Rich has posted a sneak peek of one part of his book on Ev’s blog.
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017
We have a tradition here at Clearleft of having the occasional lunchtime braindump. They’re somewhat sporadic, but it’s always a good day when there’s a “brown bag” gathering.
Today Richard gave us a quick brown bag talk on variable web fonts. He talked us through how these will work on the web and in operating systems. We got a good explanation of how these fonts would get designed—the type designer designs the “extreme” edges of size, weight, or whatever, and then the file format itself can extrapolate all the in-between stages. So, in theory, one single font file can hold hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of potential variations. It feels like switching from bitmap images to SVG—there’s suddenly much greater flexibility.
A variable font is a single font file that behaves like multiple fonts.
There were a couple of interesting tidbits that Rich pointed out…
While this is a new file format, there isn’t going to be a new file extension. These will be
.ttf files, and so by extension, they can be
.woff2 files too.
This isn’t some proposed theoretical standard: an unprecedented amount of co-operation has gone into the creation of this format. Adobe, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all contributed. Agreement is the hardest part of any standards process. Once that’s taken care of, the technical solution follows quickly. So you can expect this to land very quickly and widely.
This technology is landing in web browsers before it lands in operating systems. It’s already available in the Safari Technology Preview. That means that for a while, the very best on-screen typography will be delivered not in eBook readers, but in web browsers. So if you want to deliver the absolute best reading experience, look to the web.
And here’s the part that I found fascinating…
We can currently use numbers for the
font-weight property in CSS. Those number values increment in hundreds: 100, 200, 300, etc. Now with variable fonts, we can start using integers: 321, 417, 183, etc. How fortuitous that we have 99 free slots between our current set of values!
Well, that’s no accident. The reason why the numbers were originally specced in increments of 100 back in 1996 was precisely so that some future sci-fi technology could make use of the ranges in between. That’s some future-friendly thinking! And as Håkon wrote:
One of the reasons we chose to use three-digit numbers was to support intermediate values in the future. And the future is now :)
Needless to say, variable fonts will be covered in Richard’s forthcoming book.
Monday, January 9th, 2017
A wonderfully thoughtful piece from Robin, ranging from the printing technologies of the 15th century right up to the latest web technologies. It’s got all my favourite things in there: typography, digital preservation, and service workers. Marvellous!
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Wednesday, December 14th, 2016
The typography of a web book
I’m a sucker for classic old-style serif typefaces: Caslon, Baskerville, Bembo, Garamond …I love ‘em. That’s probably why I’ve always found the typesetting in Edward Tufte’s books so appealing—he always uses a combination of Bembo for body copy and Gill Sans for headings.
ET Book is a Bembo-like font for the computer designed by Dmitry Krasny, Bonnie Scranton, and Edward Tufte. It is free and open-source.
When I was styling Resilient Web Design, I knew that the choice of typeface would be one of the most important decisions I would make. Remembering that open source ET Book font, I plugged it in to see how it looked. I liked what I saw. I found it particularly appealing when it’s full black on full white at a nice big size (with lower contrast or sizes, it starts to get a bit fuzzy).
I love, love, love the old-style numerals of ET Book. But I was disappointed to see that ligatures didn’t seem to be coming through (even when I had enabled them in CSS). I mentioned this to Rich and of course he couldn’t resist doing a bit of typographic sleuthing. It turns out that the ligature glyphs are there in the source files but the files needed a little tweaking to enable them. Because the files are open source, Rich was able to tweak away to his heart’s content. I then took the tweaked open type files and ran them through Font Squirrel to generate WOFF and WOFF2 files. I’ve put them on Github.
For this book, I decided that the measure would be the priority. I settled on a measure of around 55 to 60 characters—about 10 or 11 words per line. I used a max-width of 27em combined with Mike’s brilliant fluid type technique to maintain a consistent measure.
It looks great on small-screen devices and tablets. On large screens, the font size starts to get really, really big. Personally, I like that. Lots of other people like it too. But some people really don’t like it. I should probably add a font-resizing widget for those who find the font size too shocking on luxuriously large screens. In the meantime, their only recourse is to fork the CSS to make their own version of the book with more familiar font sizes.
