Thursday 21 August 2008

Web Typography: The Pain Will Persist

. . . unless existing and new open source font projects gain momentum and critical mass.

Filed under:   general
Posted by:   Molly | 17:57 | Comments (25)

Comments (25)

  1. We just need like 10 decent fonts (that work well for all sizes, bolded and/or italicized) under something like a Creative Commons license.

  2. Linotype has some excellent screen typefaces. These have been branded by Linotype as XSF [eXcellent Screen Fonts]. Microsoft’s new clear-type fonts shipped with Vista and Office 2007 are also excellent screen typefaces.

    Of course use requires the @font-face construct and browsers that support it, EOT or not. That in itself is a can of worms.

    Open source fonts would also have to gain wide spread distribution above and beyond development — if you are suggesting that Web typography needs to be free of the @font-face thing.

  3. In my opinion, saying that open source fonts will solve the font problem on the Web is like saying Creative Commons imagery would take care of all of the Web’s graphics needs. Open Source tools are a great option to have, but should not be supported to the exclusion of commercial options.

    We need to be able to use commercial tools to produce the design and content of web pages. That includes commercially licensed fonts.

  4. That feels kind of narrow… why can’t existing font authors change their licence agreements to allow embedding over the web? (And if the answer is they’re afraid the fonts will escape “into the wild”, that’s a head-in-the-sand answer – they should take a guess at how many copies of unlicensed fonts are out in the wild already.)

  5. @Xander – Unfortunately your comments suggest that proprietary font distributors should give up on their business model overnight, just look at how slow the music/film business is at handling change! – so I question who has their head in the sand now? When your business model is designed to work one way (and works well this way) it is very hard and time consuming to adapt to change.

    I would be delighted to see in influx of really good CC licensed fonts for use in my designs.

  6. What about “IKEA sans” or the font designed for the Xbox 360 ( and countless other special “branding” fonts.

    I believe the primary use case for font embedding is branding related. Unless there’s a way for these custom designed fonts to be used on the web “safely” (without fear of copying) font embedding is useless.

  7. The pain will purely persist. For now I am pleasing myself with actually:
    1) Liking Georgia.
    2) Liking Lucida Grande and
    3) Not caring that Windows users will not see it.
    I must be clearly messed up.

    And as others have stated, embedding fonts over the web is not as easy as it sounds. The web is not a static format like a PDF that allows inclusion of subsets and offers “ok” measures to protect the embedded fonts.

  8. Not at all. Open source fonts won’t make much difference because it’s too small and the quality is too low. Finding a decent open source font, with good metric, good kerning, and a complete international glyph set is going to be hard. There’s a lot of work that goes into building a good comprehensive typeface, and that’s why you don’t get many good open source ones. And, you never will. A typeface isn’t a group project, it’s an individual expression, and it contains artistic ego which makes it even lower chance of being given out as a freebee.

    The pain will persist until the font foundries get with the times and find a good way to monetise @font-face in browsers.

  9. @Tobias: XP has Lucida Sans Unicode and Palatino Linotype in lieu of Lucida Grande and Palatino.

    @Matt Wilcox: Suggesting an Open Source effort in which any ol’ fool can throw in is not what Molly has in mind, I suspect. Let’s face it: Random Crap Code rarely makes it into Firefox builds; why should fonts be any different?

    My own thought is that an effort to build a well curated Open Source font library would do an end run around, and possibly obviate, the impasse over font embedding that we’ve been enjoying (meh) for something like ten years.

    After pondering Molly’s comments, I come away with the following ideas:

    * In ten years of knotted panties over font embedding, we’ve yet to fully consider the security implications.
    * Add-on architecture (one easy way to handle this issue) differs from one browsing platform to the next.
    * Foundries are a-flutter, and not without reason, about the fact that once it’s in the wild, it’s a matter of time before it’s unburdened of any rights restrictions.
    * A fate to be intently avoided in any event is wholesale online use of print-optimized fonts. Ugh. …And given how non-specialists regard type, you know it’s going to happen. A lot.

    Think of it this way:

    Microsoft threw money at Matthew Carter et al. to do up many of the faces we’ve come to sometimes love, sometimes hate over the past ten years. Why can’t an Open Source font library be started, curated by the AIGA and paid for with royalties from an endowment started to that purpose? Put a library together, pitch the browser vendors and let things take their course.

    Look at it from a designer’s point of view:

    * An opportunity to participate in the solution of a well defined and well known problem
    * An opportunity to get an ultimate resume boost (“I designed type that’s installed on the computers of half a billion people”)
    * More likely than not, an opportunity to get paid

    …And I believe that an endowment solution for royalties would work. People who donate would be doing it in their own self-interest. And who’s to say that the effort couldn’t earn the approbation of one of the obscenely rich?

    Executed with care, an Open Source effort would work around a host of security and IP issues, expand design choices, and offer better Unicode support than is available presently.

    Maybe I’m being irrepressibly optimistic, but I firmly believe it can be done… as opposed to embedding solutions, which are fraught with a long list of problems.

  10. Ahhh the achilles heel of web design – fonts. Matt just wrote what I’d say so all I can say is I second that. In fact, was it last month someone wrote a great article about how font foundries could monetize in this way?

    Richard Rutter, found the link:

  11. I have a dream about these fonts for web, like upload your font in the web directory to the server, and the browser could have a mechanism, to kinda fetch the font from the location and install it temporarily on the system to display the web page, as intended by the designer.

    Sending appropriate fonts along with the print design to the press in not an copyright violation, But, I’ve no idea about how about this sending to web server.


    dream today might be an idea tomorrow 🙂

  12. « I believe the primary use case for font embedding is branding related. Unless there’s a way for these custom designed fonts to be used on the web “safely” (without fear of copying) font embedding is useless. »

    You believe wrong. Here are a few points why:

    – The same was said of images when the IMG tag was introduced back in ’94

    – You can already download all the fonts in the world in a few minutes. Step 1: install a BitTorrent client. Step 2: go to Step 3: clicketyclick.

    – For the same reason you can’t just post the entire Star Wars movie collection. The intellectual property rights owner will complain to your hosting provider.

    In fact, embedded fonts will /expand/ the market for fonts. More money for the makers of fonts. Let’s hope they’re smarter about this than the MAFIAAs have been.

  13. I’m hopeful that:

    1. The next versions of all major browsers will support @font-face
    2. This will resolve some of the current chicken & egg problem, providing an impetus for more type designers to license their fonts for embedding/linking.

    Also, I have a question: aren’t many of the most expensive and largest (in numbers of glyphs, hinting/kerning pairs) fonts designed more for print, and less for the screen?


  14. @Michael Montgomery — If you want a font to be optimally readable on screen (for example, optimizing for ClearType by designing at the pixel grid level), you are going to spend substantially more time on that than you are on print issues. Bill Hill talks about this in a comment on one of Chris Wilson’s blog entries:

  15. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Web Typography: The Pain Will Persist

  16. Good works, thank you very much

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