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Will Calibri leave Pakistan sans Sharif? »

Calibri font samples

Luc[as] de Groot’s Calibri, which entered wide use in 2007.

I answered a question on Quora early last week about the availability of Microsoft system font Calibri before its official release in 2007, and quickly found myself caught in a maelstrom centered on the family of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. I have now been interviewed by both the BBC and NPR about the case, and quoted in various other places. Sensibly enough, one publication got feedback from Luc[as] de Groot, the designer of Calibri.

Pakistan has seen a high-​level corruption inquiry based on the Panama Papers leaks last year, that incriminated many public figures. Several of the Pakistani PM’s children appear to have investments in offshore companies. The question is, who owned the investments? The PM’s daughter Maryam Nawaz Sharif (who purportedly has political ambitions) produced a document that purported to prove that she was a “trustee” while her less-​politically-​interested brother was the owner.

The document had a date of early February 2006, and was set in Calibri, although that typeface wasn’t formally released until January 2007.

As my writeup on Quora explains, Calibri was available in “preview” versions of what would become Windows Vista as early as 2004. But normal people were not using this for office documents before it came out in 2007. One can debate whether it qualifies as a “smoking gun,” but it is at least highly suspicious, and I have no inclination to argue that the Pakistani Supreme Court is being unreasonable to say that the burden of proof is now on the defense to explain this improbable situation.

I have testified in court about a backdated document using Calibri before—although in a clearer case where the document was dated prior to even 2004. I am pretty sure that I will again—plenty of people will not remember or hear about this case, so being the default font in both Word and Excel it will come up again in future forgeries.

The Lesson of Color Fonts for Variable Fonts »

Today’s announcement of variable fonts in OpenType 1.8 represents a renaissance of the functionality of multiple master and GX Variations capabilities in mainstream fonts. With the announcement made jointly by Microsoft, Google, Adobe and Apple, it also marks a surprising and new level of multi-​company cooperation in font standards, at a level I for one have never seen in my nearly two decades in fonts.

The need for increased cooperation has been brought home in the past couple of years with the lurching and dispersed movement towards color fonts. The idea with color fonts is that there are uses for being able to spec multiple specific colors in the glyphs of a font, whether for colorful emoji or multi-​color letters. For color fonts, there were four different approaches that all deployed and are now in OpenType. Microsoft invented one, Apple another, Google a third, and Adobe plus Mozilla a fourth. One can debate the merits of each approach, but clearly developing them in isolation and putting four competing approaches into the OpenType spec has not helped the adoption of any or all of them. (Apple originally said their approach was only intended for internal use and did not submit it for OpenType standardization, but changed their mind and submitted it at the last minute for OpenType 1.8, so the spec just went from three to four color fonts approaches.)

In the end, although developing separately allowed for the secrecy and control, it did not yield an ideal long-​term outcome. Sure, each vendor can make fonts that work in isolation in their environment, but it should come as no surprise that users and font creators have been slow to embrace these color font solutions that worked with only  platform and limited browsers.It seems clear that the decision-​makers and reps of the companies involved were at least somewhat chastened by this outcome. I believe this lesson helped inspire increased cooperation on variable fonts.


More reading:

Brazil visa for ATypI São Paulo »

UPDATE: The workaround described below has apparently been closed. As mentioned in comments below, the SF Brazilian Consulate page has been updated and no longer mentions this possibility. If you look into it and verify that this option no longer exists, please let me know.

Summary: Americans can still get last-​minute visas for Brazil in less than four weeks, but for many of us it is only possible if we go in person to a distant consulate. Details below. Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and DC are currently the best Brazil consulates to hit for a quick visa.

Like some other Americans going to ATypI in São Paulo this year in mid-​October, I waited too long to start my visa process. What I didn’t understand was that some (many) of the Brazilian consulates have a big backlog, including the one serving my area. This means that I, or my designated visa service company, need to make an appointment six weeks in advance, plus allow for processing time of two weeks, and a few days for the visa to get back to me. Call it nine weeks altogether.

I didn’t realize there was an appointment issue, so I didn’t start pursuing the visa until I got back from my last trip that I had to have my passport for—which was just a week ago. Big mistake. But I have learned some more options, and am hereby sharing them so as to save my colleagues the hours of research I had to do.

(Note: Because the USA requires visas for Brazilians, Brazil does the same to Americans. So my Russian, Polish and EU colleagues don’t need a visa to go to Brazil, but I do.)

Now, whether you have a problem, and how much, depends on where you live. Some regions are served by an office that does not take appointments, but you just walk in. Others have up to six or seven weeks wait for an appointment. Some process applications in as little as a week. Others take as much as three weeks. So… it depends.

Also, you can check back with the online scheduling systems, because sometimes appointments are canceled and you can find an early opening. If you are lucky.