The visceral reaction a few people have expressed to the font size reminds me of the flak Jeffrey received when he redesigned his personal site a few years back:
Many people who’ve visited this site since the redesign have commented on the big type. It’s hard to miss. After all, words are practically the only feature I haven’t removed. Some of the people say they love it. Others are undecided. Many are still processing. A few say they hate it and suggest I’ve lost my mind.
I wonder how the people who complained then are feeling now, a few years on, in a world with Medium in it? Jeffrey’s redesign doesn’t look so extreme any more.
Resilient Web Design will be on the web for a very, very, very long time. I’m curious to see if its type size will still look shockingly large in years to come.
Saturday, December 10th, 2016
A fascinating piece by Eleanor on the typographic tweaking that the Wellcome team did to balance the competing needs of different users.
Monday, November 21st, 2016
Douglas Coupland on web typography.
When I discuss the internet’s feel and its random rodeo of fonts, I think of the freedom, naivety, laziness, greed, cluelessness and skill I see there — it’s a cyberplace as wondrous as the bubbling cradle of pea-soup goo from which life emerged. The internet has a rawness, a Darwinian evolutionary texture. It’s a place where metrics totally unrelated to print typography dictate the look and feel.
Tuesday, November 1st, 2016
Monica takes a look at the options out there for loading web fonts and settles on a smart asynchronous lazy-loading approach.
Wednesday, September 21st, 2016
This is easily the most wrong-headed piece of writing I’ve read in a long time.
“But customers benefit from smaller file sizes too, because that makes web pages faster.” Certainly, that was true in 1996. And some web developers persist with political objections. But with today’s faster connections—even on mobile—optimizing for file size is less useful than ever.
I’ll leave it to you to see the logical flaws in every one of the arguments presented here by Matthew Buterick. Meanwhile I’m going to get off his lawn.
Monday, September 19th, 2016
This is what Nick Sherman has been banging on about for years, and now the time has come for variable fonts …as long as typographers, browser makers, and standards bodies get behind it.
More details on Ev’s blog.
Monday, September 12th, 2016
A good ol’ polemic in favour of using web fonts. It’s a good read although I strongly disagree with this line of reasoning:
The average internet speed in the United States today is three times as fast as it was in 2011.
But that americentric view is redeemed later on:
The World Wide Web may be a creation of the West, but now, at long last, it needs to get ready for the rest.
I may not agree with all the points in this article, but I think we can all agree that if we’re going to use web fonts, we must use them responsibly …otherwise users are going to treat them as damage and route around them.
Tuesday, September 6th, 2016
font-display property is landing in browsers, and this is a great introduction to using it:
If you don’t know which option to use, then go with
Wednesday, July 27th, 2016
Tuesday, July 19th, 2016
A terrific rundown of all your options when it comes to web font loading.
Thursday, July 14th, 2016
A handy tool for testing the legibility of different typefaces under all sorts of conditions.
Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
I’ve always loved the way that Edward Tufte consistently uses Bembo to typeset his books. Here’s a version made for screen and freely licensed.
Thursday, July 7th, 2016
You can think of this as a short book or a long article, but either way it’s a handy overview of typography on the web:
A concise, referential guide on best web typographic practices.
Mind you, I take issue with this assertion:
Establishing a vertical rhythm is simple.
Sunday, May 8th, 2016
Some smart thoughts on web fonts.
Friday, March 18th, 2016
I love good typography but I have to agree with the sentiment expressed here.
System fonts can be beautiful. Webfonts are not a requirement for great typography.
Monday, February 29th, 2016
A wonderfully thoughtful piece on typography, Jan Tschichold and the web. This really resonated with me:
It’s only been over the past year or so in which I’ve recognised myself as a ‘Web designer’ with a capital W, as I now believe that something happens to information and technology, and even typography itself, when people pass through these interconnected networks and interact with hypertext.
It’s for these reasons that I don’t believe in “digital design” or “designing for screens” and it’s why I’m often attracted to one particular side of this spectrum.
Robin proposes three “principles, suggestions, outlines, or rather things-that-I-ought-to-be nervous-about when setting text on the web”:
- We must prioritise the text over the font, or semantics over style.
- We ought to use and/or make tools that reveal the consequences of typographic decisions.
- We should acknowledge that web typography is only as strong as its weakest point.
There’s an in-depth look at applying progressive enhancement to web type, and every single link in the resources section at the end is worth investigating.
Oh, and of course it’s beautifully typeset.