Review: Fonts and Logos, by Doyald Young

May 20th, 2005

This was also originally an entry on the Typophile Wiki.

By Doyald Young, published by his own Delphi Press. This lengthy, expensive, and oversized analysis of commercial lettering and typeface design can be seen as both a sequel and a replacement for Young’s earlier manual on the subject, Logotypes and Letterforms. It contains general typographic reference material, in-depth analyses of the special features of several classes of typeface, and an in-depth explanation of the creative process he used in revising the logo, logotype, and corporate identity of the Prudential Corporation.

Like the earlier book, Fonts & Logos is clearly a product of Young’s own preferences: Hermann Zapf (under whom Young studied) and Morris Fuller Benton (and ATC) are benevolent sprits present in most of Young’s work, and Young’s joyous love of baroque scripts gets the better of him on more than one occasion. His design work can get a little fusty, although the many tight pencil and pen comps he includes as examples are marvelous to see. For a visual analysis of typeface construction and the process of logotype design, it is unequalled, and Young’s voice is a friendly, inviting one, sharing rather than lecturing, descriptive rather than prescriptive.

His West Coast location has given him many opportunities to work throughout the Pacific Rim, and it’s interesting to see how his conservative, wealthy Japanese clients have ended up using Western design idioms to signify elegance, wealth, and class. Also, being in Los Angeles has given Young many opportunities to work in television, and it’s striking how much his work defined the look of television in the 70s and 80s. Here, too, though, some fussiness and camp begins to creep in, and so devotees of cutting-edge European minimalism will probably be somewhat put off by his rococo American style. However, his examples are all real examples developed for real clients, and there are many of them, so unlike just about every other book on logo design, this one leaves you with a solid idea of how the play of give and take works in real-world design.

Review: Logotypes and Letterforms, by Doyald Young

May 20th, 2005

I wrote this as an entry for the Typophile Wiki, which I think has the opportunity to be a uniquely useful resource for the online typographic community. The entry itself works as a standalone review, though, so I thought I’d include it here.

By Doyald Young, published by his own Delphi Press. This large, expensive, thick book is less a manual or a reference as a catalog of Young’s own design work that just so happens to be very informative and educational. Young has been based in Los Angeles for his entire career, and has spent much of that time closely associated with the Art Center College of Design. He studied under Hermann Zapf, whose work has clearly influenced him profoundly, and due to his location has done much work designing logotypes and bespoke alphabets for clients in the entertainment, cosmetics, and hotel fields.

Much of the book is a display and discussion of this work; in some cases he displays the set of design comps for a logotype, as well as a discussion of the thinking that went into them. He also – somewhat unusually – takes the next step of discussing which typefaces go well with many of the logotypes, demonstrating how corporate and brand identities can be designed outward from one piece of work.

Young loves scripts and cartouches, so there are many fine examples of elaborate scripts in the book. He also loves Zapf’s Optima, which pops up in many, many guises and references, along with Morris Fuller Benton’s Franklin Gothic. Since these typefaces are respectively half a century and a century old, Young can’t fairly be accused of being subject to the whims of fashion (even though, much of the time, he’s working for the fashion industry), but at the same time, it is often easy to guess the age of many of his designs. It seems contradictory that his designs can be both conservative and dated, and it is intriguing to attempt to figure out why this is.

The last part of the book is a set of specimens of some (most?) of Young’s own typefaces, and is in some ways the most interesting part of the book. Young has, like his mentor Zapf, been unafraid to stick himself right into the middle of technological developments. He’s designed an uncial-style unicase script for teletype machines and a typeface for transcribing American Sign Language, as well as creating a simplified sans for use in daisy-wheel impact printers. He has also indulged his love for scripts with his one commercially available typeface, Young Baroque, a beautiful baroque script.

The Dread Pirate Carter

May 6th, 2005

It is impossible to discuss free fonts or type licensing on the internet without a few uncomfortable facts getting trotted out:

  1. Under United States copyright law, it is impossible to copyright the set of letter designs that together comprise a typeface. This is not an accident, but an explicit decision on the part of Congress.
  2. There is quite a bit of argument as to whether fonts are data or software. Proponents of the former tend to also be proponents of free software. The large foundries tend to believe the latter, not least because software is clearly protected by copyright law. The US Congress seems to think that even if fonts are programs, they’re still not covered by copyright, although this position has never been validated in court.
  3. In fact, pretty much the only way you can protect a font from being copied is by trademarking its name, which helps explain Linotype’s recent rush to patent as many font names as possible.
  4. Several respected foundries, including Bitstream, which now runs MyFonts, the most widely-used font store on the Internet, got their starts by pirating other foundries’ designs. Linotype has Helvetica? Bitstream has Swiss 721. Linotype has Univers? Bitstream has Zurich. Linotype has Palatino? Bitstream has Zapf Calligraphic 801.