There is an online form to fill out, and much additional documentation they want, which you can upload. Beware of surprising inconsistencies, like the fact that the picture you upload has to be in 4:3 aspect ratio but the one you paste on the form must be two inches square. Also, the documentation required varies by which regional consulate you go to! Some require no financial records, some require one, three, or four months of bank statements.

You can hire a visa service company, which can save you from going to a consulate in person. Or get a friend to take your paperwork in. But in either of those cases, you must deal with your particular regional consulate. So what happens if your regional Brazilian consulate is San Francisco and you had to start the process nine weeks in advance to get your visa?

Well, it turns out there is an out. Not a very attractive one, but an out. You can apply to any Brazil consulate you like, as long as you do it in person. So last night I flew to Atlanta to apply for my visa, and I did, and today I am flying back.

Being restricted to applying to your regional consulate applies when doing it by mail (not all the consulates even do it by mail any more), and when using a third party—whether it is a friend or a visa service. I talked to a visa service and their supposed Brazil visa expert denied that I could go anywhere other than my regional consulate. She was wrong. I just did.

From the San Francisco consulate’s appointment scheduling calendar page:

The applicant does not have to come in person to submit his/​her application. Any friend, relative or colleague can act as a proxy. If you don´t have any relatives or friends in San Francisco who would be able to act as a proxy and submit your visa application, your other option is to use the services of a visa agency.

Tourists to Brazil have four (4) options: (a) check multiple times a day our online visa appointment system for possible cancellations and new available slots; (b) contact a visa agency to check if the agency is able to schedule an earlier appointment (visa agencies have different slots); (c) check availability of appointments at other Brazilian Consulates in the USA – Tourists are allowed to request Tourist Visas at any Brazilian Consulate regardless of the Consulate’s jurisdiction; or (d) reschedule your trip to a later date.”

Emphasis added. Note that a tourist visa is perfectly valid for going to a conference, although you may also need a letter from ATypI inviting you to come if you tell the consulate you are coming for a conference.

I had already looked at almost all the consulates, and now have looked at all. Here is what I know.

NOTE that processing times given are for in-​person appointments, and may be longer for mail or visa agency processing. Most consulates mail back the visa. You may need to supply a self-​addressed pre-​paid express mail envelope, which you can buy at the post office at the same time as your $160 money order.

SUMMARY: Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and DC are the best. Miami may also be an option.

Atlanta: same-​day appointments available. One week processing time.

Boston: Dubious viability. About two week delay for an appointment. Up to two weeks (10 business days) processing time.

Chicago: No apppointments! Two weeks (ten business days) processing for in-​person visa applications.

Hartford: Not viable, first app’ts in October.

Houston: You have to have your electronic paperwork submitted to even check on their app’t calendar system. Processing time is only up to four days for tourist visas, and may be same day!

Los Angeles: Not viable, first app’ts six weeks out.

Miami: Marginal. No app’ts! Up to three weeks (15 business days) processing time for in-​person applications.

New York City: Not viable, first app’ts a week or two out, plus three weeks processing time.

San Francisco: Not viable, first app’ts six weeks out.

Washington, DC: No app’ts, and one week (five business days) processing time. but they recommend at least a month in advance of your travel.

Women’s voices in type & ATypI »

I need feedback!

Prior to this year’s TypeCon Denver conference, which I’m at right now, there was a fairly hot twitter discussion about the relative lack of female speakers in the lineup, at about 17%. The discussion was nicely captured by Indra Kupferschmid. It got an eloquent response on Medium from Elizabeth CareySmith, and spurred major interviews and research from Dyana Weissman, which you can read in her epic article/​series on Typographica.

When I saw the Twitter discussion (a few days late, due to travel), I started a discussion with my fellow ATypI board members, and started crunching numbers about our own conference. I found that we have about 30% female attendees the past two years, and also about 30% female speakers last year and in the coming conference this year. (Although this year is differently skewed, with 50/​50 women in the opening two-​track day with workshops, and fewer in the single-​track portion of the conference—unlike last year.) This also tracks well with the percentages of submissions, at least for this year.

Women have a much higher participation level in type and type design in the younger generation, the last 5-​10 years has really seen a big shift. Given that, it might be tempting to think that if our speakers reflect the same diversity as our (younger-​skewing than speakers) attendees, we are doing okay. Is that a fair assessment? Or do we need to do more?

(Oh, and yes, I and others are also aware that there are other diversity issues not only among conference speakers but in our entire industry: quick, how many black TypeCon or ATypI speakers, or type designers, can you name?)

This is an active plea for feedback about gender diversity in the ATypI conference in particular—most especially from women in type and type design. You can message me privately if you’d rather not say something public.

