San Francisco, California

The Presence of Distortion

Web typography is a fragile sport, and thanks to the swarm of devices and browsers, network conditions and disabilities, it can often feel overwhelming to set type on the web. Earlier in the week I talked with Thomas Jockin about this feeling and specifically the differences between networked and un-networked texts. What happens to typography, I wondered aloud, when an unreliable network gets in between us and our readers?

The conversation is rough around the edges, although I like what I said here:

…a designer’s goal is to limit the presence of distortion...Today, the most powerful source of distortion that we ignore on a daily basis is that the network is not always available to us.

Following this thread, several months ago I gave a talk in Nottingham called What Networks Want which tried to address this idea but it fell short in lots of ways. I even tried to sit down and scrape these ideas out of my head into an essay which, of course, I ended up spending more time designing than actually writing:

Anyway, enough about me. What has the community been working on lately? 

The Week in Type

The font-display CSS property lets us style the way in which fonts load on a webpage and Jeremy Wagner has written an in-depth post on CSS-Tricks about how to get started.

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Keith Houston, author of the excellent Shady Characters and proprietor of one of my favourite blogs, has a new project aptly titled The Book. And oh boy, I can’t wait to get my mitts on it:

Keith has also written about the mysterious, ancient origins of the book in anticipation of the new release.

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Last week the web type service Typekit revealed a major redesign that overhauls the organisation of the font families, makes the website accessible on more devices and tidies up a lot of nagging UI issues.

Also, over on the Typekit blog, Tim Brown digs into flexible typography with CSS locks. Subsequently, Jake Giltsoff made a tool called typoproto that experiments with this approach.

At the moment I have a lot of half-baked opinions on both the problem and the approach but, for now at least, I’ll push them aside and wait to collect my thoughts.

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Kris Sowersby’s design notes on Financier, the new display and text family designed for the Financial Times, dives into the complexity of building a modern typeface:

The brief was to produce a sharper, more modern newspaper that shows off the FT’s strengths in reporting, analysis and visual journalism. The newspaper needed to be more than just a snapshot of the website at a particular point in the day, but an edited selection of the best the FT has to offer. It needed to complement and provide a competitive “finite” read of “what you need to know” each day.

Above: the differences between Financier Display (left) and Text (right). Notice the sharper serifs for text and the more wedge-like protrusions on display.

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A while back, Hoefler and Co. released a new tool at where you can experiment with their library of typefaces:

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Angela Riechers from AIGA interviewed Dr. Fiona Ross about her vast experience in type design.

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David Jonathan Ross, one of my favourite type designers, has been keeping notes and releasing some interesting thoughts about his work. Take this tiny note about Bungee where David describes how the typeface requires extra spacing between characters depending on how an accent might appear above or below or above and below.

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Marcin Wichary, a designer at Medium, has written an excellent piece on why laying out type never does what you want.

Marcin then comes up with several rules that front-end developers and engineers might want to consider before they dig into any typographic enterprise.

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Nina Stoessinger, of Ernestine fame, begins a new chapter as Senior Designer at Frere Jones. She also wrote a little about the move to NYC and so I can’t wait to see what comes from all this.

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Ahmad Shadeed wrote a great post about the CSS writing-mode property and I made a quick demo to show how that property might be used for aligning chapter titles in a demo on Codepen.

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I can’t stop thinking of a post that Thalia Echevarria wrote about her design process for the Buginese Script over on Alphabettes.

Bugi is a rather obscure and slowly dying language from South Sulawesi in Indonesia and if it reminds you of ocean waves then you would be forgiven, as Thalia describes:

Rumor has it (this is just a theory) that the Bugis represented their beliefs in the shape of the script, and because they were really good sailors, the shape of the characters resembles ocean waves, so each corner represents a wind direction.

Thalia even designed and printed her own keyboard in order to work on this project (!)

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[email protected] have started to release the excellent Letterform Archive talks that took place at the San Francisco Public Library a couple of weeks ago:

Letter of the Week

Last month Jules and I hitched a ride to Stanford for the day. We explored the beautiful campus grounds and met with some very interesting folks. But what’s important here is the Stanford Memorial Church.

The church can be found in the Main Quadrangle on campus (not to be mistaken for the Secondary Ellipses or the Tertiary Oblong) and this is the view that can be found inside:

We were instantly drawn to the letters that adorned the walls and columns, although to me these shapes were very unfamiliar characters. As an Englishman, they looked out of place, at least in the context of a church:

The religious sites I’ve visited across Europe have always been adorned with thick, jagged frakturs and mysterious, inky texturas—blackletter forms that survived the weathering of centuries. That’s why the shapes above, although beautiful, seem totally out of whack. But be sure to take note of the leg of the capital R. Weird, huh?

Until next time!</br> ✌️

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