All posts tagged ‘typography’

File Under: Browsers, Fonts, Web Standards

Mozilla Throws Its Weight Behind Improving Web Type, Adopts WOFF for Firefox

Firefox users will soon gain the ability to see an even greater diversity of fonts on web pages.

Mozilla announced Tuesday that version 3.6 of Firefox, due by the end of the year, will support the new Web Open Font Format, or WOFF. Web authors will be able to include WOFF fonts in their page designs by linking to the font files in their code the same way they link to images and other downloadable files.

WOFF becomes the third downloadable font format supported by Firefox — version 3.5 included support for TrueType and OpenType font downloads.

But WOFF has two key advantages over TrueType and OpenType: WOFF fonts are compressed, so they download faster, and they include support for tags and other unencrypted metadata.

This is a significant step forward not only for the emerging open format, but also for type on the web in general, which is still stuck in a state of mild turmoil.

For years, designers have been limited to using only a set of five or six common fonts on the web. But thanks to new font rendering tools within the emerging HTML5 and CSS3 standards, web designers now have the ability to use newer, more visually interesting typefaces — and make that type appear more consistently across browsers, operating systems and screen resolutions.

Even with these new abilities, intervening forces like DRM, licensing restrictions and varying levels of support from the browser makers have stalled progress, forcing the modern designer to resort to a variety of workarounds and hacks if they want to use these new fonts. Some possible solutions have shown up, including the OpenType standard and a “middleman” licensing model proposed by the startup Typekit, but haven’t yet gained traction. Earlier this month, popular website Boing Boing launched a redesign using CSS3′s @font-face rule, but ran into problems when things didn’t render correctly on older machines.

WOFF doesn’t promise to totally solve the problem of browser compatibility — it still uses the same paradigm within CSS3′s @font-face rule where users are served a preferred font choice first, but are then offered backup choices if their browser doesn’t support the first one. And there are still special considerations for IE 8 users, as Microsoft’s browser supports @font-face, but only if you use the .eot font format.

What it does do is improve workflows for those using downloadable fonts in their designs.

Mozilla contributor John Dagget outlines the compression and tagging advantages on the Mozilla Hacks blog:

First, compression is part of the WOFF format so web authors can optimize the size of fonts used on their pages. The compression format is lossless, the uncompressed font data will match that of the original OpenType or TrueType font, so the way the font renders will be the same as the original. Similar compression can be achieved using general HTTP compression but because compression is part of the WOFF format, it’s simpler for authors to use, especially in situations where access to server configuration is not possible.

Second, the format includes optional metadata so that a font vendor can tag their fonts with information related to font usage. This metadata doesn’t affect how fonts are loaded but tools can use this information to identify the source of a given font, so that those interested in the design of a given page can track down the fonts used on that page.

Dagget also notes that WOFF fonts aren’t “secure,” so the format shouldn’t be used by foundries wanting to regulate the use of their work. However, over 30 major type foundries — including House Industries, Hoefler & Frere-Jones and ITC — are already endorsing the format, and Mozilla’s support should help foster its popularity.

You can read more about how WOFF is used, plus see examples on the Mozilla Hacks blog. You can also check out WOFF support yourself by downloading the latest nightly builds of Firefox and giving it a whirl.

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Boing Boing’s Redesign Uncovers the Dark Side of Web Fonts

Culture news site Boing Boing recently tried a daring experiment — redesign its immensely popular website using some largely untested tools of the open web.

Unfortunately for Boing Boing, its ambitious plan resulted in a small disaster.

The team decided to use CSS3′s @font-face rule in its recent site redesign, which would enable it to use a custom font to display its text. However, far from delivering the look BoingBoing was going for, @font-face fell flat on its face; when the changes went live Tuesday, not only were the fonts Boing Boing wanted to use not legally available for the web, the font it settled on — specifically BPreplay — ended up looking terrible for most users.

The result was hordes of angry Boing Boing fans complaining that the new headline font was “ugly,” “an abomination” and “plain nasty.” Of course, the culprit wasn’t really the font, but rather how different it looked depending on which browser and operating system the viewer was using.

Web designers have long been pining for open source tools that would afford them more control over site designs, including the ability to create animations, complex layouts and — probably the biggest wish-list item — the ability to use original typefaces and proprietary fonts in their designs. Many of these things are currently being written into into HTML5 and CSS3, two next-generation open standards for building well-formed web pages. We’ve even praised CSS3′s font-face rule and talked about how you can legally use it today.