(I’ve already had one board member say that, which made me sad. Damn. but it turned out she just meant she thought it was boring and didn’t think we had a problem with gender at ATypI conferences. Anyway, I welcome feedback, really.)

Awesome: Fiona Ross receives 2014 SOTA Typography Award »

I was standing at the side of the room at TypeCon 2014 in DC for the SoTA Typography award, given to one person each year for contributions to the field of type design. Honestly, I was trying to decide whether to bag out early and get some dinner, or wait and hear the speeches. I was sure the award recipient would be somebody deserving, but that leaves a lot of room. Victor Gaultney of SIL, who specialize in fonts for global language support, was standing next to me. We chatted and agreed that we had no idea who was going to get the award this year.

Fiona Ross receiving SoTA Typography award

Fiona Ross receiving SoTA Typography award. Photo © 2014 Laurence Penney, all rights reserved, used with his kind permission.

When the award presentation began, in the first few moments it became apparent to us from the preamble who was getting the award. I couldn’t help myself. “They’re giving it to Fiona!” I burst out, turning to Victor. We looked at each other, did a spontaneous fist bump, and shouted “YES!” in unison, doubtless disturbing the nearby attendees (sorry about that, folks).

I simply couldn’t imagine a more appropriate recipient for the award, and certainly nobody as deserving whose early career was so long unsung in public. Needless to say, I stayed through to the very end of the speeches and ceremony.

While it is not precisely true to say my younger daughter is named after Ms. Ross, neither is her first name being Fiona completely coincidental. Fiona Ross is an amazing person in both her professional achievements and as a human being, so sharing a name with her hardly seemed like a bad thing. Ms Ross has made immense contributions to global type design: in her work heading up Linotype’s non-​Latin type design team; as an educator at the University of Reading for their MA Typeface Design program; and creating and overseeing commissioned type designs at Tiro Typeworks (with John Hudson, Ross Mills and Tim Holloway, among others) for clients such as Adobe, Microsoft, and Harvard University.

Typefaces designed personally by Fiona (such as the Linotype Bengali) or by her team remain among the most widely used typefaces in the relevant parts of the world, their equivalents of Times and Helvetica.

I had the occasion to hire Tiro, and hence Fiona, when Adobe needed Arabic, Hebrew and Thai typefaces. The team did splendid work on all three, as well as developing a quote on a set of Indic typefaces, some of which would eventually be commissioned by Adobe, years later. Fiona was polite and gentle early on when I made a criticism showing my complete and utter ignorance of the norms of Thai type design, about which I can only say… I was young and foolish.

That is another theme in her career: Fiona Ross has also been unfailingly helpful and absurdly humble. She does not like to be called an “expert” on non-​Latin type design, preferring the term “specialist.” But as must undoubtedly be clear by now, if she is not an expert, then there must be no experts, as she is in the top tier of the most knowledgeable people in the world in this area. This willingness to share her knowledge and erudition has magnified her impact on the world and on the field of type design. No better award candidate could be imagined.


Fabulous Adobe font/​format history article »

The good folks at Adobe just posted a huge article by Tamye Riggs covering Adobe’s type history from about 1991–2006 or so, focused especially on the invention and later abandoning of multiple masters and the rise of OpenType. It features the first and only public comment from Carol Twombly on her departure from Adobe and type design. It also has several quotes from me. 🙂

In general this is a really comprehensive article. Still, I am thinking I will write some more about the reasons OpenType succeeded where GX and MM did not.

(Note: Tamye’s series of articles on Adobe Type has been released as a full book. Very nice. Copies were in the conference-​goers’ goody bags at TypeCon 2015 in Denver.)

Wired mag off-​base on Roboto typeface »

Wired magazine’s puff-​piece on Google’s Roboto typeface revisions is really bothering me. I thought if I held off, I could just do a few sarcastic tweets and be done with it, but no.

I am not a huge Roboto-​hater like some folks in the type community. I just object to uncritically publishing quotes that make blatantly false statements.

UIs [user interfaces] are crafted from images and type,” Matias Duarte, Android’s head of design tells WIRED. “But the idea of having a typeface that’s thought out as a UI typeface—that’s not been done before.”

Well, that’s pretty much simply false. (UPDATE: Duarte says he thinks he was misquoted, basically he was trying to just say UI typefaces are hard, and Roboto had a particular challenge in needing to work in a wide range of contexts and types of devices.)

[Perhaps not Duarte, but apparently the Wired author was] unfamiliar both with an obscure operating system called “Windows” and its typefaces Segoe UI (introduced in Windows 7) and Tahoma (introduced in Windows 95), both of which were specifically designed/​intended for UI usage. Not to mention Chicago, developed for the original Mac OS back in 1984. (UPDATE: Plus, there is Prelude, designed by David Berlow and Font Bureau as a UI typeface for the Palm Pre operating system—when Duarte himself was in charge of UI for the Pre. Not to mention Android’s own Droid Sans, also designed as a UI typeface.)