Why does Congress hate type designers? Why are alphabet designs exempted from copyright protection? The answer is deceptively simple: doing so is not in the public interest. Type is not like photography or illustration: although typefaces connote meanings independent of the texts they embody, their designed forms are used as the bedrock of written communication itself. Allowing typefaces to be copyrighted would make the dissemination and reproduction of documents hugely more difficult. It’s easy to see why the members of Congress, who push around mind-boggling amounts of text, would have a problem with having to pay licensing fees to a foundry every time they issued a new volume of the Congressional Recorder. Since the US Government has always been one of the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of digital document management, Congress, which is normally quite myopic on technological issues, was quick to point out that digital encodings of fonts are no different from metal type in this regard:

The purpose of this notice is to inform the public that the Copyright Office has decided that digitized representations of typeface designs are not registrable under the Copyright Act because they do not constitute original works of authorship. The digitized representations of typefaces are neither original computer programs (as defined in 17 USC 101), nor original databases, nor any other original work of authorship. Registration will be made for original computer programs written to control the generic digitization process, but registration will not be made for the data that merely represents an electronic depiction of a particular typeface or individual letterforms. If this master computer program includes data that fixes or depicts a particular typeface, typefont, or letterform, the registration application must disclaim copyright in that uncopyrightable data.

It’s not hard to see why this has led to a morass: the legal limbo type designers occupy is not a result of lobbying, or legal lacunæ, or simple oversight. The clear, reasoned intent of Congress is that in order to preserve and encourage free speech in the United States, the law will not protect type designers from piracy. Essentially, any and all foundry EULAs are worth no more than the (generally virtual) paper on which they’re written. Legally speaking, there’s no reason why I can’t snag a copy of Adobe’s Cronos Pro Opticals off alt.binaries.fonts, change the name to AAXZ Elder Titan 261 Premier, and start selling them as my own design.

In fact, there are many recorded instances of this happening, and the curious (and confusing) result has almost unanimously been that the font pirates have either settled out of court or been defeated. While Bitstream, and URW, and Monotype have all been busted by the type community for flagrantly plagiarizing type designs, they got away with it. However, when sleazy font pirate Scott Eric King started selling CDs with hundreds of pirated designs through his company SSi, he got smacked down by the courts. Even though he was straight up copying existing fonts from well-known foundries, he did go to the trouble of opening up the font files and subtly tweaking the fonts’ control points. That wasn’t enough to protect him from judgment, which is kind of confusing given the explicit wishes of Congress, stated above. This can probably be explained by him not having a money to appeal the case up through the legal system; even so, it’s hard to say what would have happened (and now you have some sense of why).

Recently, Adobe has started advocating the use of another option: the design patent. Design patents are granted (freely and willy-nilly, like all American patents these days) on the bases of “novelty” and “ornamentality”. This appears to be an attempt to translate the familiar patent law conventions of novelty and utility into the design sphere. I have no idea what the criteria are for establishing novelty for a typeface; in my opinion they’d have to be pretty weak, given that any typeface that’s going to be sufficiently novel to escape claims of prior art by an educated layman is probably going to be illegible. How many text faces of the last 30 years are novel? Is Adobe’s Minion novel? The question is important, because Minion holds a design patent.

The good and bad news, depending on your perspective, is that design patents only last for 14 years, after which the patented font is as up for grabs as any other typeface. They’re a much weaker form of protection than copyright (which lasts until the death of the creator plus a MILLION BILLION YEARS, if Disney has their way), and to my knowledge have never been tested in court. Still, this does add some heft back to EULAs, if that’s what you’re looking for. I don’t know how widespread design patents are outside Adobe. I imagine they’ll only become more common as time goes by.

