035 – Friday, 19th February 2021
Hello again! I’m Mark, and this is the Specimen Digest, a weekly typography newsletter.
Last year, you may recall I worked on a project to produce a specimen builder. Throughout that time, I did a lot of interviewing designers and developers, type designers and graphic designers, about their experiences with buying fonts. I also wanted to hear about their experiences with variable fonts. The insights were surprising.
The vast majority of people I’d spoken to had not used them. Many of them didn’t understand them but felt they needed them. It was a curious mix of font FOMO and bewilderment.
I’ve spoken about this before on this newsletter – about this switch in mental model from a list of weights to that of navigating axes in a design space. For many people, this is a jump too far. Exposing all of the variables all at once – often with those annoying boingy animations – but not describing the benefits.
I once attended a conference talk by the amazing Kathy Sierra. She talked about the story of Olympus cameras and Canon and the rivalry between the two brands. She then described the camera manuals, and how supplementary marketing material was focussed on the camera features, the technical information, the lense quality. All that stuff. And that was fine for professional photographers, but it’s not what most people wanted to hear. To inspire them to part with a good chunk of cash they needed to feel this camera would make them a photographer. This camera would make them better. They could document their loved ones. They happy moments in their lives. The focus shifted from the technical to the emotional.
Switching back to variable fonts, we’re in a similar position in some ways. There is talk of optimisation, server requests, one font file with a myriad of possible weights and styles. But are they going to make me a better designer? Beyond the technical, what advantage do they have for me?
Just like Opentype features before it, variable fonts need a whole heap of educational material around them I think. Not to tell us what ‘opsz’ means straight out of the gate. Or to explain the design space. But to help us understand why variable fonts can help us in our work.
Until next week!
New Atten Newlyn’s templated specimens are really excellent from a usability perspective, offering all the features we know users need when evaluating a new font. But, of particular interest, is the multi-lingual content for the type tester.
Happy Times at the IKOB New Game Plus Edition I’m not sure where to look on this specimen for – and, yes, this is it’s name – ‘Happy Times at the IKOB New Game Plus Edition’. The scrolling, the pink, the competing hierarchy, the million type sizes. It shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t. And yet…
Sagittarius This new typeface from Hoefler&Co is subtle. What really works is the copywriting coupled with the design. Simple, effective art direction whilst demonstrating the full range of design. Clever.
Scilla There are many things that users want that are not in this specimen: a list of glyphs, a type tester, features, language support. But, there are many specimens that don’t deliver on what this one for Scilla does: beautifully typeset typographic illustrations demonstrating the beauty of the letterforms.
A few interesting things for you this week…
A Brief Visual Exploration of A Dictionary of Typography. A recreation of John Southward’s (1870–1875) ‘A Dictionary of Typography and its Accessory Arts’, which appeared in the Printer’s Register between 1870 and 1871. I love this archeological work.
Fontanello is a nifty browser extension for Chrome and Firefox that gives displays the typographic details of selected text. Handy!
Wakamai Fondue on the command line: never write font CSS again!. Roel is at again with a nifty addition to the increasingly useful Wakamai Fondue.