Sunday, January 22nd, 2023
Tuesday, December 27th, 2022
For 24 days this month, Matthias featured a different independent type foundry, writing about each one and selecting some lovely examplars of their typefaces.
Tuesday, December 13th, 2022
Two new lovely open source variable fonts from Github.
Friday, November 25th, 2022
Tweaking navigation sizing
Top tasks are what matter most to your customers.
Seems pretty obvious, right? But it’s actually pretty rare to see top tasks presented any differently than other options.
Look at the global navigation on most websites. Typically all the options are given equal prominence. Even the semantics under the hood often reflect this egalitarian ideal, with each list in an unordered list. All the navigation options are equal, but I bet that the reality for most websites is that some navigation options are more equal than others.
I’ve been guilty of this on The Session. The site-wide navigation shows a number of options: tunes, events, discussions, etc. Each one is given equal prominence, but I can tell you without even looking at my server logs that 90% of the traffic goes to the tunes section—that’s the beating heart of The Session. That’s why the home page has a search form that defaults to searching for tunes.
I wanted the navigation to reflect the reality of what people are coming to the site for. I decided to make the link to the tunes section more prominent by bumping up the font size a bit.
I was worried about how weird this might look; we’re so used to seeing all navigation items presented equally. But I think it worked out okay (though it might take a bit of getting used to if you’re accustomed to the previous styling). It helps that “tunes” is a nice short word, so bumping up the font size on that word doesn’t jostle everything else around.
I think this adjustment is working well for this situation where there’s one very clear tippy-top task. I wouldn’t want to apply it across the board, making every item in the navigation proportionally bigger or smaller depending on how often it’s used. That would end up looking like a ransom note.
But giving one single item prominence like this tweaks the visual hierarchy just enough to favour the option that’s most likely to be what a visitor wants.
That last bit is crucial. The visual adjustment reflects what visitors want, not what I want. You could adjust the size of a navigation option that you want to drive traffic to, but in the long run, all you’re going to do is train people to trust your design less.
You don’t get to decide what your top task is. The visitors to your website do. Trying to foist an arbitrary option on them would be the tail wagging the dog.
Anway, I’m feeling a lot better about the site-wide navigation on The Session now that it reflects reality a little bit more. Heck, I may even bump that font size up a little more.
Thursday, October 13th, 2022
Tuesday, October 11th, 2022
A drop-in replacement for Google Fonts without the tracking …but really, you should be self-hosting your font files.
Thursday, September 8th, 2022
A no-nonsense checklist of good performance advice from Karolina.
Sunday, June 19th, 2022
I’m standing on a huge stage in a giant hangar-like room already filled with at least a thousand people. More are arriving. I’m due to start speaking in a few minutes. But there’s a problem with my laptop. It connects to the external screen, then disconnects, then connects, then disconnects. The technicians are on the stage with me, quickly swapping out adaptors and cables as they try to figure out a fix.
This is a pretty standard stress dream for me. Except this wasn’t a dream. This was happening for real at the giant We Are Developers World Congress in Berlin last week.
In the run-up to the event, the organisers had sent out emails about providing my slide deck ahead of time so it could go on a shared machine. I understand why this makes life easier for the people running the event, but it can be a red flag for speakers. It’s never quite the same as presenting from your own laptop with its familiar layout of the presentation display in Keynote.
Fortunately the organisers also said that I could present from my own laptop if I wanted to so that’s what I opted for.
One week before the talk in Berlin I was in Amsterdam for CSS Day. During a break between talks I was catching up with Michelle. We ended up swapping conference horror stories around technical issues (prompted by some of our fellow speakers having issues with Keynote on the brand new M1 laptops).
Michelle told me about a situation where she was supposed to be presenting from her own laptop, but because of last-minute technical issues, all the talks were being transferred to a single computer via USB sticks.
“But the fonts!” I said. “Yes”, Michelle responded. Even though she had put the fonts on the USB stick, things got muddled in the rush. If you open the Keynote file before installing the fonts, Keynote will perform font substitution and then it’s too late. This is exactly what happened with Michelle’s code examples, messing them up.
“You know”, I said, “I was thinking about having a back-up version of my talks that’s made entirely out of images—export every slide as an image, then make a new deck by importing all those images.”
“I’ve done that”, said Michelle. “But there isn’t a quick way to do it.”
I was still thinking about our conversation when I was on the Eurostar train back to England. I had plenty of time to kill with spotty internet connectivity. And that huge Berlin event was less than a week away.
I opened up the Keynote file of the Berlin presentation. I selected
Then I created a new blank deck ready for the painstaking work that Michelle had warned me about. I figured I’d have to drag in each image individually. The presentation had 89 slides.