We find ourselves in a situation where straight-up piracy of fonts is debatably illegal but certainly unethical and immoral. TypeRight was founded to fight font piracy, both of designs and font files, and it’s important to note that TypeRight was a grassroots effort and not some weird SPA front (although SPA has worked with TypeRight members to chase after pirates). Most people stop thinking as soon as they hear that what they want to do is illegal, which makes fighting piracy outside of the courts a near-unwinnable battle.

I dredge up all this confusing unpleasantness because the entertaining free font blog Fontleech posted a discussion topic that caused the whole discussion to be rehashed again. The resulting discussion was lively and interesting, but like most internet discussions, disappeared off into the weeds after a while. Any time Matthew Carter is accused of being a font pirate extraordinaire, we’re in some strange terrain.

However, the discussion did really force me to think about my own stance on the issue. As a software engineer, I’m opposed to the notion of software patents, which tend to be used (largely by large software corporations and holders of “submarine patents” who don’t actually produce software) as big sticks to beat on independent programmers (or at least extort money out of them). Assuming I have the talent and perseverance to finish some of my type designs, I’d love to make some money off them, but I don’t want to do that at the cost of propping up a corrupt system.

This just goes to show the truth of Hrant Papazian’s admonition, delivered at a thoroughly entertaining lecture to aspiring type designers earlier this week: “Oh yeah, I forgot to mention this earlier: the thing about type design is that there’s no money in it.” He went on to say that you have to really love type to be a type designer, because it ain’t never gonna make you rich. Given that there’s really nothing to stop unscrupulous foundries from swooping in and taking all your designs, even if your designs are popular, they’re not guaranteed to make you money. Hrant suggested that the way to make money as a type designer is commissioned typefaces, and that seems about right to me.

Hey, I moved the server without destroying everything.

May 6th, 2005

It took a lot less work than I thought, too. Instead of running under Pushby’s increasingly creaky Movable Type installation, Typomancy is being served by a sparkly-fast server (in the same rack as Pushby’s servers) under Wordpress. I still have a lot of template tweaking to do, but the site’s back up and functional, so I can go to bed after I finish the post I’m working on. Here’s to easy migrations and impulsive domain registration!

On the fence with Adobe InDesign CS 2.

May 5th, 2005

Besides having a completely ridiculous version-numbering system, InDesign CS 2 is one of the chief flag-bearers of the recent phenomenon of the “subscription upgrade”, where companies like Adobe attempt to convert their customers into revenue streams by selling them the same product every year, with just enough minor improvements and fixed misfeatures to convince hesitant users that they really really need the upgrade now. I’ll apologize here and now for my cynical tone, but I’m old enough to remember when product release cycles were feature-driven rather than calendar-driven, and new major releases of products generally signaled significant changes.

I feel roughly the same way about Adobe these days that I do about Microsoft: both are companies with loathsome business practices who produce a lot of exceptional software. It’s more fashionable to badmouth Word and Excel than it is Photoshop and Illustrator, but all are sincere attempts to provide software that serves their customers’ varied needs. I myself know that I would be equally screwed if someone took away either Entourage or Photoshop; I’ve come to depend on both in a major way.

That said, even this glowing review of the new InDesign (found via InDesignupdate) isn’t good enough to persuade me to plunk down the $550 to upgrade to Creative Suite 2. There’s a sprinkling of features for everyone, from access to stylistic sets to object styles to anchored objects. It’s encouraging that so many of the features are geared towards streamlining production workflows and making common design tasks easier. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel that the new features are the wriggling worm on the hook that is forking over another subscription payment to Adobe.

What is it I want? What would make me happy to pay for an upgrade? It’s pretty simple: in the effort to establish themselves and then kill off their most significant competitor (that would be QuarkXPress, on the off chance you didn’t know), Adobe has allowed one of their best properties , FrameMaker, to wither away. InDesign is very much geared towards solving the same kinds of design problems as QuarkXPress, which are mostly ads, brochures, and magazines. Using InDesign to design books, especially of complex or technical material, is still far more difficult than it was in FrameMaker or (an early titan of desktop publishing that doesn’t get mentioned very often anymore, despite still being a supported product) Ventura Publisher.

