[OpenFontLibrary] [GFD] Tom Phinney on Libre Fonts

Vernon Adams vern at newtypography.co.uk
Thu Oct 17 01:17:04 PDT 2013

Pablo clearly 'gets it' :)

I assume that the response from people who "dont get it" would be that you should have both; 'freedom' and 'quality', and i wouldn't argue with that, it's a good target. But...

…designing a font family to the high standards that Thomas has set, takes a lot of time and labour, and real investment in time and labour. There's a reason that major font corporations have rarely produced Free fonts (apart form the fact that they have only just noticed the bandwagon!); they are not able to invest to that extent into a lot of quality fonts that can be given away / altered / redesigned etc, when their business is still more or less still embedded in the 'pay-for-it' model. We have seen some flexing of that, e.g. with Adobe's Source Sans, but it's untypical.

Libre designers can sidestep that resource problem by actively compromising on the usual quality control criteria; lower the 'finish' bar, but get the font out there early, being used and generating feedback, stats, etc. Or, raise the 'finish' bar, but then have to delay release and usage, potentially then wasting resources on a design that you have no usage trends and stats coming back on (i.e. you could spend a year on a dud, a font that no-one uses).

I can talk about my own fonts best; releasing early, getting back the stats, focussing on the most popular to fix and refine, getting back the stats on the refined fonts, focussing on the most popular to add weights & more refinements, and so on and so on. "Room for improvement" is built in, it's an integral function of the design and release process, as you focus your improvements on the designs that are clearly the most popular.

Another factor worth considering; i see big big evidence that a lot of people actively seek out the use of true Free software, especially in connection with web related content. There's possibly a sizeable chunk of people who are savvy about, or have now just grown up with, the 'Free versus Paid-For' dynamic. There is pragmatism too, e.g. use paid if you have no choice, but it's also against a backdrop of a huge adoption wave of people 'not paying'; that ends up as much in streaming music before buying it, as it does in using Libre fonts before using proprietary fonts. The punch for sellers is that people are much more likely to stream free music at a lesser resolution quality, than they are to buy it at a 'full' quality resolution. So with music; the qualities of variety, choice, browserbility, and not paying, is trumping the qualities of hi-fidelity and 'ownership'. Same goes for fonts perhaps. It could be that some of the aspects of 'quality' that Thomas bemoans is lacking in Libre fonts, could be mostly 'surplus' quality, that users have savvilly decided they can do without.

I'm not making this stuff up btw :)  It's all there if you pick up and read the writings of people like Benkler, Shirky, Bruns, Paul Mason, etc etc, a.k.a they know what they are talking about!

PS - It's interesting that Pablo picked up on metal faces. I think it's interesting to look back at old specimens books and notice the 'quality' that was strung across the type industry. The quality faces, we are familar with, as we still use them in digital forms. But alongside them were a plethora of jobbing faces, often of varying degrees of lower quality. Probably knocked together quickly to hook into fads and trends. Or knocked together with constrained resources to compete with the more popular faces of the big foundries. You can especially see this if you look at 'Advertisers' Gothics or Slab Serifs, there were a lot of 'lesser' designs in widespread everyday use. In fact both my fonts Oswald and Rokkitt are built upon a handfull of these lesser known old faces. I think i can say that at least i improved on the originals, even if i haven't yet come up to Thomas's standards, boo-hoo ;)


On 16 Oct 2013, at 23:59, Pablo Impallari <impallari at gmail.com> wrote:

