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NEWS, TYPE DESIGN, WEB FONTS · December 27, 2010

An Extraordinary Year

What an extraordinary year in type and typography. And I am certainly not likely to be alone in observing this. After a decade and a half of struggle, “web fonts” finally took off and ran smack dab into issues of rendering, metadata, and licensing, while also running right through various font formats and cross-platform output-equivalence issues without stopping for a chat.

Font designers, web programmers, server specialists, standards organizations, applications developers, and psychologists swelled the ranks of great people who are now focused on issues like: networked, multi-platform, dynamic typography and layout; auto-hinting for rasterization across operating systems; and my favorite pin-cushion, readability research.

The health of the creative side of the industry, where young designers bring new ideas to the market, is always a concern to many, but it is not a concern to me. Students of type and typography have been graduating over the last decade from ever more sophisticated curriculums and going professional, solo or in bands, to form new brands. This is a growing resource, not just in North America and Western Europe, but now in Eastern Europe and South America as well.

Independent type design products and services are well established. And the increase in designers of Arabic and of stunning new capabilities in setting traditional Arabic on computers has been exciting over the last couple of years. Only in China it seems, where a recent peep let out that fonts are purchased by the foundry of the People’s Republic at 33¢-a-glyph, does it appear some change might be in order.

Rather abruptly now, from China to the Font Bureau (where type designers can earn 33¢-a-minute):

Our busy 2010 took the form of new companies and partnerships starting up to run side-by-side with the existing business. Webtype, Ready-Media, and Treesaver all launched in mid-2010 as vehicles for delivering great typography. Then the icing on the cake was helping realize a dream for an independent site to catalog and examine fonts in use in the real world, which launched as “Fonts In Use” in the last month of this year.

To go along with all these new ventures, Font Bureau invented a new category of font, the custom just-for-text web font. This category, branded “Reading Edge,” took up most of my year with research, design, production, and quality assurance for 28 (going on 40) new fonts made to be readable down to 9 pixels, just in case.

I could only do this, ultimately, because of a great movement that no one discusses much. 2010 was the year that foundries finally came to assume anti-aliased rendering on the user’s machine. The presentation of typography on the web needs those little grey pixels, as all aliased type looks pretty much alike. (If the aliased type does not look alike, it’s reasonable to assume that that type is not appropriate for low-resolution aliased use.)

Based on that big thing — that @font-face, and all web type really, depends on an all anti-aliased audience — 2011 appears to be shaping up as the year browsers begin seriously taking over all the work of typesetting, for both print and the web. Won’t That Be Grand!

I wish them all the best in that, and all the best to all who love type (or anything else good for that matter)!


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