It is sad that InDesign, a dedicated publishing program, is less capable of handling things like tables of contents, running heads, footnotes and endnotes, cross-references, and indexing than Microsoft Word. I have created an extensive index in InDesign, and it’s not a pleasant experience. InDesign has a pretty capable engine for exporting XML, and supports some pretty complex tagging schemes, but its own innate abilities to deal with documents with complex structures is sadly lacking. Unless I’m mistaken, there’s nothing available for Mac OS X that does a better job with long-form documents (unless you count TeX (PDF)), but if I’m going to shell out my own cash for an upgrade to InDesign, those are the kinds of features I’m going to want to see. So far, I remain unconvinced.

A Tally of Type-Management Bugs (FontAgent Pro needs help).

May 3rd, 2005

Because it’s by far my favorite font manager, and because I only want to see it improve, I’m throwing up this page, which I will keep up to date, to document the bugs I’ve found in Insider Software’s FontAgent Pro. It has just enough issues to be maddening, especially when I consider how close it is to being just right. It still looks brilliant when set next to FontReserve or Suitcase, neither of which Extensis seems to be very interested in developing. If you have FontAgent bugs of your own, leave them as comments or Trackbacks, and periodically I’ll poke Insider to see what they’re up to.

Here’s an easy reference to the list of bugs. Bug numbers are allocated as bugs are assigned, and may not reflect their order on this page:

The FontAgent setup assistant does exactly the wrong thing by default.

Bug fap010: People with a lot of fonts typically spend a lot of time organizing them. Me too. When I recently reorganized my fonts and removed all the ones that were unlicensed, I created a set of folders to organize everything, placing all of my fonts in a carefully organized structure. I would have been really pissed if I’d assumed that FontAgent Pro would respect that structure and not just rampantly suck in every font on my system, which is what its setup assistant is configured to do by default. Like iTunes or iPhoto, FontAgent wants to keep all of the assets it manages in one place, where it can keep an eye on them. Also like iTunes, your first encounter with this behavior can be shocking and unpleasant if you’re not expecting it.

FontAgent can be configured to either move the fonts on your system into its repository, to make copies of the fonts in its repository, or to not import any fonts at all. Right now it does the first by default, which has been surprised and dismayed countless users new to FontAgent. I would argue that the third choice should be the default, because arbitrarily placing every font on your system into a single library can cause performance problems later on (see below), and FontAgent works best when you add fonts in small batches, checking after each import to make sure that everything’s proceeding smoothly.

Furthermore, when you drag fonts into FontAgent to import them, the default should always be to copy the fonts rather than move them. Disk space is cheap, and if we want to get rid of the fonts we’re importing, we’ll delete them ourselves. I think unexpectedly moving around users’ fonts has done the most to damage its acceptance among people who would love it if it weren’t making such a disastrous first impression. And yes, this behavior is documented, but people running the demo can’t be counted upon to read the manual.

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2

Sometimes importing and then activating fonts causes FontAgent Pro to crash.

Bug fap001: This isn’t easily reproducible, but it’s happened frequently enough for me to have spotted the pattern: on occasion, when I attempt to activate a newly-imported font immediately after the import process has completed, FontAgent Pro will crash. The FontAgent Activator continues to run, and I can restart the browser with no apparent problems.

2005/05/04 UPDATE: A little more experimentation leads me to believe that if you install a bunch of new fonts and FontAgent Pro has to populate the cache it uses to generate type images, it can exercise a bug in the guts of the browser that will cause it to spontaneoulsy quit (I would say “crash”, except I don’t get a Crash Reporter dialog out of the exercise). This is still hard to reproduce, because once fonts are cached you have to delete and recreate your FontAgent installation to clear them (without possibly exercising other bugs), but I’ve been adding a bunch of fonts over the last few days and the browser has been acting a little crash-happy. As mentioned above, you can just reload the browser and continue on your way.

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

FontAgent Pro scales poorly.

Bug fap002: As discussed elsewhere, until fairly recently I was a gigantic font whore. I had a collection of over 20,000 fonts I’d acquired over the years (many of which were badly corrupt). They’d all been managed in FontReserve and Suitcase over the years, and neither of those programs do a very good job of dealing with corrupt fonts, so I thought importing the whole collection into FontAgent Pro would be a good test of its capabilities. It performed admirably, weeding out thousands of bunk fonts and only taking about two days to process them all (I’m not exaggerating – the process was very time-consuming). Unfortunately, this turned FontAgent Pro into a big pig: login was very slow, the FontAgent Activator consumed over a hundred megabytes of active memory, and the browser was very sluggish.

