Great Customer Expectations for OpenType

A couple of posts back, I was writing very much from the type designer’s perspective, sharing in their angst over the vast new opportunities (=work) that await them these days with multilingual OpenType fonts with lots of typographic features. But, as my colleague David Lemon pointed out after reading that article, the flip side of this coin is the customers’ point of view and their high expectations.

Our end users are easily confused and occasionally disappointed by OpenType. After all, everybody talks about the wonderful capabilities of the format. But the reality is, none of the fonts that are available has all those capabilities in just a single package, and no application supports all possible OpenType features. In fact, even of Adobe’s own fonts, fewer than half have significant OpenType features. Just because a font is in OpenType format doesn’t mean it has small caps, oldstyle figures or lots of ligatures. And it doesn’t say anything about having any added language support, either. And worse, it’s not like there are just two classes of fonts, “big” and “small,” but there are many possible levels of support, both typographic and linguistic….

Moving away from the fonts themselves, there’s the question of “which applications support this stuff, anyway?”

That’s another complicated question. When you’re talking advanced typography for western fonts, today it’s mostly the Adobe Creative Suite applications (InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop), plus some key Apple applications (Keynote, Pages and TextEdit, but only when run on Mac OS 10.4 and later). Yes, we hear QuarkXPress will get there in the next version, and Microsoft Word is rumored to be working on support in the foreseeable future. Adobe also does some pretty cool stuff for Chinese, Japanese and Korean with OpenType, particularly in InDesign.

But if you’re talking advanced language support for “complex scripts” such as Arabic and the Indic languages via OpenType, the positions are almost reversed. Microsoft Office and Publisher support this stuff nicely (though only on Windows), while Adobe applications generally don’t support “complex scripts” at all. Our main exceptions are some added support in Acrobat 7.0.5 and later (for Hebrew, Arabic and Thai), and that there are separate “ME” (Middle Eastern) versions of many of our applications, which support Arabic and Hebrew.

One expects that eventually this will all level out. But end users quite reasonably don’t want to hear about varying levels of application support, or what’s “coming soon.” They want it to “just work.” But the reality is more complicated than that, and will remain so for some years yet. Even among Adobe’s own applications with their generally similar levels of OpenType support, the exact list of features supported varies slightly by application and also by application version as well.

We’ve tried to address these issues through education and clear points of reference. The “Pro” designation in western fonts indicates extended language support, at least “Adobe CE” (accented Latin characters needed for central European languages), and sometimes more. Our OpenType User Guide clearly spells out which OpenType layout features are supported by which Adobe applications.

For each typeface in the Adobe store, we provide further info: we have a nifty set of cyan blue icons (example here) showing what kinds of alternate glyphs are present in the font, shown at the lower right part of the page. If you click on the “More Info” tab of that same box, you get a detailed list of linguistic character sets supported, and also a link to a PDF showing all the glyphs in the font, categorized and sorted.

By the way, if you’re a type foundry or font developer, we’re happy to share those icons. Just contact me and I can provide either the full set of GIFs, or the icons as glyphs in a font. We aren’t pushing other folks to use our icons, but we figure anything that might reduce user confusion is good.

We’re in a transitional period now, which will go on for a number of years, where things won’t be as seemless as our customers expect or we would like. There is something of a wild west, frontier feeling about all this stuff. But to me, it’s an exciting, fun frontier. As David Lemon recently wrote to the Adobe type development team, “few of today’s font users recall how gruesome things were” in the pre-DTP and early DTP era of the late 70s through mid-80s, with things like fonts that worked only in specific applications. I still remember the thrill of getting WYSIWYG scalable outline fonts in Publishing Partner (later called PageStream) for the Atari ST, back around 1987, before TrueType and ATM. Of course, those fonts wouldn’t work with any other application, but it seemed pretty darn cool at the time.

Being a generation too late for those memories, and hearing just simplified marketing messages about the glories of OpenType, today’s end users have understandably high expectations. It’s the responsibility of Adobe and other parties involved in promoting OpenType to do our best to communicate, thoroughly and frequently, to avoid disappointing our customers during this transitional period.

