Mar. 2, 2009— These days, most articles about fonts center around management—how do you store them, how do you track them, how do you find that one particular one you really, really like when you've got hundreds, or thousands, installed on your machine. But at times, I think we all lose track of the basics of fonts: They are fun.
In the day-to-day business of print, fonts are just something to either be overlooked as normal or, if a designer has gotten creative, as a problem to be overcome. But if you step back, you realize just how innovative fonts can be, and how different every single one is. And then you take it a step further, and you see how creative fonts, by themselves, really are.
"There's a spectrum of uses [for fonts]," said Nipun Sharma, product marketing manager for Type at Adobe. "At one end it's critical for type to look exactly as the reader expects; at the other it's critical to stand out and be different. A person trying to use a font on a mobile device would want to give a lot of importance to legibility and rendering of the font. On the other hand, a designer working on a print advertisement would like to be very creative with fonts."
One of the best places to go font-hunting, outside of the big Font packages like Adobe's Font Portfolio, is online. And without much effort, one can find a huge variety of creativity and passion out there.
One of my personal favorite places to browse for innovative uses of fonts is on the photo-sharing Web site Flickr. There, if you do a simple search for groups about fonts, you pull up 1,021 hits—and counting.
Some of these groups are dedicated to a single font, some to projects that used a particular font, and then you have some that are creating works of art by playing with and using fonts in innovative ways.
There are obviously too many to list every single font group here, but I've complied a list of a few that are interesting, and would make a good starting point on your own journey of rediscovering the beauty of type.
The first is a group named Font Whores, tagged as the place for "Fonts and the people that are mad about them." (www.flickr.com/groups/fontwhores). Here, group members post pictures of fonts they've found in the wild and have discussions about typefaces, share font-themed jokes, and more. It's a lively group with more than 238 members and more than 2,000 images, and there's always something new to check out.
Font of All Wisdom (www.flickr.com/groups/812036@N24) is a slightly more focused group, choosing to solicit elegant and unique fonts from a specific time period: the 1920s through the mid-80s. There are only currently 165 members, but the 900 examples they've posted are at times breathtaking. Worth a look for both font-lovers and vintage-lovers alike.
Found Type (www.flickr.com/groups/foundtype), with more than 2,000 members, is one of the bigger groups on the site devoted to fonts. Again, with so many members there are some great discussions revolving around typefaces, but even better is the wide range of photos you can find here. As of writing this article, there were almost 15,000 photos posted to the group, depicting fonts in almost every environment you could think of.
Another fun way to get more hands-on with your fonts is a site called YourFonts (www.yourfonts.com). They offer a template visitors can print out and fill in any characters they would like to include in their font set. The template is then scanned, and within seconds, you have a full, usable font file of your own handwriting, that can be installed and used just like any other font.
Obviously, with the Age of the Internet and the tools available, almost anyone can create a typeface these days. However, not all fonts are created equal, even if they do look cool. At Adobe, one of the leading providers of paid fonts, the process for creating the new styles isn't just fun and games.
"We spend a long time refining the shapes, weight and spacing of a set of glyphs for the letters in a keyword (e.g. hamburgevons) to establish the design parameters," said Sharma. "Then we propagate the design to cover the rest of the alphabet, plus the many accented and supplemental characters, and often the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets as well. Most of our fonts these days have around 3,000 glyphs, so this takes time.
"As the glyph design nears completion, we start making fonts to test the design further, and add things like kerning values and the OpenType layout features so all those glyphs can be used easily by savvy applications. Then we run the fonts through our quality engineering team to shake out any bugs, and have them further tested by several hundred beta testers before we roll them out to the public."
But at the end of the day, both the professionals and the casual creators put out new fonts for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is to fill a specific need, or a specific application. Other times, it's an inspiration that drives someone to want to share it with the world. Whichever path is taken, though, the end result is beauty.
"Fonts are fun because they're like people—there's an unlimited variety, and always new surprises," said Sharma, who's personal favorite font is Myriad Pro.