Google Web Fonts' conservative quality

Nick Shinn's picture

Why is it I get the impression that Google Fonts is 1001 Free Fonts?
Sure, Fontographer and DTP opened up type design to the crowd, but the result was wild and crazy invention. A lot of it was sloppy and amateurish, but at least it was original.
Now web fonts is virgin territory, but the crowd has responded with little in the way of innovation.
Let’s hope this is just a phase, and the participants up their game pronto.
If not, Google may become an object of designer derision, as Microsoft has long been.

riccard0's picture

The went for quantity over quality. It’s understandable, and typographic education surely isn’t among their goals. It would have been nice if, with the growing number of fonts, they had grow tools to help the discerning user to reduce the signal vs noise ratio.

Nick Shinn's picture

That’s a good point Ricardo.
Although the filters work with paragraph view as a powerful interactive design tool.
So perhaps I should respect the quality of the site, and what that brings to web typography, rather than dwell on the overall lack of excitement and innovation in the fonts.

brianskywalker's picture

Is not Alegreya a Google font? Alegreya was chosen as one of 53 "Fonts of the Decade" at the ATypI Letter2 competition.

Nick Shinn's picture

(I started this thread to see if it would be possible to repurpose Typophile and talk about fonts in a way that wasn’t about hinting, readability science or EULAs, but about type design. I had a feeling I was going to get into trouble…)

I took a closer look at Alegreya, starting with the Roman.

Immediately, I was reminded of Mendoza (1991), by the cut of the bowl of the “a”, the absence of a centre serif in “E”, the low contrast, the heft of the serifs, and the general proportions—a combination of qualities which I had remembered as a matched package in Mendoza.

So I compared the two, and I believe my general contention about Google Fonts is confirmed by this example, because although Alegreya is a quite different typeface, with more lively drawing, more demonstrative serifs, and a slight tilt, it is in the same vein as Mendoza, an hommage perhaps.

I’m not criticizing this or any other face in particular for having a precedent, just observing that so far, in toto, Google Fonts are a conservative bunch of designs. And I wondered how much the method by which they have been sourced has to do with that.

brianskywalker's picture

There is some difficulty in creating type today that is not "conservative" in some way. And how would you define a progressive type? Haven't all the new, interesting things already been done before? Even many of the Fontfont's, sure, progressive in their "day", (though not long ago) are now quite conservative looking.

The conservative quality is indeed evident in the appearance of most of Google's collection. That extends beyond even the appearance, to the features themselves. And perhaps that is in part to be blamed on the nature of a webfont—throwing in a bunch of interesting Opentype features seems tentative at the moment. I think perhaps the method in which they are sourced could be indeed to blame, at least partly.

What would you say would be a better approach for Google webfonts? Is it a problem of ingenuity or something else?

But what is truly "pushing forward" verses following trends in type design? Should political and social movements influence type? And to what extent? (and is this straying to far off topic? should we create another thread just for that question?)

Edit: I went ahead and created another thread for the last paragraph.

Té Rowan's picture

What was the last innovation in the font biz anyway? The sans? Or was it the slab serif?

Theunis de Jong's picture

Té, Unicase was quite a surprise for me first time I encountered it. (Although I cannot recall when that was, exactly -- surely mid 90s.)

It's too bad that one can add it as a feature to your OpenType font but none of the software I'm currently using allows you to select this feature.

OT: what fonts do actually contain unicase variants for what's a regular font in everyday use?

quadibloc's picture

I can't find it in my heart to criticize Google for deciding to concentrate on typefaces people are actually likely to want to use in their web sites, as opposed to strange and unusual-looking typefaces that many people would be very hesitant to employ.

They seem to be doing exactly what it makes sense to do in such a situation.

riccard0's picture

concentrate on typefaces people are actually likely to want to use in their web sites

I don’t see such “concentration”. And probably you should define “people”.

Nick Shinn's picture

I’d like to continue this thread, but not without posting images.

quadibloc's picture

Well, as to defining "people", I do mean simply the (vast!) majority of whoever might wish to design a web page, without ambitious typographic goals... and yet, wanting something slightly more distinctive than just the default serif and sans-serif faces.

So, if they could pick Baskerville or Bodoni or Caledonia or Century Schoolbook instead of Georgia or Times Roman, they would be happy, but anything much further afield would be lost on them.

riccard0's picture

if they could pick Baskerville or Bodoni or Caledonia or Century Schoolbook instead of Georgia or Times Roman

And they’re offered by Google Web Fonts?

brianskywalker's picture

And they’re offered by Google Web Fonts?

No. Although I think Typekit has them, which is a blessing. There are some Baskervilles, I think. Such as Open Baskerville, and some typefaces in the Didot theme. But I don't think GWF has anything like Caledonia. However I would much prefer to see a new design that evokes some feeling of that classic than a straight-up copy. Unless there was something that copy added, like a return to proportions that other digital versions miss, or an interpretation that takes a different route. (And it should probably cite its sources.)

mjkerpan's picture

In part because of the poor quality of many of the wacky early 90s display fonts, conservative type has come to be STRONGLY associated with quality. Therefore the type choices made by the people who select fonts for inclusion into Google Web Fonts probably tend towards the conservative. Also, many fonts on GWS are funded by Kickstarter and similar donation schemes. In general, more people are going to donate to a solid but unoriginal font that they can make lots of use of across many contexts than they are to donate to a project seeking to make a wild display face that will probably never get used by anyone over the age of 10 or so...

brianskywalker's picture

What is typographic conservatism? If typefaces like Legato and Angkoon are progressive, then what is conservative? Because although there is great appeal in them, strictly speaking they are really quite conservative.

Nick Shinn's picture

I’m a little late to discuss this, Matthew Butterick’s blog essay (and the comments) covers it in a lot of depth.
http://www.typographyforlawyers.com/?page_id=3207

Thomas Phinney's picture

Theunis: "OT: what fonts do actually contain unicase variants for what's a regular font in everyday use?"

Several in recent years, including my own Hypatia Sans. http://www.adobe.com/type/browser/landing/hypatia/hypatia.html (though I'll be the first to say I made the wrong call on the unicase "r" shape).

Mjkerpan: "In general, more people are going to donate to a solid but unoriginal font that they can make lots of use of across many contexts than they are to donate to a project seeking to make a wild display face "

That is not my observation about which typefaces are being successful on Kickstarter (and I have looked at all of them, as I have proposed a conference talk on Kickstarter and font development). Having a gimmick is a big thing. I'm not saying that they are really weird, but I don't think they tend to fit your description above.

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