8 Responses

  1. Tom, you are absolutely right about increased expectations of Open Type fonts and confusion over which of these offer which “goodies.” I encounter questions about OT fonts from my clients at least twice a week over the past couple years and I’m still trying to understand them myself. At least half of my clients are book and magazine publishers, and the issue of fonts and character sets is critical to them. They don’t move to new typefaces for their pubs, even new formats of existing ones, lightly. So this post helped a great deal!Something in the UI I’ve always appreciated is how the Open Type features included in the selected font are conveyed (bracketed vs. unbracketed in the Character palette menu). I like how *all* possible permutations are included, even if they’re not available, so users can compare one OT font vs. another. However I think it’d help if they all were greyed out (and all bracketed as now), including the “OpenType” menu entry itself, when a non-OT font is selected.Also … how fractions are handled in a typeface is a huge issue with my clients. Many are moving to ID from Quark and are looking for the “Make Fraction” menu item, which of course isn’t there in ID.It doesn’t help that there’s a category called “Fractions” in the OT drop-down menu. It’s too broad. (And it contributes to the high expectations and frequent disappointment some users have with OT fonts.) My clients think “Fractions” means “Arbitrary Fractions.”But it means “Extended Fractions and occasionally Arbitrary Fractions,” right? ;-)Many clients think that if this item isn’t turned on or available, they can’t get any fraction at all. But this isn’t true, is it? There are some standard fractions built into most professional text fonts in any format, afaik.I would love to see these standard fractions handled in ID the same way that standard ligatures are. Add a “Fractions” checkbox next to the “Ligatures” checkbox in Style options and the Character palette menu, and leave it checked on by default. Have ID do the automatic substitution for built-in standard fractions for all fonts as it does now for built-in ligatures.[Actually, I often wish that that the “Ligatures” checkbox wasn’t so prominent. I can’t tell you how often new ID users see that and go, “oh no, we don’t want ligatures. we’ll keep that turned off” … even though they’ve been using standard ligatures in their Quark docs for years, it’s just that the option is buried in their Prefs… I have to show them the lig’s they’ve been using in their back issues to prove it.]If we could do that (or even if we can’t, actually), then in the OT drop-down menu it’d make sense to replace the lone “Fractions” entry with two different ones: Extended Fractions and Arbitrary Fractions. I think this would make it much clearer to users what’s going on with fractions in all their fonts, OT especially.And they behave quite differently, too. Users wonder why, if “Fractions” is available for an OT font and they turn it on, and then apply it to an entire paragraph (or include it in a style) that for *some* fonts, it screws everything up … commas and periods are floating in mid-air … and in *other* fonts, punctuation is fine. It’s because there are 2 diff. kinds of fraction-handling going on, and for the “floating commas” one (arb. fractions) they should only apply it to the fractions themselves, not all the text in a frame or in a paragraph style.OTOH I’m not a font designer or OT expert so perhaps what I’m suggesting is completely off-base. Please ignore if so. ;-)Regardless if anything I’ve suggested is possible (and I swear, I’m almost done .. LOL) … is there any way you could include some info regarding whether an OT font does Arbitrary Fractions or not in the Adobe Type Library web pages about them, as well as the Glyph Complement PDF? I’m looking at two right now, one for Adobe Jenson Pro (no arb. fractions), and one for Adobe Garamond Pro (does arb. fractions), and the section showing Fractions looks exactly the same for both, not even an asterisked note mentioning the fact that Garamond does fractions for anything, not just the fractions shown. (Or perhaps I missed the notations somewhere?)AMP.S. Are these supremely helpful Glyph Complement PDFs included on the “Extras” CD or “Goodies Folder” that comes with Adobe products which install OT fonts? If not could they be? πŸ˜‰