A slightly weaker argument could be made for Lucida Grande (the Mac OS X UI font), which is only slightly tweaked from Lucida Sans. Of course, Lucida Sans itself was specifically designed for low-​res screens and the like. Designer Chuck Bigelow got a MacArthur “Genius” award for his work on the family.

There are seven substantial paragraphs to the article, but both the people quoted are on the Android team. Thus it avoids mentioning the most famous thing anybody has said about Roboto, ever: Stephen “Stewf” Coles calling it a “four-​headed Frankenfont” in a strong attack on the design philosophy behind it.

This is also why there is so much puffery throughout the article emphasizing how the typeface is designed for performance rather than aesthetics. Such choices do certainly explain most of the changes from v1 to v2 of Roboto, but “performance over aesthetics” is clearly false as a general proposition about the typeface. My big problem with Roboto is that the choice of closed counterforms for many letters and numbers (35CGSacs) is an inherently anti-​legibility choice. Yes, they had more of these before the revision, and some (5) have been slightly improved, but they need to finish the process of transforming it into a different typeface if they want it to be an outstanding UI typeface.

Roboto compared to other UI fonts

Indeed, I would argue that such closed shapes are stupid bordering on criminal in a user interface typeface. There is a reason that most other typefaces specifically designed for user interfaces have used open counters, and that is because there is massive evidence that tells us these shapes are more legible (see for example the research cited in Sofie Beier’s book on the subject). Legibility should be a the paramount concern for a user interface typeface.

Roboto designer Christian Robertson explains the mix of open and closed shapes as saying that they create an appealing texture in body text. Which is lovely and all, but not as important as legibility.

That said, to be fair, Apple is doing a much worse thing in choosing Helvetica Neue as their UI typeface, first for iOS and soon for the next version of OS X. They too have gone to lengths to declare publicly how they are optimizing it for legibility, which is rather like trying to polish a turd. Helvetica is inherently anti-​legibility. The only way to make it otherwise would be to change it so much that it doesn’t look like Helvetica any more. Sadly, that is not what Apple is doing.

Aside from the business of being first with a dedicated custom UI font, if Google and Apple were to explain that they are making their UI font choices for design reasons, that’s fine. But when they (or Wired) start touting the awesome legibility and functionality of their choices, I have to call them out on it. Nonsense.

Cristoforo t-​shirt orders! »

Cristoforo t-shirt thumbnails

Cristoforo t-​shirt thumbnails. These are double-​sided so A1 is the front and A2 is the back for a single t-​shirt design, etc. Relative sizes of front vs back elements are not necessarily to scale. (click for 2.5 MB PDF)

T-​shirts promoting my new Kickstarter-​funded typeface Cristoforo are now available! There are six different t-​shirt designs available, many full-​color and double-​sided! For my Kickstarter backers at $77+, your t-​shirt was included in your pledge. For backers at lower levels and other readers who see and like the t-​shirts, see below for costs and payment instructions. I do not expect to print these shirts again, so this may be your only chance!

To order your shirt:

– Download the PDF (Cristoforo t-​shirt designs, 2.5 MB) for a high-​quality reference on the different designs. Background colors are carefully matched to the shirt colors now.

– use my shirt order form on SurveyMonkey

If you have not pre-​paid as a $77+ backer, you can still order a shirt! Or you can add shirts. See below. Note that most of these are double-​sided and involve full-​color images.

The window for orders will remain open until I have all the required backers’ orders in hand (maybe May 21?). The order form will just stop working when I cut it off, and I will update this post as well.

My massive page of type design info »

Cristoforo swash B in FontLab Studio.

Cristoforo swash B in FontLab Studio. (No, you probably wouldn’t show all these layers at once during normal work.)

I just finished creating an organized  page of type design info and links. Enjoy!

Cristoforo promo draft t-​shirts »

I’ve been having higher-​level backers of my Kickstarter for the Cristoforo typeface vote on t-​shirt designs the show off and promote the fonts, my revival of Hermann Ihlenburg’s Columbus (1892) and American Italic (1902). I will be printing several of the most popular designs for my backers.

Most of the votes are in, so I have finalized designs for the four most popular options so far. I am just waiting a couple of days to tally any straggling votes and maybe tweak the designs a tiny bit.

Shirt A
A) Front based on a design by Andrea Leksen, featuring art by Steve Kick.

Shirt B
B) Front design by me, with art by Steve Kick. Back design by Andrea Leksen.

Shirt C glyphs on winterberry
C) Design by Andrea Leksen.

Shirt D glyphs on ash
D) From the design by Andrea Leksen (colors changed for light shirt).

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