Fonts! In! Space! By Which I Mean Designspace!

Speaker: Nathan Willis


Track: Introduction to Free Software & Debian

Type: Long talk (45 minutes)

Room: Lumbardhi

Time: Jul 19 (Tue): 17:00

Duration: 0:45

Or “Exploring free-software fonts in their native parametric spaces.”

Software interfaces for users to access their font collection are dominated by decades of legacy: generic descriptors like Bold/Italic/Bold-Italic or fixed numerical schemes like CSS and Windows’ weight-and-width models.

But those labels and encodings don’t communicate much. Font X at weight:300 may look nothing like Font Y at weight:300. And they rarely apply well to scripts outside of European languages. Plus, there is no guarantee that fonts even have all of the necessary metadata fields complete and reasonably accurate.

This session will present some alternative approaches for navigating font families via analytic means, digging into the underlying parameters and design-space variations of typographic characteristics. It will draw on analysis of letterform detail and typeface normalization that I conducted during my PhD studies, and explore how those abstract analyses could be applied to representing individual fonts, font families, and even entire font collections in alternative ways that may better line up with how readers experience type on a page.

All users of fonts, from casual users who only occasionally produce a large, complex document to serious designers and typesetters who regularly grapple with finding the font that fits their needs, will come away with a new perspective on how to search for and find appropriate fonts and sets of fonts. Software developers and package maintainers will leave with new food for thought about how Debian and individual FOSS application projects could rethink how fonts are cataloged, packaged, and presented.

The talk will also discuss how large-scale font libraries such as the Debian archive can be explored and queried for their coverage of design-space and for identifying various chinks and under-served spaces. It will end with a look at where libre-licensed fonts and legacy fonts can be patched or bolstered with new metadata to describe the facets of design-space that the generic schemes and coding schemes of the past rarely explore.