  2. Thomas Phinney says:

    Hey, AM, good to “see” you here.I’m interested to hear that you find the brackets useful. I rather like that feature myself, and am always having to explain to our engineers and UI designers why it’s useful.Another handy way to explore what an OpenType font does is by using the Glyph Palette in InDesign or Illustrator and filtering by specific features.With regards to the complex issue you cite around fractions, it gets even worse. Several of our own typefaces have had their fractions capability upgraded over time, and we expect to upgrade many many others in the not too distant future. So any info we would put out there would not necessarily match what a customer has at home.That would lead me into a discussion of upgrades and version tracking, but that’s a subject worthy of a whole posting unto itself, so I’m going to hold off on that.I’m fascinated that people actually turn off ligatures for no good reason. It would not have occurred to me that a user would do that. Huh.On fractions again, if we had known up front what we do now, maybe we would have had two separate OpenType features for fractions. Or maybe not. But it’s definitely too late now, and it’s not something that the application can be expected to distinguish between and separate out. Sorry.The thing with applying fractions globally working okay for fonts with simpler fractions and messing things up for fonts with arbitrary fractions is a big communication issue. I called it out in both our OpenType User Guide and in our OpenType readme, so that’s a start. I know most users don’t read the documentation, but I don’t know what more I can do – suggestions welcomed. Maybe it belongs in an article about the “top 10 things you don’t know about using OpenType fonts” or something.And, lest somebody else chime in about how we should just make the fonts even smarter, let me point out that dates are a problem, as if they are written with slashes, they will get interpreted as fractions, even with a “smarter” arbitrary fractions code. As you note, the answer is to only format as fractions the stuff you want as fractions.Finally, glyph complement PDFs have *sometimes* been included in bundled fonts with our applications. I will suggest doing that as a matter of course. Thanks for the suggestion.T

  3. AG says:

    Hi all, I am an Iranian american, I often use persian (Farsi) text in photoshop and photoshop elements but it turns out illegible, I have installed persian fonts and also have installed farsi language for windows xp pro sp3.I have done an exhaustive search on the web and did not find anything, I am wondering if adobe corporation has something for this issue or notBest regards[You need the ME version of the application, available from Winsoft. – T]

  4. Maryam Garmkho says:

    In this article you write about Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, but in Dreamweaver what can I do for Persian type? When I type a phrase, Dreamweaver makes it reverse.[To work in Farsi or other languages that use the Arabic script, you’ll need to use the ME (Middle Eastern) version of Dreamweaver. The regular Dreamweaver CS4 does not have a layout engine that knows how to handle “complex scripts”. – David L]

  5. I found a way for my problem.According to my teacher:In save as window,in Unicode Normalization Form,select:C (Canonical Decomposition, followed by Canonical Composition)and in css define alighn rtl for body.and set your code in UTF-8;In browser I have no problem;I type my paragraph in office word and then copy it in dreamweaver.for arabic font;If you have problem in another you can use special software for support your special font.

  6. Safoura says:

    I have IMAC computer and use photo shop CS5. I am an iranian American and when I try to use Farsi fonts the fonts are not connected and only displays each alphabet seperately and it types in reverse direction. Can anyone help me to figure this out. Should I buy another software or should make setting change? I did not have this problem with photo shop CS4. Have I done something wrong?

    I would appreciate your help.

    1. First, I apologize for taking so long to reply to this. Adobe was shut down for two weeks, during the holidays, and Tuesday of this week was our first day back at work.

      Given that you did not have a problem when using Photoshop CS4, I am guessing that you were using the ME (Middle East) version of the product that is sold by Winsoft, or you somehow enabled the World-Ready Composer, which is not exposed in the standard version of the product. The latter can be done by opening a template that exposes the World-Ready Composer.

      With regard to the issue in Photoshop CS5, please read the following blog article that describes how to expose the World-Ready Composer in CS4 applications, which also applies to CS5 applications:

      In that blog article is a link to Photoshop templates that will expose the World-Ready Composer when opened.

      Please keep us posted.

  7. Kathy R. says:

    When I copy and paste farsi text in dreamweaver cs5.5, the words are reversed from right to left. I’ve tried the right adjustment code and it doesn’t work. Any ideas?

Comments are closed.

Thomas Phinney

Adobe type alumnus (1997–2008), now VP at FontLab, also helped create WebINK at Extensis. Lives in Portland (OR), enjoys board games, movies, and loves spicy food.

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