle and complicated task. Controlling presentation is essential because it effects the use and gestalt meaning of the text. This all leads to the conclusion that learning about typography is enhanced by insights into type design. These insights help to understand and use type better, and so you will become a more sophisticated and effective document maker.
Traditional typography classes emphasize the critical importance of “Good Type.” But this often leads to an absurd reverence for type, and a sense of impenetrability around the process of type design. This excess is an unhealthy approach because it insists on the servility of the user of type.
The user of type can be a modifier or creator of type too! Either directly, or indirectly. Crafting Type shows students that while type design is certainly rich, deep and complex, it is absolutely not impenetrable. Within a few days you will learn enough to make useful changes to fonts which respect your freedom to make changes. It is unethical to modify fonts when your license doesn’t allow you to do so. We cover font licensing in lively discussions during our classes.
Custom type is an increasingly common feature of graphic design. Even if you never design or modify type after taking the workshop, you will be in a far better position to purposefully specify the characteristics of a brief for a custom type that you commission from a full time professional type designer. You will be able to work effectively with a type designer to realize your vision.
The group dynamic at Crafting Type is also something people say is valuable afterwards. Here, design students are mixed in shoulder to shoulder with professionals with similar interests, and have the opportunity to network or even make friends.
Very occasionally someone actually want to be a type designer. This is rare - and that’s fine. We love to help students avoid the mistakes we made becoming type designers.
If you have any specific questions about the value of attending, such as to help persuade your manager to sponsor your time off (or even your ticket) please do email us.
If you would like a workshop in your city or at your company, we’d love to make it happen!
Crafting Type returns to Portland, this time with hosting sponsorship by the Portland State University.
Local type expert Thomas Phinney will lead the workshop, with our project founder Dave Crossland joining if enough people sign up. Octavio is also ready to join us if more than 20 people decide to join us
And as we go into the year, to all subscribers, thanks so much for your supportive attention over the years with Crafting Type :)
In other New Year’s Nonresolutions, I’m no longer going to be pretending that various software companies’ and FOSS projects’ ridiculous capitalization “policies” for their names are anything except the nonsense that they are.
If I’m starting a sentence with your project or product name, I’m capitalizing it. But I’m not capitalizing the whole word unless it’s an actual initialization or acronym, and I’m not CamelCasing it unless it’s an actual abbreviation.
Complain about this and I will slap you with a policy dictating that you can only write my name (or the names of any projects I’ve ever released or will release) in blackletter text rendered at 16pt (American points), in #3754A6, all caps, and that you have to stand up whenever you read it (silently or out loud) or think it. And I decide whether or not the font you’ve chosen is considered a genuine blackletter. No one other than the complainer will be required to follow this policy.
I feel better already, don’t you?
Greetings, innocent reader! I decided a few moons ago to see if would be valuable to periodically write up a “what’s new in open fonts” column, to cover small developments and/or incremental progress in the realm of open/libre typefaces and in free software for type design / typeography / text stuff. When there are big stories, those tend to get covered, but in between those many of the smaller or less exotic improvements can get lots in the S/N of regular Internet Life. I don’t know if it will prove valuable or not, but we can at least see.
In any case, as often happens, life gets in its own way, and here we are close to the end of 2014. That is a good time to look back, though, so that’s what I’ll do. For the sake of space, however, we’ll break things up just a bit.
This first installment is going to cover news that happened in the time period between Libre Graphics Meeting (LGM) 2014 this past April and—roughly speaking—TypeCon 2014. I already wrote up a rough report of recent developments immediately after LGM; it ran at the free-software news site LWN.net (where I work). You can read it here: https://lwn.net/Articles/593614/ … and you can, in a sense, consider that “issue № 000.”
So with that bit o’ accounting out of the way, let’s begin.
Five “big” open font releases have landed recently (at least five that I know of; if I’ve missed any, let me know). “Big” is, of course, a relative adjective; what’s listed below essentially accounts for fonts that garnered widespread attention because of where they come from or where they are used.