The problem is that while modern browsers, like the latest versions of Safari, Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome, all support @font-face, the Windows XP operating system often doesn’t have anti-aliasing turned on by default. The rule, which is still part of CSS3′s draft specification, is also not supported by any version of Internet Explorer. So, as cool as your font might look when properly anti-aliased, on Windows XP it looks, as Rob Beschizza, head of Boing Boing’s redesign puts it, “like ass.”

Beschizza, who like many Boing Boing contributors used to work for Wired.com, spoke to Webmonkey over e-mail shortly after the redesign launched and after the feedback started pouring in.

For those using Windows Vista or Mac OS X, Boing Boing’s redesigned headline fonts looked just fine. Indeed much of the experimentation so far with @font-face is happening on designers’ blogs and portfolios — sites where the audience is likely to be using a modern browser and a modern OS.

If your audience is limited to people who live on the web’s cutting edge, then @font-face works pretty well.

However, for sites like Boing Boing, which has much broader audience, Windows XP and older browsers are still a significant portion of daily traffic. And while browsers that don’t understand @font-face (such as Internet Explorer) were fed a typical web font, in this case Verdana, the combination of modern browser and older OS proved disastrous.

But even practical issues like improper font rendering weren’t the only problem Boing Boing faced trying to use @font-face.

The font BoingBoing ended up using, BPreplay by the design group backpacker, wasn’t its first choice, but rather, because of licensing issues, its only legal choice.

“Our first pick for that headline font was VAG Rounded, which Mark (Frauenfelder, co-founder of Boing Boing) had used in his first mock-ups for the design,” says Beschizza, but the foundry didn’t offer a license for web display.

In fact the design team went through a whole list of font choices before they found one that was legal and fit their design.

Given the outcome, it isn’t hard to see why some foundries don’t want to license their fonts. Forget about @font-face making the actual font files available for download — if the fonts look terrible, no one will want them anyway. In fact, the foundry that makes one font Boing Boing tried to license cited appearance as the main reason they were declining to license the font.

So does that mean there isn’t going to be a way to use @font-face until Windows XP is a dim memory? Well you could always use JavaScript to detect the operating system and selectively applying @font-face to an OS that can render it. That (among other things, like licensing complexities) is one of the potential problems startups like the TypeKit project are hoping to solve.

Of course there’s always another option — just ignore Windows XP users. For smaller sites that may be a viable option, but for sites the size of Boing Boing the only real alternative is to do what Boing Boing did — revert to good old Helvetica and call it day.

Eventually web fonts will work, but for now they remain well out on the cutting edge. So, if you’re working on a large site, tread with care.

Photo: healthserviceglasses/Flickr

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File Under: CSS, HTML, Web Standards

Use @font-face Today With Free, Legal Fonts

With the latest versions of Safari, Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome all supporting CSS’s new @font-face rule, you might think web designers everywhere would be rushing to add fancy fonts to their websites. But of course, most aren’t. So why, if designers have been bemoaning the state of typography in the browser since the dawn of the web, hasn’t the recent growth of @font-face support turned things around?

There’s actually another, much more complicated problem with @font-face that stops it from being the panacea for your font woes: licensing.

Unfortunately, the font foundries which create, sell and license fonts have thus far been reluctant to embrace licensing terms that would allow designers to serve fonts via @font-face legally. The foundries fear pirates would be able to steal fonts much more easily if the files were published in the wild on the web.

There are some possible solutions to this, such as third-party middlemen like Typekit. However, involving yet another layer of complexity (and potential failure) to your web stack isn’t anyone’s idea of fun. So what’s a designer to do?

It turns out there are actually some fonts that you use with @font-face today. Font Squirrel, one of our favorite places to find free fonts has an entire section devoted to @font-face compatible fonts.

Two things to keep in mind with Font Squirrel’s list: First, as the site says, “Font Squirrel makes no guarantee that our interpretation of each license is correct,” which means make sure you read it yourself and possibly contact the creator to clarify. And second, some of these fonts are downright ugly.

But not all of them. Designer Francesco Mugnai recently posted a nice roundup of some of the best @font-face candidates from the Font Squirrel collection, including two of our favorites, Museo Sans and Anivers.

Of course, even with legal fonts and decent browser support, @font-face isn’t for every project. However, if you’re sick of Flash solutions like sIFR tired of being limited to only the six fonts found on nearly every PC, Font Squirrel’s list of @font-face compatible free fonts could be the solution you’ve been searching for.

Photo: healthserviceglasses/Flickr

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File Under: CSS, Fonts, Web Services

Typekit Hopes to Become the YouTube of Fonts

A new startup is hoping to solve the web’s font problem.

