Today’s Obsession: Web Type

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Over the weekend, I grabbed a couple of beers with Jackson Cavanaugh and his better half, Evelyn Pollins, who’ve recently moved back to Chicago from Brooklyn, bringing Jackson’s Okay Type & Design with them. Of the many things we discussed, of particular interest was some light Jackson shed on a part of Font Bureau’s Web Type program I hadn’t heard about.Like Typekit (and now, quite a few others), it allows embedding of your favorite typefaces directly into your HTML documents via a few easy-to-install lines of JavaScript, but the difference FB brings to the table is a level of taste we expect from them as well as a grading system. This means you’re using typography built for a certain size. The typefaces are broken into three essential categories: small, medium, and large (or, in more practical terminology: paragraph, subheads, and heads) and hinted for reading at those sizes.

Likewise, the service routes different typefaces to different OS and browser configurations, allowing for better-looking hinting (except on Apple devices, which unhelpfully ignores all hinting and uses its own internal systems for font rendering. Thanks, Jobs.)

Another major difference between the services is the billing options. Where Typekit breaks you off by plan into libraries of the thousands, Web Type allows you to pick and choose on a per font basis. Much more effective. (Also more expensive.)

One thing I’m not seeing much broad discussion over is that licensing typography through central services is going to change the way we budget for it. We’ll look at this less as a purchase of software, and more as a subscription service. I haven’t seen many people address what happens with the designer who needs to buy the print version as well as the web version of a typeface, but I’m assuming this means our cost of typography is going to rise.

Considering how much of a crash the typography market went through in the eighties and nineties, this will make a real financial difference for typographers who’ve been used to watching everyone pirate their work. Designers, however: prepare to start paying more for typography and letting your clientele know why you’re passing another cost along in your billings. I’d be willing to bet we’ll see the value of online design rise as this change happens.

[For more about type on the web, check out our interview with Roger Black and reactions from TypeCon.]