Open Range

It’s such an easy
thing to overlook, tucked away under the Type submenu, within a laundry
list of other palettes found in both InDesign and Illustrator in
Windows. Even I forget about it—and I helped put those palettes
together more than ten years ago when I designed those products’
interfaces at Adobe Systems.

I’m speaking of the Glyphs palette,
one of the primary gateways to the capabilities of OpenType. As anyone
who has used this palette knows, it gives you complete access to the
modern typo-graphic theater: the dramatic start cap, sublime ligature
pairings—even happy, accidental new glyph discoveries when you
forget that you left alternate styles with swashes turned on. For
graphic designers, it should be the best thing about their creative
software; but even though OpenType has been available for 12 years, it
seems many designers still aren’t using it.

I wasn’t
involved in the development of OpenType while I was at Adobe, but I
remember the turmoil at Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft across a variety of
technological fronts—especially when it came to fonts. Apple and
Microsoft were pushing Adobe’s buttons by promoting
TrueType’s virtues. So when a type group product manager walked
into my office one day in the mid-’90s and informed me that we had
joined forces with Microsoft to create a new font format called OpenType
that would serve as a replacement to Type 1 and TrueType, I expected to
see Babe floating by my 10th-floor window, smiling as if nothing were
wrong with a talking, flying pig.

Since then, the process of
educating designers about OpenType has been a slow one. Thomas Phinney,
one of Adobe’s font and global type product managers, and a type
designer himself, has been instrumental in pushing OpenType’s
adoption by users. “OpenType fonts are inherently single-file,
cross-platform fonts,” he explains. “They allow font
developers to put more language support into a single font, and
integrate advanced typographic features with variant glyphs.” In
simpler terms, OpenType is really the all-you-can-eat buffet of type:
You may not use all of its typographic elements, but you can use every
feature designed into a particular font at will.

OpenType is the
result of the high-tech sector’s fear of losing control over a
market or technology, which often breeds interesting collaborations.
OpenType is one such collaboration and has apparently emerged from that
chaotic period to become the winner in the font format and feature wars.
But do designers know there was a winner? More important, do they
realize how rich the format is and what an amazing typographic world
lies behind that green o icon?

Salt Lake City–based designer
Cameron Moll is clearly someone with an appreciation for elegant type.
“For me,” he says, “typography is the essence of
visual communication.” And yet, when I asked him if he uses
software specifically because it supports OpenType features, he tells
me, “I certainly don’t use Illustrator specifically because
of OpenType, but rather I just expect it to work well with OpenType. The
sad thing is,” he adds, “only upon replying to your
questions do I now see an OpenType palette in Illustrator!”

The
folks at font and image seller Veer would not be surprised to hear his
response. Like Adobe, they are constantly trying to teach the design
community about OpenType’s advanced features. Says Jon Parker,
Veer’s director of brand communication, “I think there are
two camps [of designers]: those who are unaware and those who are
dedicated converts.” And getting such converts in the first place,
he points out, can depend on one OpenType-compatible typeface gaining
popularity. “Bickham Script was probably the first face to really
illustrate the power of OpenType,” he says. “It was so
massively popular. If a designer has somehow avoided using Bickham in
their career, it might take another new face to attract their attention.
They see all those beautiful swashes in use and just have to have it.
Then they figure out how to use it.”

Parker relays one of his
customer service representatives’ most common experiences:
“About three out of five type-related calls are people asking how
to get ‘all those extra characters and swashes.’ Then we
walk them through the Glyphs palette and they’re overjoyed.
However, I don’t know if that’s a result of a lack of type
knowledge or a lack of application knowledge.”

Indeed, part of
OpenType’s problem with how little the design community
understands it stems from creative software’s inherent flaw: so
many features, so little pixel space to expose them all. For Mac users,
it gets worse. In consumer-level software like the iLife and the iWork
suite, advanced typographic features are even more hidden, if they are
turned on by default. (They can be found by simply opening the Font
palette and going to the gear icon at bottom left. In that menu is
access to the Typography palette. Voilà!)

The other part of the
problem is the difficulty in promoting OpenType to potential type
customers, especially online inside a web browser. Grant Hutchison, in
charge of Interface Considerations and Type Development at Veer,
explains, “Our previewing tools can show the entire glyph
complement, but we can’t supply the users with a means to select
their own characters for a custom sample [online].” He continues:
“The complexity of the OpenType format does not lend itself to a
simple or consistent means to access features and characters. This is
also the problem in all design applications, even across the various
parts of Adobe Creative Suite.”

So how can OpenType believers
get the rest of the design community on board? “For years,”
says Phinney, “I focused on evangelism to other font developers
and to our own applications. Only in the past year or two have I really
switched gears to try to get the word out to end users.” Phinney
will continue blogging about OpenType, as well as speaking at
conferences and universities to educate graphic designers.

Parker
feels they should embrace that message. “It’s a new age for
type,” he says. “The potential of OpenType is being realized
by type designers. Through a highly connected and supportive online
community, they can respond to graphic designers’ hunger for new
designs, and the growing interest in reviving historical styles. We may
never see another lasting mainstream phenomenon like Helvetica, but the
parade of typographic fashion is as vital as ever.”

 

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