Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Monthly archives for "May 2009"

Font-Face Use and Foundries

Ray Drainville

Using innovative typography on websites is close to my heart. But its development has been sluggish at best, due in part to the virtually non-existent actions of font foundries. Their inaction is in part understandable: the licensing issues aren’t easy & naturally enough foundries don’t want to give up being paid for what they do, because if a font is on a website, chances are that you can rip it off. Even if you use something like Cufon, which is a pretty cool-looking, Javascript-based encoded siFR alternative, you’re likely to be able to re-engineer the font.

It’s tempting to view font foundries—like Adobe—as big, faceless monolithic corporations who have their own profits in mind, not the use of their fonts in innovative ways. But the truth is that they’re usually quite small & by ripping them off you’re hurting “the little guy”. So how do you resolve this issue? Well, in an interesting interview between Jeffrey Zeldman & the Font Bureau’s David Berlow, Berlow suggests creating a new table for fonts which defines permissions for online usage. On the face of it, this sounds like a decent idea, but the problem is it’s an idea that’s come far, far too late: that particular horse has bolted. Foundries should have closed that gate back in, oh, 1990.

Which is where Dive Into Mark’s foundry screed comes in. Unlike many screeds, it’s really worth reading because he makes very cogent, stark points. For one, Berman’s permissions table suggestion would break every font-consuming application on every platform on every computer on Earth. Mark also points to the future:

Dynamic web fonts are coming. Actually they’re already here, but most of Our People haven’t noticed yet. But they will, and that’s going to be a huge boon to somebody. I see you’ve decided that it won’t be you. Well, have fun shuffling your little bits of metal around. The rest of us will be over here, using the only fonts we’re allowed to use: Everything But Yours.

Mark’s point is really important: by defining some licensing in the most boneheaded manner possible (really simple example: not allowing some fonts be embeded in PDFs), type foundries have shot themselves in the foot. Unless they change—and fast—they’re going to be left behind.

Here we see some really close (and obvious) parallels with the machinations of the music industry, the movie industry & even the newspaper industry. All of these “content owners” (and isn’t that a generic expression) are so paranoid about “giving away” their work that they’re earning the enmity of anyone who comes into contact with them. And like the music, movie & newspaper industries, I suspect that type foundries are going to see their business models change dramatically—and they’ll not have had the initiative to have a hand in that change.

Internet World: What’s the Point?

Ray Drainville

Last week, the greatest client in the world & I travelled to London to the Internet World exhibition. Ian asked me about whether it was worth it. Let me try to paint a picture for you:

Imagine a world where you’re selling digital services. Purely digital services—no hands-on gadgets or anything. Now imagine that to sell digital services, which of necessity work over the Internet, you’ve decided that, instead of [just] pitching on the Internet, you’ll go to an exhibition hall. Ignore the fact that this seems pointless. How do you get people to come to your stall?

  • No nonsense: Big flat computer screen & a few sweaty nerds with the stink of doom clinging to them;
  • Silly gimmicks: Ice cream, smoothies, chocolate, all for the high, high cost of enduring a sales pitch;
  • Proximity to Sensuality: Scantily-clad women! Talking to you! Example: dancing girls were dancing, unenthusiastically shouting “Wooo!” whilst in midriff shirts reading “The firewall is dead. Long live the firewall”

Now imagine an exhibition where there are talks given in different theatres. There are six overarching subjects—each with incoherently-assembled themes like “Web 2.0, Social Networking, Usability, Design & Build Theatre ”—and you only design five icons for them:

The presenters of these seminars were given 25 minutes to talk (like “How we redesigned Virgin for SEO”), but they all—to a man—decided not to give away any of their secrets. Fair enough, but reflect that these people genuinely thought this was somehow going to magically turn into a selling opportunity, simply by stating claims backed with little substantiation, just assertions.

Now imagine a group of people telling you that the greatest way to sell services is online, but decide to do it in a grey hall, having paid thousands to rent their stalls & assemble their marketing junk, as people (including yours truly) shuffle listlessly about.

Finally, the easy part: imagine that, after having walked around for hours & listened to God knows how many awful (truly, truly awful) marketing sessions, you have used your 3″ x 1.5″ notebook to fill up only 2 pages’ worth of interesting information, because that’s all it was really worth.

So, yeah, it was teh suck.

Happy Birthday

Ray Drainville

Unfortunately I’m currently nursing a particularly nasty flu right now, but I couldn’t let the day pass without comment. As of today, ArDes is ten years old. Let the confetti fly! And before I say anything else, I want to say a big thank-you to all our clients over the years: we literally couldn’t have done it without you.


I didn’t know what I was getting into: that was part of the fun. I was an “accidental entrepreneur”.

After getting my second master’a degree, I worked for a very large organisation—a university. Large organisations can provide a lot of security, but—for me, at any rate—I find them frustrating for their inability to move quickly. Anything I wanted to do had to go through a number of committees, the decision-making process took a year & in the end the answer would be “no”. Plus, I was the lone arty guy in a department full of techies. I often felt like the odd-man-out.

So I decided to leave. Figuring that a small organisation would be more nimble than a large one, I started working for a local graphic design firm. But while small may equal nimble, small doesn’t necessary equal good & it doesn’t necessarily equal a good fit. Whereas in my last job I was the arty guy in a sea of techies, I was now the tech guy in a…well, pond… of arty types. That wasn’t a great feeling (I’m always misunderstood!), but what was awful was the eventual realisation that the owners didn’t have a clue how to sell websites to their clientèle—and that moreover, I couldn’t go out to help sell the new service. I found myself doing more & more print work in Quark XPress & (shudder) FrameMaker. And I learned a lot about how not to run a business. Whilst a small company can be more nimble, it can quickly manoeuvre itself into the ground.

I spent a month or so moonlighting, building up some work & laying the ground so I could start immediately: building a website & portfolio of my own immediately available upon hanging out my shingle. I planned to leave the design firm in June, but the company, not having sold any websites in a year (in 1999, mind you—the height of the dot-com bubble!) let me go.

So that was it. I was off—off on my own. I was frightened & oh my God did I make mistakes. But they were my mistakes. That was truly liberating.

The Value of the Ever-Changing Landscape

Web development is a fantastic business—if you like constantly learning new things. That’s one of its greatest attractions to me, along with the potentially close association of art & technology. And we’re only now entering into a golden age, with a combination of powerful tools for layout (like CSS), interactivity (like Javascript libraries) & back-end development (thanks to clean, clever frameworks like Ruby on Rails). But of course it won’t stop there. All these things will be refined & engender new tools.

There’s something humbling—and exhilarating—about a field that changes so much year upon year. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Edit: Name changed from “Argument from Design” to “ArDes”