bq. I was disappointed that FontFont was not able to provide styles that work well at body copy sizes for those that do not have Mac’s Quartz smoothing. [...] I have a great deal of respect for FontFont and they may actually not be at fault for the fonts not rendering correctly at body copy size.
This has everything to do with the complexity of type rendering, which I am only “beginning to understand”:http://typerendering.com and which generous experts like Thomas Phinney help explain by sharing things like “Browser Choice vs Font Rendering”:http://www.thomasphinney.com/2009/12/browser-choice-vs-font-rendering/ (a recent post on his blog).
bq. Good type specimen books showcase the unique character of the typeface and provide examples of how it could be used. [...] Showcasing the personality, uniqueness and intended usage of a typeface is an obvious way to make a good specimen. [...] What you’re presenting to us feels less like a specimen and more like a test.
In my experience, Web Font Specimen is more useful in choosing a typeface for web use than you have inferred here by juxtaposing it with the idea of tailored specimens. In fact, examining the WFS specimen of a typeface has repeatedly given me a better idea of that typeface’s suitability for my project-at-hand than stumbling upon the same typeface in use as I browse the web. Similarly, I doubt its utility would wane if even tailored specimens of the same typeface were as readily available.
That said, you bring up an excellent point. And you’re right to reference both Jason’s thoughts about art direction and H&FJ;‘s excellent work (in case you haven’t seen it, read “this post by/about their graphic designer, Brian Hennings”:http://www.typography.com/ask/showBlog.php?blogID=208 and his work).
Tailored specimens are inspiring. If they resonate with us, we discover a hint toward the emotions for which we are actively choosing a typeface other than the ones, “good enough,” that exist at our fingertips. Tailored specimens, like beautifully typeset web projects, breathe life into letters in ways no standard specimen can.
Web Font Specimen provides a benchmark for quality and helps us compare typefaces in common context. Necessarily, to achieve such goals makes it a relatively uninspiring sample ... albeit one that our craft, at this time of reawakening, desperately needs.
My hope is that folks who sell type and designers with an eye toward art direction will think, as you have here, about how much more inspirational a type specimen can be. That’s why I encourage folks to take this, tear it up, use pieces, and make it better—and not only the specimen itself!
I wrote this ALA article so as to share for similar dissection the idea of real web type in real web context. Thank you very much for your critique. Let’s continue talking. :)