Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Archives filed under "font"

Shape Type

Ray Drainville

Hot on the heels of Kern Me is Shape Type—by the same people, incidentally. This type, you test your abilities to design type as well as the masters who made the fonts in the first place:


My mind is thoroughly blown by this. It’s another tour-de-force of HTML5 programming. Like Kern Me, Shape Type is an amazing use of the canvas element. Who knew that you’d be able to replicate Illustrator’s vector-editing environment in a web browser? Not me.

Kern Me

Ray Drainville

Type nerd? Appalled by keming? Then you will really love the Kern Me game.

This is an inspired bit of coding, spectacularly well done. And not only do you use your left & right arrow keys to shift the letters, as in standard typesetting apps. To increase the amount of shift, and totally without thinking I held down the ‘shift’ key while using the arrow keys, and that works, too!

What Were They Thinking?

Ray Drainville

Before I started ArDes, I worked for a local marketing firm. The people running this company fancied themselves clever marketing strategists, or “marketeers”, as they called themselves: something which always made me think of the Mickey Mouse Club. When I interviewed with them, they showed off some of their self-marketing ploys. They had a penchant for sending prospective clients miniature items: briefcases, etc. Once they sent prospective clients tiny tin buckets, with no accompanying letter, to pique their interest. A week later they sent out a letter: “You’ve got the bucket. Do you want the ideas?”

It’s clear what they were aiming for: the proverbial “bucket of ideas”. But the problem, of course, was that the bucket they supplied was tiny. This implied that they didn’t have many ideas. Or maybe it implied that their ideas were small & promised very limited success. Whatever. It wasn’t a clever or successful campaign: it only served to make them look a stupid, Mickey-Mouse organisation—of which there are sadly many in the marketing/graphic design world.

And it was very old-school, or at least it seems so now: send prospective clients some cutesy little thing to garner interest & they’ll be delighted by how clever you are. In these days of economic distress—not to mention environmental consciousness—you might think the days of spending on such wasteful endeavours would be over. You would be wrong.

A week ago, I received a package from Extensis, a company that makes (among other things) font management software. I’m a customer, albeit an unhappy one, since when I upgraded, Suitcase Fusion refused to import any of the metadata on my collection of nearly 7,000 fonts. I had to recreate all of that data. By hand. Anyway, the package contained nothing else than an adult-sized styrofoam head. You know, the kind that would sport a wig.

A few days ago, part two of their remarkable campaign kicked in. I received a wig in the shape of a mullet. In one of the more strained examples of marketing prose that I’ve encountered, the accompanying letter stated:

Extensis invites you to don your “creative mullet” to experience the perfect balance of professional level and playful font management found only in our solutions.

…[Suitcase Fusion 3 is] more than just business in the front and party in the back.

…Check out www.extensis.com/creativemullet/ to… sign up for a demo or even share your mulletude with us.

Seriously, wtf is a “creative mullet”? This is such a prime example of wankery pokery (a favourite expression of mine) that it beggars belief.

Despite all my sniping at them, I’m interested to hear that Extensis are about to move into the world of web fonts with a product called webINK to compete with the likes of TypeKit and others. I’ll reserve judgment until I hear more about it: like a lot of software companies with a history of print design, Extensis’ forays into the web haven’t been that great. Anyone remember BeyondPress? Gaaaah…

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

Font-Face Heats Up

Ray Drainville

I spent last week shivering away with the Swine Flu. It wasn’t fun; but I knew something was coming & accordingly shut down jobs until I felt better, notifying the clients of the issue. This is planning: you do it because you know what’s coming.

Whilst convalescing, I read a fascinating discussion over on Jeffrey Zeldman’s blog. In this article, Zeldman publicised the fact that David Berlow of the Fount Bureau was proposing a new permissions table to OpenType. The idea is to be able to embed fonts into websites via @font-face whilst protecting the foundries from piracy. A permissions table would stop the font from, say, being downloaded & used elsewhere. Currently, only Microsoft’s EOT format allows for any protection from misusing the technology; it’s been around since 1997 (and it feels like it). Safari (for some time), Firefox (as of 3.5) & Opera (as of 10) support standard, naked type formats: Firefox 3.5 has just been released & Opera 10 will be released any day now. One may assume this is why there’s a sudden flurry of activity from foundries about the subject.

The name “David Berlow” may be familiar to you: he was interviewed in A List Apart back in April, where he started making this permissions idea & I wrote about that interview, and some of the reaction to it. Mark Pilgrim smacked it down pretty thoroughly, and with good cause: Mr Berlow’s suggestion would require that every computer on earth be altered. Not to mention virtually every font as well.

This isn’t the only problem, however. In the comments to Zeldman’s article I pointed out that it’s far too late for foundries to make such proposals: all modern browsers now support @font-face. To expand upon what I wrote there, the time for making these proposals should have been made back at least in 1998, when the @font-face was definitely part of the W3C’s CSS2 specification. And remember, if 1998 is the date of the recommendation, you can be goddamn sure that they were talking about it for years beforehand.

I apparently irked Berlow. He became quite defensive that until recently, foundries didn’t know how browser vendors would deal with fonts; and moreover, like other industries, he just wants to protect his IP. At first I thought that, in my feverish state, I had been a dick, but looking back, he simply didn’t get what I was saying. No matter the mechanism by which a browser deals with a font, @font-face has been with us for over a fucking decade. Foundries have had plenty of time to do something about it.

The best scenario for some sort of “webfont”, protected format would be to strongarm all the browser vendors into supporting it; suppress all the browsers out there that now support naked fonts; update every browser with webfont-“enabled” (one might say DRM-crippled) versions; and then hope for the best. Good luck with that. Let me reiterate what I’ve said before: this horse has long since bolted. If the foundries have pursued actions, they’ve been very slow and, worse, ineffective.

And as for Berlow’s concern about protecting his IP: well, they’ve had at least a decade to think about how to do this. A less charitable man than myself might think they were hoping this whole “fonts on the web” thing would just go away. Instead, they should have planned for this: full @font-face support was coming, and they knew it.

So bring on TypeKit. Where of course you’ll rent & not simply pay for the fonts you use. I have sympathy when people want to protect their IP, but Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket, they’ll do anything to stop use from being straightforward.

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.