Designers have been bemoaning the state of typography in the browser since the dawn of the web. The current technology for rendering type in the browser without using Flash or other non-standards-based methods essentially limits designers to only six fonts.Of course, we already have some ways around those limits, like sIFR and Cufn, two projects that use Flash and JavaScript, respectively, to embed fonts on web pages from the server side. However, there’s long been a better way to embed fonts waiting in the wings: using CSS.

The W3C @font-face declaration for CSS has been around for some time, but has languished due to two big problems. First, most browsers didn’t support it. But with the latest versions of Safari, Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome all now supporting @font-face, that problem is close to being solved.

It’s the second major problem that’s the sticking point: licensing restrictions forbid embedding fonts via CSS. Unfortunately, the font foundries which create, sell and license fonts have thus far been reluctant to embrace licensing terms that would allow designers to serve fonts legally. The foundries fear that users would be able to pirate the fonts much more easily if the files were published in the wild on the web.

It’s this problem that Typekit, an as-yet-unlaunched web service, is trying to solve. Typekit is the brainchild of Jeffrey Veen, a noted web designer (and former Wired.com engineer and contributor to Webmonkey) who is hoping that Typekit can strike a deal with the font foundries and provide licenses that will allow designers can use them on the web.

Although Typekit’s official announcement is thin on details, it looks as though the company will host the font files, which designers can then license for a fee. From there, the fonts could simply be embedded using the @font-face declaration in a site’s stylesheets.

Sounds prefect right? Well, maybe. There are some possible problems with Typekit’s scenario.

First, there’s the issue of potential downtime. If Typekit’s servers choke (and even Amazon’s S3 service goes down from time to time, so don’t expect Typekit to be any different) all your fancy fonts vanish. Depending on how complex your design is, an outage could turn your site into a garbled disaster.

The other possible problem is that Typekit will require adding “a line of JavaScript to your markup.” Hopefully what that means is that you’ll need to embed a license checking script. But the announcement isn’t clear about this, and some commenters seem to think it means Typekit is planning to use a font replacement system along the lines of Cufn.

Update: According to Typekit’s Jeffrey Veen, the commenters have it wrong.

“Typekit isn’t using any sort of image replacement for rendering fonts on web pages,” Veen tells Webmonkey. “We’re using the CSS @font-face declaration to link to TrueType and OpenType files. We’re using JavaScript to simplify that process and account for various browser versions.”

Ah, yes, various browser versions. At the back of everyone’s mind is the problem of Internet Explorer — Even the brand new IE8 still does not support the @font-face rule. However, after watching the developments come out of Google’s I/O conference it seems pretty clear that the web is moving forward with or (more likely) without IE.In the meantime, Veen says Typekit is taking special considerations to deal with Internet Explorer.

But over time, using Internet Explorer will result in a second tier web experience, since the browser remains without HTML5 and CSS 3 support. Users will start asking why, and one of two things will happen: either users switch to a different browser or Microsoft adds the missing features. Either way, the web wins.

Assuming @font-face support becomes ubiquitous across all browsers at some point, font foundries and Typekit may well find themselves in the same position that the music and film industries are today — fonts will be embedded using @font-face directly, regardless of copyright laws.

Despite the potential problems and complexities, we welcome the impending arrival of Typekit. If it can work around these outstanding issues, it has a good chance of succeeding. If you’d like to be notified when the service is available, head over to the sign up page and add the blog feed to your RSS reader.

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File Under: Visual Design

Feel The Kern With Typetweets

Typetweets show latest typography terms from Twitter

Even if you’re not on Twitter, you can benefit from its thousands of tweeters, or at least the few that care about typography. Typetweets scours Twitter for the latest mentions of font names, as well as words like “typography” and “serif.”

The site was created by user interface designer Kyle Meyer. It’s good for a quick look about what is being discussed by typophiles. Though, with the interest in this new site, expect it to be a little self-referencial right now. “Typetweets” is one of the terms it searches for.

If you’re using IE, it’s throwing errors for me. The site’s creator mentioned he didn’t even check IE and who can blame him. Typographers are surely running Safari on OS X, right?

I’d love to see more of these “interest dashboards” for other topics and I’m sure we will. Here are the steps to building one yourself:

  1. Grab the latest search feed from Twitter for each term
  2. Merge them with Yahoo! Pipes
  3. Output the result in JSON format

You can start by checking out Typetweet’s JavaScript and its JSON feed to get an idea how Kyle built his interest dashboard.

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