Destination Web At ATYPI

Sep 5, 2010

As someone who writes a lot about fonts and typography, I joined some professional associations. In addition to SOTA, which I joined last year, I am also a new member of ATYPI, the Association Typographique Internationale. ATYPI’s annual conference is being held in Dublin, Ireland. I proposed giving a talk on Web Font formats, and the decision makers at ATYPI graciously accepted. I’m looking forward to it greatly.
Here’s what I pitched as the topic of my talk:

Destination Web: Preparing Fonts For The Browser

For the past fifteen years, web authors have been restricted to a handful of “web safe” fonts provided by the underlying operating systems like Microsoft Windows or Apple’s OS X within which web browsers are installed. This has now changed.

As of early 2010, the five major Internet browsers – Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Chrome – have all implemented various means and levels of support for “web fonts”. That is, fonts that are supplied, not by the underlying operating system, but by web servers.

This is an unprecedented development in the history of type. For the first time, there is a nascent mass-market for type, without a publisher or some other entity, acting as intermediary. Even in the past few decades of digital technology, the font-design community as a whole has remained print-oriented and the peculiar problems of creating fonts for the low-resolution environment of computer display screens have been left largely to the makers of operating systems such as Microsoft. But now, with the change in capabilities of web browsers, over the coming years, font designers will increasingly find their fonts making their way onto web pages. And this new usage, this new destination, brings with it new challenges to which font-designers, if their work is to remain relevant, need adapt.

As the sophistication of display technology and devices like the Kindle and the iPad improve, and as the demand for paperless green technology grows, the assumptions under which the type industry has worked since Gutenberg’s time, will undergo a radical change.

There will be a great need to provide fonts that are browser-friendly and work well in a low-resolution environments as opposed to the high-resolution environment of print. In addition, web browsers demand connectivity – fonts are sent digitally, on demand, and therefore need to be specially prepared for travel. The need to prepare fonts for speedy delivery and in browser-friendly formats is, once again, an unprecedented development.

Eventually, screen usage will most certainly come to dwarf print. But oddly, with the advent and continued sophistication of one-off and short-run print technology, browsers are poised to do double duty – not only as viewers but as more traditional desktop publishing applications, as well. Even today, if the number of web pages printed out on any given day were taken into account, it would amount to a significant portion of printed output, in total.

The presentation will include:

1) A brief overview of how fonts are linked to web pages with a special emphasis on backwards-compatibility issues regarding Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8 about which I am uniquely informed.

2) Current formatting options such as: EOT, EOT “Lite”, WOFF, SVG, and Data URI’s

3) IP Protection/Obfuscation Techniques such as: File Splitting, font renaming, and sub-setting

4) Tools: The current state of the tools available for preparing fonts for the web 5. Print: The current state of browsers as a desktop publishing platform for print.

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