Source Serif, from Adobe, was also released in May. Source Serif is the latest edition to Adobe’s widely used “Source” family. As you probably recall, Source Sans debuted in 2012, Source Code (a monospaced typeface) followed in 2013. Source Serif was designed by Adobe’s Frank Grießhammer (who otherwise seems to be renowned for his overwhelming devotion to the Unicode box-drawing characters, which, in a sense, also makes him a ‘box-drawing character’ when you think about it); it is based on ideas from the work of Pierre Simon Fournier. It is a transitional face, but despite having a distinct historical lineage from Source Sans and Source Code, the team has done a lot of work to harmonize the design within the larger family (or “superfamily” if you’re one of those weird taxonomist nerds).
In July, Google unveiled its collaboration with Adobe on Noto CJK, an addition to its Noto family that covers the full Chinese, Japanese, and Korean character sets. If there’s any lingering doubt about the size of such typeface, Adobe’s blog post on the release points out that the OTF files contain 65,535 glyphs—which is the maximum possible in OpenType. Whether that amounts to a major problem needing immediate attention in OpenType is a popular discussion point. Nevertheless, Noto CJK (like Noto) is available under the Apache 2.0 license. Noto is a derivative of the Droid font family (of which there are several) designed to cover as many of the world’s languages as it can; I have not been able to track down more precise info on the designers and developers working on it. As is always the chorus in this little dog-n-pony show: if you know, please tell me….
Speaking of Droid, Google’s shiny new replacement for Droid (or the Lance Henriksen to its Ian Holm, if you will…) is Roboto, which also received a major update in July. The update was again the work of Christian Robertson; the redesign was done in concert with the latest Android release. Most of the changes, according to the announcement, are to rhythm and spacing, although there are a few distinct changes to common glyphs, such as the legs on R and K and changing the dots (on i and j, but also on punctuation) from rectangular to round.
Last but not certainly not least, GNU Unifont released its latest update, version 7.0.03, in July. The update covers every printable code point in Unicode 7.0, Plane 0. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, GNU Unifont is a fallback font; it is used (for example) to display the generic titlebar symbol for all glyphs in the FontForge UI.
Naturally, there have been plenty of open font releases other than these. Google Fonts announces new releases on its Twitter feed; by my count there were seven: Khand, Rajdhani, Teko, Kalam, Karma, Hind, and El Mukta. Open Font Library featured many more releases—too many, in fact, to list individually in any practical sense. But you can watch the OFLB Twitter account as well, although the RSS feed is a better alternative for compatibility reasons.
But new font families were not the only releases of note. One of the easy-to-overlook releases this year was that of Adobe’s Font Development Kit for OpenType (AFDKO), which saw its first Linux release in the spring. AFDKO is a collection of utilities for building, testing, and QAing (it’s a word; trust me) OpenType fonts. When this Linux release happened, users still had to agree to Adobe’s non-FOSS license agreement in order to use it, but it was a big step anyway. For the first time, it became possible to use many of these tools on Linux, both for one’s own fonts as well as to build Adobe’s own open font releases. It’s not too useful to have an open source license on a font if you can’t actually build it, after all. We’ll see what else happened with AFDKO in the second installment of this 2014 recap….
A totally unrelated release that caught my attention during this timeframe (and should catch yours as well) was version 0.2 of Raphaël Bastide’s ofont. Not to be confused with sfont, which is Daniele Capo’s library for doing weird tricks with UFO fonts in the DrRacket IDE. Ofont is a simple web framework for deploying a font web site. You can use it to publish your own open fonts in an easy-to-scan-and-sample manner, or to build a microfoundry site. Most importantly, when Bastide says it’s simple, he means it: this is a configure-it-in-plain-text-and-you’re-basically-done system, not some heavyweight monstrosity like WordPress or MediaWiki. The best example of it in action is Bastide’s own font site, usemodify.com.
Arguably the biggest software story in the open font space this year, however, is Metapolator. Metapolator is a parametric font-family design tool that builds on the underlying precepts of Donald Knuth’s METAFONT. The idea is that the type designer can manipulate the parameters that describe an entire font—stroke widths, slant, x-heights and cap heights, contrast, weight, and so on. Starting with a single font, the designer can extend it into a consistent font family, rather than having to rebuild every family member from scratch.
