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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.

 

Awesome 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.

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).

Thomas Joins FontLab »

As reported yesterday, I have joined the good people at FontLab, as Vice President.

I am very happy for the opportunity to work more directly in the field of type design software. FontLab is a great company with a long history. I still have my original FontLab manual (from before it was FontLab Studio) from 20 years ago!

It has its challenges, what with getting new app versions on a new codebase out the door, and new competition in recent years, but these are all part of a healthy evolution. I am enjoying getting up in the morning to tackle new things each day!

How to Tell If a Font Sucks »

Are you a user of fonts who needs to tell if a font is well made, or an aspiring novice type designer? The March–April 2014 issue of Communication Arts features my article on evaluating font quality, “How to Tell If a Font Sucks,” on p. 24—now online as well!

It looks like it is hard to see the subtleties in some of the graphics in the down-​​res web-​​ified version of the article, though the print mag looks great. I will see about posting a version with high-​​res images in PDF.

I’m really pleased with this article. My new editor Robin Doyle at CA did a great job helping me clarify some points and figure out where more graphics were needed.

That said, there are some corner cases and subtleties around this discussion that I didn’t have time or space to get into in the article, which was already long and involved. But that is what blogs are for. :)

Although I stand by everything in that article, typefaces that are deliberately naïve/​unsophisticated are one place for legitimate exceptions to some of the guidance I give in the article. For example, I had a lovely discussion with some folks who made a typeface based on some classic road signs. The original signs did not use optical compensation at stroke joins (point 5 in the article), so they didn’t do it in the typeface either. Although I might rarely be interested in going that way myself, I have to agree that it was a perfectly legitimate design choice, given the origins of the typeface as a signage revival—even though in many another context I would be calling it crap!

Optical compensation at stroke joins is also specific to certain typographic traditions. Certainly for Latin-​​based fonts (English, French, German, Hungarian, etc.) it is nearly universal, as it is for Cyrillic (Russian, etc.) and Greek. But some writing systems do things differently, such as Devanagari (used for Hindi, Marathi, Sanskit).

Non-​​western writing systems can also change other assumptions. For example, the idea that straight-​​to-​​round transitions  (point 6 in my article) should be very smooth is very much not the case for Thai.

Anyhow, check it out and let me know if I can clarify anything else!

Fonts and Typography for Writers and Non-​​Designers »

What are some good resources for non-​​designers, who perhaps write, edit or publish professional documents? Somebody recently asked this in the comments to my blog. There are quite a lot of resources I could suggest, but given limited time, we should limit the complexity/​depth/​scope of the resources. So given that….

Before getting into the depths of font selection, teach typography. I think Matthew Butterick’s Practical Typography is a great place to start. Short, straightforward, no-​​nonsense, useful, and little I could disagree with.

After that, for an intro to selecting and combining fonts, this article from Smashing Magazine is good.

At the next level of complexity, there are plenty of good longer introductions, mostly aimed at designers. Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type is a good start here. Nothing wrong with reading Butterick first, before moving on to this, btw!

For more advanced thought, the closest thing to a typography bible remains Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. It is better as a reference book or to read a chapter at a time, rather than try to take it all in at once.

The original query from a business writing teacher at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs:

I teach business writing at a university and we have a document design unit. I try to get the students to understand fonts, but don’t have a good exercise, video, material, etc. about effectively using fonts. DO you have any tips, links, etc. that I might be able to use with the students to help them discover fonts beyond Times Roman and Arial and understand how to use them effectively? Thank!

More free FontLab encoding files for type designers »

Last week I wrote about posting five FontLab encoding files for Adobe Latin character sets.

Today I posted in the same Github repository three FontLab encoding files for Adobe Cyrillic character sets, and updated the five Latin files with a few added currency symbols and glyph name changes (as I expected I might).

The character set definitions underlying these files were built on a bunch of research I did at Adobe back in 2006–08, with additional work by Miguel Sousa. The headers include much detail on the differences between each set, and the languages covered. Both of these character sets reflect the latest data from Adobe on how they name glyphs and what they are including in current fonts (not including OpenType alternates and features, mind you). The headers of the files have some interesting details and history, especially on the Cyrillic side.

Thanks as always to my old friends at Adobe, including Miguel and David Lemon, for their willingness to share production information with the type design community.

I dedicate this post and my work on the Cyrillic encoding files to the memory of Emil Yakupov, CEO of the ParaType type foundry in Moscow, who passed away just a month ago at the age of 56. His advice and feedback on Cyrillic character sets—among many things—was invaluable to me. I remember one of our first meetings, when Emil gave me a pair of ParaType catalogs as I was first becoming involved with Cyrillic type design. I still consult them to this day when trying to internalize what forms different Cyrillic characters can take in different font styles.

Also, Emil remembered by Adam Twardoch.

Прощай, Эмиль.

 

 

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