Real Fonts on the Web: An Interview with The Font Bureau’s David Berlow

by David Berlow, Jeffrey Zeldman

27 Reader Comments

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  1. So this would mean the world needs font-DRM now? How far do we have to sink before we hit rock bottom?

    I wonder what the Mr. Berlow’s view is on that Cufon font replacement? More information here: http://cufon.shoqolate.com/generate/

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  2. When all popular browsers will be able to support @font-face, I expect a good number of good quality FREE fonts to be available.
    This will make happy 99% of web designers, and make unhappy 99% of font designers, doh!

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  3. When I was young in the early seventies I could not afford Letraset dry transfer sheets but their huge catalogue was free – hours of fun tracing letter forms and hand drawing headlines kept me off the streets and out of trouble.

    I think we would all love to see real typography on the net but in a way we do if we render text as images. Finley crafted typefaces are not really required for accessibility reasons and so using a myriad of fonts on the web might cause more problems than the aesthetic ones we have now.

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  4. He’s not talking DRM, or rather he’s not talking about DRM protection schemes, but simply defining the licence conditions in an electronically readable way. There have been similar proposals for other files, like images — for instance as a way of electronically saying “˜this photo is free for personal use, but not commercial use’.

    Sure, it’s not going to stop pirated usage, or people hacking the conditions file, or using a crack that tells the browser to ignore font permissions, but it does make it a lot easier for legitimate firms to manage their assets, if the licencing is machine readable, and the big firms will stay on the right side of the law.  It would also be good to see “˜web magazines’ not needing to go with PDF or Flash.

    As for whether there will be lots of good quality free fonts, which “˜99% of web designers’ will use, that’s another question. I don’t think 99% of web designers are obsessed with “˜free’ in the same way that developers are – otherwise they would all use Linux & Gimp over Apple and Adobe software.  Of rather, there is a difference between “˜web designers’ in the sense of app designers, and graphic designers. The latter group tend to see “˜added value’, largely because I suspect that is what their job is about.

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  5. I’m not surprised when that he brought up a need to control font use on the web, basically via a form of DRM. He’s in a bubble. That’s never going to happen. There are enough free fonts out there and there will only be more. People are more than willing to leave the paid fonts behind on the web. Even Microsoft, who could afford to license fonts, chose to create their own fonts instead. (Much to our dismay, but still.)

    If font makers think the majority of the web is going to be paying them license fees, forget it. Technology will move beyond them, it happens all the time.

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  6. The dek for this article makes it sound like it answers a lot of questions about Webfonts, but the article actually turns out to be an interview with a couple of Berlowian zingers thrown in at the end.

    Truth in advertising?

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  7. Maybe I have an overly naive view of the technical obstacles involved, but if browsers contained their own type rendering engine instead of relying on the operating system’s (as I assume they do now), would they not be able to “ring fence” the downloaded font within the browser space thereby obviating the need for new licences and meta data?

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  8. Very interesting article, Mr. Berlow and Zeldman.

    I have done a little bit of design work online, nothing to earn much – more of a “light hobby”. I’m very glad to have stumbled upon your thoughts, suggestions, and tips.

    Thanks!

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  9. Interesting Mr. Berlow and Zeldman.

    I am wondering if this will help web designers to make their life easier or more complicated.

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  10. 1. Design an awesome typeface in all weights and variations that looks great even with 9 pixels height and anti aliasing turned off. Make it contain all unicode characters. These are the requirements for web fonts, thanks to Microsoft and Apple for putting some work into this.

    2. Put this many years of work in the public domain.

    3. Lobby all operating system vendors to include this typeface in all their operating systems.

    4. NEW FONT AVAILABLE!!!1

    Type-Designers seem to me like the music industry of design, they try to sell something to the internet that is not really useful or needed anymore. If they want to change something, work on FREE high quality typefaces.

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  11. OFF and hence OpenType are no longer controlled by Adobe and Microsoft alone, but as an open standard can take anybody’s input. If Dave thinks these bits are important, perhaps he could be bothered to, say, actually propose it?

    Also, “a permissions table to be added with all due haste to the OpenType, CoolType, TrueType, and FreeType formats”… I hate to point it out, but CoolType and FreeType are not font formats (or formats at all). They are libraries that handle font imaging for certain applications, analogous to the system libraries on Mac OS and Windows.

    But most importantly, adding this info to the font formats would be trivial, and probably easily done… the hard part is convincing the W3C to recommend that web browsers respect the new bits. There are some W3C members who sound like they would never agree to any such thing.

    Cheers,

    T

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  12. @Wrinkles Treatment :)))

    I don’t think 99% of web designers are obsessed with “˜free’ in the same way that developers are — otherwise they would all use Linux & Gimp over Apple and Adobe software.

    And i don’t think 99% of users are obsessed with fonts. Unfortunately, these users have to handle the technology to display them. They might have to upgrade their browser or download a plugin. And this in a world where roughly a quarter of web users are still on Internet Explorer 6 and have helpful hints automatically added to their blog comments by trojans. Makes me LOL!

    I call out to all designers to understand the challenges and possibilities web design has to offer and stop longing for more fonts. This topic is haunting the web since the first graphic designer accidently clicked on Netscape instead of QuarkXPress, so it is getting really old.

    If designers want another font for reliable web usage really badly, get together and build it, like the “DejaVu project”:http://dejavu-fonts.org/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page is doing. There is a chance that it might end up on people’s computers. If you call for a technological solution, in the hope that Apple, Adobe or Microsoft would give you what you want, you will open pandora’s box.

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  13. @ Dragan Espenschied

    And i don’t think 99% of users are obsessed with fonts.