It’s a powerful and appealing concept, but it is also one fraught with design challenges. Whole-font parameters are not easily visualized like actual Bézier curves in a glyph are, and making them easy to work with is a pretty new idea.
To make sense of the problem space and work towards a useful-and-usable interface, the project has been collaborating with interaction designer/developer Peter Sikking of Man+Machine Works. Sikking is long-time member of the free-software graphics community, and is perhaps best known for his interaction architecture work with the Krita and GIMP teams. Both of those projects have reaped huge benefits from their respective collaborations; Krita virtually reinvented itself as a first-class natural-media painting application, and GIMP has brought sense and flexibility to a number of its tools over the years with Sikking’s designs (he most recently previewed some work reinventing the text tool, which will be interesting to watch). So the outlook for Metapolator evolving a good UI/UX for its unusual design task is good.
But the process is not a quick one. I talked to Sikking about the Metapolator work via video chat at the end of the summer. Metapolator developer Simon Egli was originally going to join us, but wasn’t able to make it. At the time, Sikking had completed working out the product vision with the Metapolator team (i.e., refining the purpose and goals for the application) and had recently worked with a number of type designers to observe their existing workflow for the tasks Metapolator is intended to address, and to get feedback from them about Metapolator interface issues. He was still in the process of sifting through the results of those conversations, after which he would get to work mapping out how the designers would want to use Metapolator and how that lines up with the development team’s viewpoint and the actual codebase. The plan was to have the designer vision distilled out by September, then a plan for working it into the UI the following month.
The nice thing about my procrastination on this whole endeavor is that that time period has now passed, and you can take a look at the results. There is a thorough write-up of one face-to-face meeting in late July, an exploration of possible concepts for how multiple parameters (≥ 2 in particular) between master fonts could be presented, and (perhaps more importantly) Sikking has written a design overview that documents the overall structure for how users (type designers, specifically) would interact with Metapolator. If you read through it—which you should—what you’ll see is how the user’s process of working on a font family with Metapolator breaks up into separate stages of activity: exploring the parameters of interest (weight, slant, style, etc etc), actually editing a font that is “metapolated” between multiple original masters until it passes muster, turning the metapolated intermediate into an actual, real font instance, etc.
There is also a lot of detail in Sikking’s writing that relates to the specifics of the eventual UI: ensuring that tools, menus, and panels fit onto appropriately-sized screen dimensions and so on. That may be less interesting to the type designer than the how-to-use-the-application questions, but it’s certainly good to consider all of those practical questions from day 1, rather than letting them slide to day 0 (note: in this case, “day 0″ means whenever the resulting application is launched. “Day 1″ on the other hand, means the much earlier starting-point day for the whole process. It’s a mixed metaphor. Deal with it. Maybe some enterprising mathematician would like to explore mapping the production calendar into the reverse-unit-interval [1,0] to see how that affects software development; I don’t plan to tackle it).
What comes next is the implementation phase. More on that later, perhaps, since much of the recent work on it took place after the arbitrary pre-TypeCon deadline for this write-up. The best place to follow its progress is the Metapolator Google Plus page, where the team is posting frequent updates.
Finally, there was one other significant development in the open font community between LGM and TypeCon, and one that is particularly not fun for those involved. Designer extraordinaire Vernon Adams was in a serious road accident in late May. You may know Vernon from the Oxygen font family that has been adopted as the UI font for the KDE desktop environment, or from any of his dozens of other open fonts (which you can read about at his site, newtypography.co.uk). I first got to know him online, as he routinely was able to dig up scans of old ATF specimen books that bordered on being higher resolution than the real-world itself, which was enormously helpful. A bit later, I spent a week cooped up in a weird Google office building with Vernon, Eben Sorkin, Jason Pagura, Ben Martin, and Molly Sharp, co-authoring the book Start Designing With FontForge—as part of Google’s GSoC Documentation Camp. It was actually a one-week booksprint guided by FLOSSManuals’s Adam Hyde, and it was a great experience all around (even when the espresso machine was misbehaving).