Clearly, FontAgent Pro wasn’t designed to be used by avaricious font pirates, but I can see large design bureaus and prepress houses (arrr, matey!) amassing libraries of a similar size. Suitcase is more or less blithely indifferent, sucking equally rapidly regardless of its library size, and FontReserve is more or less as slow FontAgent Pro. I’d expect slowdown when lots of fonts were activated, but seeing that kind of speed drops when only the library is large was somewhat disappointing.

I’ve subsequently rebuilt my font library, purging all the unlicensed fonts from my system, and now that I have fewer than a thousand fonts in my library, FontAgent Pro runs quickly enough that I don’t notice its speed (although see below regarding font activation in Adobe applications).

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

FontAgent Pro improperly handles bitmap suitcase files containing multiple styles for a single font family.

Bug fap003: The original fonts for the Macintosh were bitmap fonts, or fonts where the characters are represented as black and white images rather than described mathematically by curves. Each font had a range of font sizes, attributes (such as a name, an ID (which was supposed to be unique but inevitably ended up conflicting with other fonts – probably the single largest factor that led to the development of font managers in the first place), a style (regular, italic, bold, bold italic), and font metrics), and were bundled into a special kind of file called a suitcase. You moved fonts between suitcases (and into the System file, which is how you made fonts available to the OS) using a little program called Font/DA Mover (which was made obsolete by System 7, because it allowed you to browse suitcases and the System file directly in the Finder). Adobe and Apple piggybacked on this technology when they made PostScript fonts available on the Mac, adding only the notion of a “PostScript name” in the font description, so the system could match PostScript font files with bitmap fonts kept in suitcases.

Mac OS X still uses a vestigial version of the font suitcase for Postscript Type 1 fonts, which is mostly there to provide font metrics and some name information. The general practice, which FontAgent Pro tries to follow, is to have one font style per suitcase, so each Type 1 font is paired with its dingleberry of a screen font.

I don’t know why, but when I import some font families into FontAgent Pro, the individual font styles aren’t stripped out of the suitcase into their own screen font files. These are fonts that work fine if I just place them in the Mac OS X Library/Fonts directories. This seems to happen most frequently with font families that follow the traditional conventions of coming in regular, italic, bold, and bold italic styles. Frequently, I’ll see only the regular style listed in the FontAgent browser, and often, when I click on that style, no preview will display in either the Font Player or Font Compare panes. Irritatingly enough, sometimes the regular style will be unavailable in Mac OS X applications, while the other three are perfectly fine.

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

Bug fap004: There’s a further knock-on effect, which I think is related: when I go to delete fonts from the library in the FontAgent browser, only the font suitcase (which, remember, contains screen fonts for all four styles of the Type 1 font) and the regular style of the Type 1 font get deleted. The other Type 1 files are left hanging around, causing FontAgent Pro to complain about missing screen fonts on subsequent imports. My workaround for now is to go in and delete the (un)affected Type 1 files from the library by hand.

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

Bug fap005: Lastly, I have at least one font family where there were originally two suitcases containing the same style of the same font, which FontAgent should have noticed as duplicates and removed, but didn’t (one suitcase contained the regular and italic styles of the family, the other contained expert and alternate characters but contained screen fonts for the regular and italic as well). In this case, the presence of the duplicate screen fonts in the suitcase led to FontAgent Pro complaining about duplicate screen fonts upon subsequent imports. Bafflingly enough, eventually this problem fixed itself with the affected family, but it sure was annoying until it did.

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

Sometimes FontAgent forgets which fonts are manually activated across restarts.

Bug fap011: I haven’t figured out why, but sometimes FontAgent loses track of which fonts I had manually activated, even though I have “Reactivate manually activated fonts” checked in the Preferences. This behavior appears to have been remedied by making liberal use of Startup Sets, but it shouldn’t have surfaced in the first place.

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

The FontAgent activation plugins can’t keep up with Adobe applications.

Bug fap006: I’ve seen this documented a number of places, so I’ll keep the description brief. When you open a document containing inactive fonts inside Illustrator or InDesign, the inactive fonts will start activating, but sometimes the Adobe application will complain first that necessary fonts aren’t available, and the affected fonts in the document will be replaced with the highlighted “default font”. The fix for this is simple: close the newly-opened document without saving and open it again. All of the newly-activated fonts will be in effect.