But I thought it was worth trying a shortcut first. I selected all of the images in Finder. Then I dragged them over to the far left column in Keynote, the one that shows the thumbnails of all the slides.
Each image was now its own slide. I selected all 89 slides and applied my standard transition: a one second dissolve.
That was pretty much it. I now had a version of my talk that had no fonts whatsoever.
If you’re going to try this, it works best if don’t have too many transitions within slides. Like, let’s say you’ve got three words that you introduce—by clicking—one by one. You could have one slide with all three words, each one with its own build effect. But the other option is to have three slides: each one like the previous slide but with one more word added. If you use that second technique, then the exporting and importing will work smoothly.
Oh, and if you have lots and lots of notes, you’ll have to manually copy them over. My notes tend to be fairly minimal—a few prompts and the occasional time check (notes that say “5 minutes” or “10 minutes” so I can guage how my pacing is going).
Back to that stage in Berlin. The clock is ticking. My laptop is misbehaving.
One of the other speakers who will be on later in the day was hoping to test his laptop too. It’s Håkon. His presentation includes in-browser demos that won’t work on a shared machine. But he doesn’t get a chance to test his laptop just yet—my little emergency has taken precedent.
“Luckily”, I tell him, “I’ve got a backup of my presentation that’s just images to avoid any font issues.” He points out the irony: we spent years battling against the practice of text-as-images on the web and now here we are using that technique once again.
My laptop continues to misbehave. It connects, it disconnects, connects, disconnects. We’re going to have to run the presentation from the house machine. I’m handed a USB stick. I put my images-only version of the talk on there. I’m handed a clicker (I can’t use my own clicker with the house machine). I’m quickly ushered backstage while the MC announces my talk, a few minutes behind schedule.
It works. It feels a little strange not being able to look at my own laptop, but the on-stage monitors have the presentation display including my notes. The unfamiliar clicker feels awkward but hopefully nobody notices. I deliver my talk and it seems to go over well.
I think I’ll be making image-only versions of all my talks from now on. Hopefully I won’t ever need them, but just knowing that the backup is there is reassuring.
Mind you, if you’re the kind of person who likes to fiddle with your slides right up until the moment of presenting, then this technique won’t be very useful for you. But for me, not being able to fiddle with my slides after a certain point is a feature, not a bug.
Tuesday, May 24th, 2022
Mark Simonson goes into the details of his lovely new typeface Proxima Sera.
Saturday, May 7th, 2022
This version of Roboto from Font Bureau is a very variable font indeed.
Saturday, February 5th, 2022
Fonts or food?
At the end of every Thursday afternoon at Clearleft, we wrap up the working week with an all-hands (video) meeting. Yes, I know that the week finishes on Friday, but Fridays have been declared the no-meetings day at Clearleft: a chance to concentrate on heads-down work without interruption. Besides, some of us don’t work on Fridays. So Thursday really is the new Friday.
At this Thursday afternoon meeting we give and get updates on what’s been happening with project work, new business, events, marketing. We also highlighted any shout-outs that have posted in the
#beingsplendid Slack channel during the week. Once that’s all taken care of, the Thursday afternoon meeting often finishes with a fun activity.
The hosting of the Thursday afternoon meeting is decided by fate. Two weeks ago, Rebecca and Chris hosted an excellent end-of-week meeting that finished with an activity around food—everyone had submitted their dream meal and we had to match up the meal to the person. Lorenzo, however, couldn’t help commenting on the typography in the slide deck. “Lorenzo”, I said, “What are you more judgmental about—fonts or food?”
The words were barely out of my mouth when I realised I had the perfect activity for the next Thursday afternoon meeting, which fate had decreed I was to host. I put together a quiz called …fonts or food!
It’s quite straightforward. There are 25 words. All you have to do is say whether it’s the name of a font or the name of a food.
It was good fun! So I thought I’d share it with you if you fancy a go.
Here we go…
Thursday, February 3rd, 2022
Remember when I said you should avoid third-party dependencies?
Thursday, December 30th, 2021
This font is a crossover of different font types: it is semi-condensed, semi-rounded, semi-geometric, semi-din, semi-grotesque. It employs minimal stoke thickness variations and a semi-closed aperture.
Sunday, November 28th, 2021
Tuesday, October 19th, 2021
Seb picks his top ten typefaces inspired by calligraphy.
Wednesday, August 18th, 2021
Saturday, April 24th, 2021
Professional web designer on a closed course. Do not attempt.
Tuesday, April 6th, 2021
A genuinely interesting (and droll) deep dive into derp learning …for typography!
Monday, March 8th, 2021
This could give a big boost to web performance!
You don’t have to use web fonts—there are some pretty nice options if you stick to system fonts (like Georgia, Charter, and Palatino).