In any case, to return to the story at hand, Vernon’s accident was, as alluded, a bad one, in which he was banged up quite a bit. In fact, he was in an induced coma for quite a while, since it evidently can be very touch-and-go (particularly in the early days) where head injuries are concerned.
The good news—and it doesn’t get much better—is that, after all of that time and torment, Vernon is on the mend. Out of comas and casts, and in recovery. That means a lot of the physical-therapy stuff that it takes to recover from a serious injury, though, which isn’t fast. But he’s also close by to where his family lives, for which everyone’s grateful as well.
I don’t feel like I ought to dwell too much on Vernon’s recovery process, since that should be his family’s purview. So I’ll just say that it’s great to see that he’s making progress, and I’m looking forward to the next time our paths cross in person. And I’m already thinking up sarcastic comments to make for whenever that pathcrossing takes place (I suspect that Vernon will find all the public attention pretty embarrassing, so we’ll go from there…).
If you want to stay more on top of Vernon’s story, his wife Allison is blogging about it all at sansoxygen.com. Again, I’m taking a cue from the family that it’s alright to point to the site (since it’s public), but as always, this is kind of personal stuff, so I hope we’re not intruding too much on Vernon’s privacy by mentioning it.
That wraps up this edition. As promised, I will be back to discuss TypeCon to the end of 2014 in a follow-up post. Seeing how long this one is, I hope to compress things a bit more for the next installment, but if I’ve left something out, please drop me a line. If there’s still an excess of information for volume 002, I’ll just try and use smaller words.
Intel Clear, 5 min video about a global type design project by @daltonmaag
Type in a Digital Landscape by @bruno_maag first presented at @BITSMMXIV is now available as a 1 hour video:
|Thanks Behdad for this snap. Was not able to see early with whom i am talking :)|
Thomas and Aoife are returning to Chicago to offer another 3 day intensive type design introduction workshop at the excellent Harrington College of Design, perfectly located downtown.
January 30 - February 1
|Image created by Shilpa|
A participant in Crafting Type Seattle last year has just release Gaslight, a new type family:
Gaslight is the result of a desire to create a sans-serif rich with humanistic charm and lyrical curves, to provide some relief from the highly rational, low-contrast faces we’re surrounded by at every turn. Gaslight can…
We’re super excited to introduce a new member to our catalogue – League Spartan. We’ve been working on this one a while, and we’re starting out by releasing a single, bold weight. It’s a beautiful, modern geometric sans-serif, and we’ve actually been secretly using it on our own site for the last few months. It’s superb. You’ll love it.
Festival de tipografia de Madrid. Conferencias, exposiciones y talleres sobre tipografía, caligrafía, lettering y diseño tpográfico actual.
TypeMad is an upcoming festival of typography in Madrid: Conferencias, exposiciones y talleres sobre tipografía, caligrafía, lettering y diseño tpográfico actual!
Crafting Type is participating with a workshop the weekend before the main event. The key instructor is Octavio, a Spanish type designer, and if more than 15 people to sign up then Dave Crossland will join. If more than 30 sign up, Alexei Vanyashin will bring some Russian expertise to town!
El taller será en Inglés y español.
The workshop will be in English AND Spanish.
Its our standard 3 day workshop, but we have a special offer for the festival - there is only the ‘student’ price, with an additional discount - so the total for all 3 days is only €160.
The release of GNOME 3.14 is slowly approaching, so I stole some time from actual design work and created this little promo to show what goes into a release that probably isn’t immediately obvious (and a large portion of it doesn’t even make it in).
<iframe class="image full" frameborder="0" height="500" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/Co4i_d47e1I"> Watch on Youtube </iframe>
I’d like to thank all the usual suspects that make the wheels spinning, Matthias, Benjamin and Allan in particular. The crown goes to Lapo Calamandrei though, because the amount of work he’s done on Adwaita this cycle will really benefit us in the next couple of releases. Thanks everyone, 3.14 will be a great release*!
<footnote>* I keep saying that every release, but you simply feel it when you’re forced to log in to your “old” GNOME session rather than jhbuild.</footnote>