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

Fonts don’t preview properly after being activated and then deactivated in the browser.

Bug fap007: The bug comes out of the description of reproducing it, so I’ll just describe how I reproduce it. In the FontAgent browser, select a deactivated font. In the Font Compare pane, it will show a preview of the selected font (most of the time – see above). Activate the font, and it will briefly display the preview text as Lucida Grande (as it swaps out the cached version of the font character images FontAgent uses for previewing for the actual, “live” version of the font), and then it will return to a preview of the font (this repeated switch between fonts is a bug on its own, but it doesn’t bother me). Now deactivate the font. It will again briefly display as Lucida Grande, but instead of being the font to be previewed, on my system it always gets replaced with Helvetica. If I activate and deactivate multiple fonts, all of them end up being Helvetica. Switching between Font Player and Font Compare doesn’t fix the display; I have to quit and restart the browser.

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

Fonts display with incorrect baseline height when first selected immediately after starting the browser.

Bug fap008: Pretty simple and display-only, but annoying. It appears that upon launch, the browser’s Font Compare pane assumes the font height is set at 12 when you start up, even if the value in the field is higher (in my case, it’s almost always 48). As a result, the banner with the name, size, and type of the font cuts off about half of the font preview. Changing the preview size causes everything to fix itself.

Sometimes working fonts get broken by import due to naming problems.

Bug fap009: To put a tiny little bit of typographic relief in the sere, desert plain that is this posting, I’ll put out there that I really like old “Egyptian” slab serif typefaces. I went through a little bakeoff of a number of them recently, and licensed copies of Linotype’s version of Clarendon, František Storm’s loopy Farao (not as loopy as Mac Rhino’s totally girly Oxtail, but loopy nonetheless), Bauer’s Volta, and Wooden Type Fonts’ portly Antique No. 6. It was the last that caused FontAgent to barf: even though the font would work just fine when put into my ~/Library/Fonts directory, when I try to import it into FontAgent, the browser finds “1 Missing Postscript Font” and “1 Missing Screen Font” instead of the font I’m trying to import. I think this is because FontAgent is slightly pickier about font naming conventions than Mac OS X; in any case, my workaround for now is to simply keep the font in my ~/Library/Fonts folder, where it can’t be managed but can be used.

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

Insider’s release notes suck.

Bug fap666: Sometime in the last two or three days (as of 2003/05/03), Insider released version 3.0.1 of FontAgent Pro. What does it fix? Does it have any new features? Who knows! There are no release notes distributed with the app, there’s nothing on the FontAgent website, and there’s not even any useful information on VersionTracker. MacUpdate has a one-sentence blurb about how this version offers Bonjour (née Rendezvous) support for font-sharing, which was probably just a name change to keep people from getting confused. Release notes generally are much better for open source software than for commercial, but even so, it took me over a week to figure out what had changed between 2.x and 3.0. It worked in Insider’s favor, because I downloaded the new version immediately to see if it fixed any of my bugs (it didn’t).

Status: outstanding as of FontAgent Pro 3.0.2.

2005/05/04 UPDATE 01: At Stephen’s suggestion, I’ve added bug numbers to each of the bugs, as well as a quick-reference list of bugs at the top. Good idea, Stephen!

2005/05/04 UPDATE 02: Paul brings to my attention FontAgent Pro’s completely lame defaults during the initialization process, which didn’t cause me problems only because I had previously used Font Reserve, which is similarly badly behaved.

2005/05/05 UPDATE: I received a very nice call yesterday from FontAgent’s product manager, Benjamin Levasay. Benjamin is a recent hire at Insider Software who previously showed his font-management mettle in running the excellent and aptly-named Font Geek, pretty much the best site out there discussing font management on the Mac. I referred to it constantly when I was putting together my own font-management setup. He said that they were aware of many of the issues on my list and would discuss the rest. He left me feeling like Insider is committed to improving FontAgent, which I should be able to take for granted, but really can’t given the state of font management apps on the Mac. Our conversation was pleasant, and I really appreciate him taking the time to contact me directly. Thanks, Benjamin!

2005/05/06 UPDATE: I added an annoying but trivial bug related to FontAgent forgetting about manually activated fonts. I’m investigating some bugs and quirks reported by lettertiep below.