> The most important aspect of Libre fonts its not aesthetic, or quality, or whatever.... it's the LICENSE itself.
> Is the fact that anybody can use them without asking permission, having to pay, or worrying about lawsuits.
> In a recent conversation about Libre fonts being used by Adobe Edge and the RFN, Dave told us something like: "the big companies will not serve the RFN fonts if they have to ask for permission or sign agreements because of the administrative burden of managing that licenses."
> That's the main advantage of Libre Ftons:
> - People using Libre fonts are completely liberated for the administrative burden.
> - They are also completely liberated from fear! As they don't have to fear that they may get sued if the use the font for something not specified in the license legalese.
> They are more "convenient" in a "practical" way.
> Working with Libre fonts is EASIER. Users have less administrative job to do, and less things to worry about.
> They also avoid all the process of buying a font: Creating and account, taking out the credit card, paying, keeping track of the license, etc, etc... Libre Fonts are just there.. always available and ready to be used, legally and worry free.
> In companies and agencies where there any many departments involved (accounting, legal, etc) the process is even more complex, and the removal of all those obstacles is even more appealing. 
> When people complain about the quality, I think of a few examples:
> When Wikipedia started, people also complained about quality.
> A few years later, quality improved and was not an issue any more.
> When Metal Typefaces replaced the scribes, people complained. Quality was not good compared scribes.
> However, Metal Typefaces replaced the scribes because they where more "convenient" in a "practical" way.
> It was the same process when the first digital generation of commercial fonts where made. Quality was not good compared to Metal Typefaces, people complained (some still complain). However digital fonts replaced metal and phototype fonts because they where more "convenient" in a "practical" way.
> Mankind always tries to make things easier, to remove obstacles, and to get the job done faster.
> Libre fonts are more "convenient" in a "practical" way.
> People have other things to do in their daily lives.
> So many things to do... so little time.
> And Libre Fonts get the job done, faster, easier.
> They are not a "technological" advance, like from scribes to metal, or form metal to digital.
> But the effect of the Libre License is comparable.
> They have removed obstacles, making life easier for the people who use them.
> 2013/10/17 <nooalf at aol.com>
> I dont know much about the world uv type design, but I get wut youre saying, Vernon. All professionz tend to get fossilized over time. People run out uv ideaz, even az they bekum masterz uv their art. They also tend to create obstaclez to entry. 
> With teknolojyz that are in the early stajez uv development its probably even harder for individualz who did the hard work at the beginning to let young wippersnapperz bild on their work. I suspect thats why Fontlab iznt very good - helps keep 'amatuerz' out.  
> JO
> -----Original Message-----
> From: vernon adams <vern at newtypography.co.uk>
> To: googlefontdirectory-discuss <googlefontdirectory-discuss at googlegroups.com>
> Cc: Open Font Library <openfontlibrary at lists.freedesktop.org>
> Sent: Wed, Oct 16, 2013 6:53 pm
> Subject: Re: [OpenFontLibrary] [GFD] Tom Phinney on Libre Fonts
> I've sat on this a few days, just to clarify my thoughts a little.
> Browsing the WebInk catalogue, i don't see any evidence of what Thomas's great 
> alternative for web fonts could be, and i'm still not sure what he is 
> effectively saying, beyond simply penning a biased criticism of a particular 
> webfont project. I don't doubt that the products served from WebINk are 'point 
> perfect' (hmm i wonder), but apart from that, many of the products seem to exist 
> in a vacuum. The standard faces can mostly be also accessed from other providers 
> (and i bet that's where users do go! e.g Typekit is waaaay better), and much of 
> what is 'original' or exclusive to WebINk seem to be in a stye no-mans land.  I 
> just don't see any outstanding quality there overall, and i dont see much there 
> that i imagine designers get excited about. To me it looks like a product that 
> desperately needs a shot of fresh blood, or indeed something even stronger, to 
> bring something energising and want-able to the brand. Basic better direction 
> would be a good start. Assuming that the 'technical quality' is a given with 
> WebInk, then Extensis do have at least one good quality to build on. What they 
> need to snap into that regime of technical quality is at the very least some 
> desireable, infectious font faces. That's where the hard work starts though; 
> creative output can allways be refined and improved technically (engineers can 
> do clean up work), but it's wrong-way-round to create the other way. Doing it 
> the other way round is less efficient - the end result is likely well crafted 
> fonts, but nowhere near enough fonts, and maybe no killer fonts.
> In many ways the Google font project was an audacious one; rule breaking, taking 
> chances, and a lot of doing things that 'experts' said you should not, or, could 
> not do. That adds up to strategy where 'room for improvement' is built in, it's 
> a system of rolling enhancement, improvement, further innovation, in which the 
> user is an integral part. Playing a bit of 'what if…?' though, i wonder how a 
> project with the same aims and scope would have faired under the management of 
> say WebInk.  I just dont think it would have happened, or, we would still be 
> waiting for it to happen. My hunch is that it would not have had the same wide 
> variety of designers involved, nor aimed at the same wide stylistic and user 
> coverage. It would probably not have focussed on usage stats, adoption waves, 
> and plugging directly into the hub of the other nascent free software 
> communities and products, but instead relied upon the 'expertise' of a few the 
> same old selected individuals. It would have also been slower, or resistant, to 
> try non-expert approaches. I dont think it would have been much of a model.
> One thing i can agree on; i would also love to see more creative people making 
> 'better quality' fonts, me included :). My argument with Thomas on this subject 
> is that biasing too much toward 'point perfection' and near disregarding the 
> actual creative input, is a bad approach; it creates a lesser education, and 
> ultimately creates lesser designers. But then i was indoctrinated by the totally 
> awesome British Art School sytem of the 70s & 80s :) I think it's better to 
> start with the creative impulse, get looking, get making and making, filter out, 
> and then head towards refinement and improvement. 
> -vernon
> On 14 Oct 2013, at 16:20, Thomas Phinney <
> tphinney at cal.berkeley.edu
> > wrote:
> > I do criticize Google web fonts, but only saying the exact same things I have 
> been saying directly to the two Daves for several years now, in the spirit of 
> constructive criticism, because I care about quality. If I was just out to make 
> a buck I would not have given that feedback privately and passionately long 
> before criticizing publicly.
> > 
> > BTW, quality is not about elites vs the masses. Everybody benefits from 
> well-crafted fonts, including casual users.
> > 
> > I happen to agree with you that there are a lot of well-crafted fonts that are 
> stultifyingly boring. But unlike technical quality, aesthetics are a matter of 
> opinion, and I wasn't trying to go there.
> > 
> > I also happen to think that a lot of creative and aesthetically interesting 
> are done by people who don't know how to make decent quality fonts (or perhaps 
> know but don't care, in some cases). I would love to see those people learn how 
> to make better quality fonts.
> > 
> > That's why I joined Crafting Type: I am eager to help teach the basics of type 
> design to more people, and to make sure that spacing, point placement and 
> various optical compensations are well covered in that discussion.
> > 
> > One thing I could have said more clearly in my blog post is that one can get 
> passable but not fabulous quality without a lot more work than the amount 
> required to make crap. Proper point placement and half-decent spacing and so 
> forth are not *that* hard, nor horribly slow once one has the right work habits. 
> -- 
> Un Abrazo
> Pablo Impallari

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