Ampersand conference to explore online typography use

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Next month Brighton will host the first Ampersand Web typography conference, which aims to bring together browser providers, and type and Web designers to discuss the rapid developments in typography for the Web that have occurred in the past few years.

Speakers at the conference, which will be held on 17 June, include Dalton Maag font engineer and Comic Sans creator Vincent Connare, editorial designer and former Guardian creative director Mark Porter, co-founder of the Web fonts service Fontdeck Jon Tan, font foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones founder Jonathan Hoefler and The Font Bureau founder David Berlow.

Jon Tan
Jon Tan

Richard Rutter, director of Web design consultancy Clearleft and Ampersand organiser, says, ’There’s been a quick turnaround in the past three years from only using the Web to sell fonts to designing typefaces specifically for it.’

Rutter attributes this change to advances in Safari 3.1 in 2008, and similar developments in Firefox in 2009 that mean that fonts can now be used in website’s line text in browsers other than Internet Explorer.

Now webfonts are supported by a range of the main browsers, a huge new international market has opened up for type designers, encouraging the big foundries to start designing fonts for Web.

But with the financial benefits and greater exposure, there also comes a huge challenge. Type designers must learn a new set of guidelines, taking into consideration each browser’s different rasterisation engines, Internet reading culture, low resolution screens, backlit mediums and hinting a technique which suggests the edges of a typeface to make is more readable with limited pixels.

Mark Porter
Mark Porter

Berlow says, ’The number one issueis the low resolution. This is why I call [the Web] a “crude media” it’s rough-looking and there is no way around it except higher resolution devices.’

Increased support for webfonts has also led to an increase in font piracy online, calling for many type designers, including Berlow, to demand a push towards storing metadata containing licensing permissions in font files.

Connare agrees, ’Type designers are in a similar position to musicians: yes, it’s an exciting time, but you’ve got to make sure your work is not being used for free.’

For Web designers, technological developments have brought about an enormous sense of freedom and exploration. Rutter says, ’Before, if we wanted to use anything but Georgia, Verdana, Arial or Times you’d have to turn text into images or use hacks for Flash, which were time-consuming. Now there’s a big feeling of liberation.’

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Vincent Connare

Using fonts for body text has wider benefits too: text can be resized and pulled through a speech reader to be more accessible, and can be easily translated for international audiences without having to rework the site.

Rutter says, ’The fonts pay for themselves so easily when you compare them with a consultancy day rate.’

It also means that content can be better indexed by search engines, as unlike with images or Flash movies, search engines can pick up the hierarchies in HTML, making search results more relevant.

Alongside more practical changes, Tan argues that these developments may inspire more brands to commission custom typefaces, something that could feed into logo design.

He says, ’Logotype may end up being informed by Web font choices made for the body. After all, even though the masthead or nameplate will persist as the visual representation of the brand, the equity of that brand will be fundamentally affected by the experience of customers on the screen.’

Speakers at Ampersand

  • Vincent Connare, Dalton Maag font engineer
  • Mark Porter, editorial designer
  • Jon Tan, co-founder of the Web fonts service Fontdeck
  • Jonathan Hoefler, font foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones founder
  • David Berlow, The Font Bureau founder
  • John Daggett, Mozilla Japan graphics and text coder
  • Tim Brown, Web fonts service Typekit type manager

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