2005/06/20 UPDATE: FontAgent Pro has been updated to 3.0.2 as of 2005/06/02. As far as anyone seems to be able to tell, the only changes are related to support for Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”. Version numbers have been updated and bugs revalidated.

Doing the math.

April 27th, 2005

I recently sat down and crunched some numbers. Adobe Creative Suite 2 Premium costs $1,149.99 new from Amazon. Along with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, GoLive, Bridge, and Version Cue, the bundle includes over 150 fonts in 35 families. The list value of those fonts, if purchased from the Adobe site as families, is $4,407 (plus whatever Garamond Premium Pro ends up costing). This is only $500 shy of the cost of Adobe Font Folio OpenType Edition with a 10-user workgroup license, and almost four times the cost of Adobe CS on its own. When I tally the cumulative cost of the fonts purchased individually, it grows to over $6,500!

This is ludicrous for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it exposes the essential arbitrariness of the pricing of digital type. There are sunk costs in developing fonts: Adobe employs some of the most productive and talented type designers in the industry, but still, developing fonts is a long and arduous task, especially with the advent of Adobe’s “Pro” and “Optical” categories of OpenType fonts — not to mention the labor involved in designing CJKV fonts, with their enormous numbers of characters. However, as opposed to selling Linotype matrices, or Monotype matrices and keybars, or old-fashioned metal sorts, or even phototype matrix discs, the marginal cost of selling a font in this era of online shopping and digital delivery is vanishingly small relative to the cost. Adobe keeps changing font formats, for sound technical and creative reasons as well as crass commercial ones, and that requires additional development costs, but still, if they can afford to bundle six grand’s worth of type in a one thousand dollar product, there’s obviously some hefty markup at work somewhere.

Perhaps as importantly, if less obviously, this bundling makes it harder for vendors other than Adobe to make any money selling type (which is, of course, its purpose). I’m not knocking the quality of Adobe’s type, and in fact I intend to write an article demonstrating how designers can survive using only the fonts provided with Creative Suite. But, like Microsoft, Adobe is using its size and dominant position within the industry to squeeze the small creative outfits that form part of its core audience. Combine that with the recent merger of Adobe and Macromedia, and it’s hard to think kindly of today’s Adobe. Their products are far and away the best at what they do, but the company selling them looks distinctly predatory and unfriendly. I will write more about this soon, I assure you.

Comments are fixed.

April 24th, 2005

On the off chance that any of you’d like to tell me exactly what you think of my opinions, please feel free to leave a comment or three on my entries. It was only an oversight on my part they weren’t working before.

The management.

Why do we need Sabon?

March 17th, 2005

Jan Tschichold’s name is resonant in typographic circles. Incarcerated by the Nazis for his socialist Bauhaus troublemaking, he later became one of the great reformers in 20th century book design. He was also renowned for one of the great switcharoos in graphic design history, seemingly renouncing his radical youthful opinions on all that had been wrong with historical typography and embracing a “new conservatism”. He was a graphic designer, book designer, writer, instructor, propagandist, and type designer. His output as a type designer was not prolific: he devised a radical alphabet while working with the Bauhaus (never put into production at the time, it is now available in digital form from the ever-inscrutable Foundry. Attempt to license their type if you dare!), and in 1964, near the end of his career, he released Sabon.

Sabon interests me because it’s a historical curiosity: a pretty pure product of design constraints imposed by available technology. Tschichold was commissioned to design Sabon by Linotype, Monotype, and the foundry Stempel AG. It had to work on Linotype and Monotype hardware and also be available for hand-setting, and Tschichold was instructed to make the font slightly narrower to make it more economical (“economy” in typographic terms means fitting more text on a page). Monotype machines require all the letters to be an even number of units wide (in an 18-unit width system). Linotype systems share matrices between the roman and italic versions of the typeface, and also lack the ability to kern, so characters can’t overhang, and the italic and roman characters have to have the same width. Hand-set type in German typesetting of the time was generally based on a baseline adapted to blackletter type, which features very short descenders. Add this all up, and you have a challenging number of constraints. This is why type designers typically worked on one system at a time, and helps explain what happened to Hermann Zapf’s poor Palatino. (Much of the history in this paragraph was taken from Meggs and Carter’s Typographic Specimens and John Berry’s essay on creativepro.com.)