    Quite. Given how many people think Comic Sans is the most appropriate font for use in every situation under the sun, and the proliferation of websites that use utterly awful fonts for screen reading, I think it’s fair to say that a huge proportion of people would be unable to pick an appropriate font for the job if it was the only one available and had big flashing lights pointing to it saying “this is an appropriate font” …

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  14. The important thing about font-embedding with @font-face, is that the font can, finally, “travel” with the document. What’s holding that up is strictly, strictly, an Intellectual Property problem and nothing else.

    Frankly, I can’t believe Berlow is as clueless as he seems.

    There is already a permissions table in TTF and OTF. Why do we need another one? The suggestion that first, the OTF format needs to be amended before we can even begin to tackle the problem of embedding fonts is, frankly, nuts. And moot – direct linking to TTF/OTF files using font-face is supported in Safari, FireFox 3.5, and Chrome 2. In IE, font-face – requiring conversion of the OTF to a compressed EOT file – has been supported for over ten years.
    Berlow is talking about shadows, in-lines, outlines, fill variety, twisting, when we can’t even display a simple paragraph in a font optimized for screen-readability and make something as simple as THAT happen consistently across browsers and platforms.

    Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but Berlow’s comments, taken in light of the practical impediments to the standards-compliant use of fonts on web pages today are so far removed from the real issues as to be misinformative.

    If Berlow is typical of type-designers as a whole in regards to savvy about browser technology, technical and legal hurdles, and the web in general, boy are we in trouble.

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  15. re “permissions table”
    It’s here: www.eeulaa.org
    We’ve already been working on this for years and the first implementation will be coming out in Fontlab products this summer. Anyone who creates an OpenType font will be able to specify the permissions right in the font and any application or OS will be able to read the permissions.

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  16. To all who found this interview inspiring, interesting, or just plain fun! Thanks for the encouragement. As you can see we’re up against all manner of voodoo, misunderstanding and fright.

    E.G. there is not a permissions table in TTF and OTF. There is a bit repurposed from a failed MS technology, inside a table from a failed IBM technology, currently being used for defining PDF embedding rights. I would not let this be repurposed for web font linking, because it is utterly inappropriate. Wanting this repurposing belies underlying hostility toward the PDF technology, the font industry and readability.

    The OTF format needs to be amended before we can tackle the problem of Linking fonts, (there is no embedding). The proposal made on the part of this founder was ‘requested’ by the W3C and the browser manufacturers because they proceeded/want-to-proceed with @fontface, sans due diligence.
    I mentioned shadows, in-lines, outlines, fill variety and etc., because it is an extension of the problems faced by web-founders that reaches down into ‘why we can’t even display a simple paragraph in a font optimized for screen-readability.’ I do not expect everyone to understand the details of hinting, screen readability, and software legalities, but I’m bound to out-try anyone from here, (in casual ‘friendly’ conversation) to court (in formal ‘legal’ conversation).
    Cheers!

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  17. The Font Bureau.  That’s pretty funny!  Who knew there was such an organization? I’m a fan of Arial, myself.

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  18. Great article i enjoyed the read thanks

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  19. The author of this article fails to mention that typefaces / fonts are NOT protected by copyright laws in the United States. It’s a dirty little secret font designers don’t want you to know.

    Adobe + Many companies try to purposely claim fonts (Font Folio 11)  are SOFTWARE and therefore deserve protection.

    The court’s tend to disagree about 98% of the time. While I expect to pay for my fonts, I think it’s shameful to not address this issue.

    DRM for fonts? Kiss my ass. You can probably use some sort of .htaccess protection, but don’t expect to sue me anytime soon for font-face when I accidentally use your commercial font.

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  20. @david berlow
    I’ve been told by a trusworthy source who knows you personally that you are “a great font guy” but in regards to fonts on the web, well, a machine-readable End User License Agreement in the form of a more elaborate permissions table is still besides the point. The browsers that now support font-linking ignore the permissions table that already exists. And there are, strangely, sound legal reasons for them to do so. (But explaining why that is, for most readers of ALA, would be a crashing bore. So let’s let it go, eh?)
    Keep making great fonts, please!

    @court kizer
    Font creation is both labor and knowledge intensive. And the pool of people who are really good at it is small. If ever there was an example of copyright protection acting – as the framers of the Constitution intended – to promote a useful art (in other words, to encourage font-makers and keep new fonts coming) this would be such an example.
    If you’ve got another idea for a method of compensation for those who create the font-sets we need, I’d love to hear about it.

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  21. I’m using Cufon font technique for my website. Find more info about it here; http://wiki.github.com/sorccu/cufon/about

    I think that webstandards is the only solution.

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  22. I have to say that my knowledge of fonts is pretty limited, so I really enjoyed this article.  I liked learning more about how fonts are created. 

    I know typography is really important to most designers, but I don’t think the average person gives them all that much consideration (even though they can be influenced quite a bit by them).

    Nice interview!  Thanks!

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  23. I am now studying my Multimedia 2 year course. Though i am 24 i am really getting to like web designing. I completed my software engineering degree program. SW is really not my field i figured and web designing should help me in online earning for personal sites and as well for clients. Nice interview mate. Keep it up.

    Regards
    “Love Quotes”:http://www.quotes-love.net
    “Funny Quotes”:http://www.quotes-funny.net

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  25. I usually commit those mistakes especially when in front of the computer where I don’t really think of anything else but what’s on the screen.

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  26. I don’t think that this will really be an problem when the time comes.  The fonts will be made available to the public, which will help out web designers like me and the software will be able to support it.  Like with HTML 5.

    I am all for this upgrade. 

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      Summer Quotes

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  27. I would like to see a “solitaire”:http://apps.facebook.com/nutsforlovesolitaire/ font.  They made one about a year ago but I haven’t seen it around since then!

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