Tschichold chose as his model that reliable workhorse, Garamond (with influences from many of Garamond’s followers), and set about creating his type family. Given the constraints within which he was operating, he succeeded admirably. Sabon is a sturdy, elegant and legible book family despite its camel-like construction, with only occasional curiosities (most notably its deformed ‘f’) betraying its claustrophobic origins. Tschichold set about using Sabon for much of the book design he did until his death in 1974, and the typeface has remained popular ever since.

Jean François Porchez, a fine type designer in his own right, was asked to create a new, digital version of Sabon in the 90s. The result was Sabon Next, which is more or less a new font, a… Garamond. It maintains Tschichold’s sturdiness, and Porchez tried to remain faithful to the various influences he detected in Tschichold’s work, but much of the distinctiveness of the original face was a result of its constraints, many of which Porchez ironed out in an effort to smooth out the awkward bits remaining in Sabon.

Sabon’s popularity has not waned, even among fans of other garamond types, but I sometimes wonder: just how many garamonds does the world need? So much effort, much of it to support now-moribund technology, and still more work done now to undo what was done in the first place. I know Sabon has its passionate fans, but why? What makes it better than any other well-designed old-style book face? Why not revive Van Dijck, a font with one of the most elegant, jumbled italics I’ve ever seen? I guess I still have a lot left to learn…

The best Futura money can buy.

February 7th, 2005

Futura is one of those typefaces so taken for granted that it perpetually rides on the knife-edge of backlash. Like Helvetica and Univers, it’s a versatile sans serif typeface that comes in a variety of widths and weights and comprises a more or less freestanding system for graphic designers who are (still) wedded to the grid. It’s also a strongly geometrical, warm typeface, and is one I’ve used constantly since long before I knew anything about type.

I’m not sure that many people pay for Futura anymore. I used it at first because it came with Adobe’s ATM (I think—I’m almost certain that however I got it originally was legit). It’s so ubiquitous that it’s really easy to take for granted. But there is more than one version of Futura, and not all Futuras are created alike.

Futura was created by Paul Renner at the dawn of modernism in typography, and the original version was very different from the version we see today. It had a number of alternates for many of the lowercase characters, some of which were radical, geometrically strange departures from traditional letterforms. The lowercase a and g, which can be found in Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style, make this most plain. From what little I’ve been able to glean on the subject from the Web, Bauer quietly dropped the alternate forms when they first issued the typeface, fearing their strangeness would harm sales.

There have been many versions of Futura over the years, both as licensed implementations and as knockoffs. The one I think most designers are familiar with is the original Adobe version, which has been ubiquitous for years now. However, for those who are interested in getting the best versions of the faces, there are alternatives.

For those who want the boldly modernist version of Futura as Paul Renner originally envisioned it, The Foundry has made available a regular and bold version of the face in two of its Architype volumes, under the names “Architype Renner” and “Architype Renner Bold”. The Foundry is allergic to forthrightly disclosing the prices of their typefaces, it seems, so you’ll have to contact them directly if you want to license their fonts.

For those who want the most elegant version of the modern Futura, Neufville Digital in Spain has the complete range of Futuras, complete with small capitals and the old-style figures that were dropped from the original metal issue of the type. Elegance doesn’t come cheap, though, and purchasing the complete family will probably set you back around a grand. The Adobe versions, by contrast, will cost you around $500, but they won’t look as nice in print, and you won’t be able to get the small caps, old-style figures, or Futura Shadow, Futura Script, Futura Black, or Futura Display.

About those last two… Futura Black and Futura Display are oddball fonts. Neither of them share much of the feel of the rest of the family, with the “Black” being more of a heavy stencil / Art Deco font, and the “Display” feeling like what the Germans called a «Schaftstiefelgrotesk» (“jackboot blackletter”) like Tannenberg, Gotharda or Honda more than anything else.

Also of note is Adrian Frutiger’s rework of Futura in the form of Avenir. It splits the difference between Futura and Frutiger’s own conception of geometric sans serif. I personally don’t think it’s as pretty as Futura. A few years ago, Linotype sort of flipped out and issued the bloated Avenir Next, a 97-weight monstrosity that attempts to match the systematic variety of Univers and Helvetica with the humanist / geometric feel of Futura. I sort of get the impression that Linotype wants to corner the market on sans serif type. Anyway, Avenir Next will set you back another grand, and you can only buy it as a bundled collection. It does include pretty much every typographical feature known to humanity, though.