Why we support the new .webfont proposal

There has been a flurry of activity in the W3C Web Fonts mailing list lately, much if it responding to a proposal from Tal Leming and Erik van Blokland for a new format for linked font files. In their proposal, they outline an XML “wrapper” that describes a variety of metadata and the ability to embed the font data agnostic of format.

At Typekit, we are particularly interested in the steady technical progress being made at the intersection of browser developers, web designers, and the type industry. Recently, we’ve been digging in deep into how fonts interact with browsers, how they’re rendered, and the best way to serve them. From that perspective, we’re very happy to see a proposal like this and look forward to supporting it fully.

Momentum for this recommendation is coming from the right place, as shown by this list of supporting foundries. As Bert Bos, the W3C representative and co-author of the CSS specifications, accurately pointed out, “What’s most interesting to me is that the proposal comes from font makers and is nevertheless written in language that programmers understand.” Speaking the same language is crucial to bridge the gap between those implementing technical solutions and the commercial interests of a creative industry.

The proposal also embraces native web design patterns. Like most successful web technologies, it outlines a format that will be both human and machine readable. Just like HTML and CSS, designers and developers should be able to view source and see what’s going on in their fonts using whatever tools they’re comfortable using. Compared to the obscure binary OpenType tables that currently contain metadata, this is an important step forward.

Earlier in the web’s history, attempts to enable linked or embedded fonts have failed. Those solutions were based on proprietary and patent-encumbered technologies which required platform-specific development tools. Instead, we need an open collaborative approach between all interested camps. This proposal will need time to mature and be implemented, but it’s following the right approach.

We’re excited to support these developments broadly in the community; while that happens, we’ll continue to build Typekit’s server-based solution to deliver on those goals today.

11 Responses

  1. Ryan says:

    Doesn’t implementation of the font-face css property negate your companies efforts?

    1. My understanding is that there are two chief benefits to using TypeKit:

      1. getting your chosen typefaces to work everywhere — and if that means using swfIRin certain cases — or just pumping out PNGs — then so be it. @font-face won’t do that for you in IE6.
      2. dealing with licensing, procurement and distribution of fonts to comply with font licenses. This is the one that technology alone can’t really help you with, but that big agencies that license fonts will be happy to pay handsomely for, if only for the reassurance that Chank Diesel won’t come knocking on their doors.

      Obviously some of this .webfont stuff would address some of those issues — but it still requires some kind of pragmatic consensus and moreover implementation for it to actually have any long term meaning.

    2. Tim Brown says:

      Chris, I think I understand it the way you do. My thoughts here: http://tr.im/webfontlic

  2. I was thinking the same thing, Ryan. But as web designers/developers it will be some time before we can confidently use @font-face and expect it to work well across all browsers. From what I’ve read so far, a benefit of using TypeKit will be that it will handle the cross-browser issues intelligently – but I could be wrong on that.

  3. Speaking of typography and webpages, you might want to clean up this comments section of your webpage. Every name has the word “says” afterwards in white type that seems to be hidden, but can be seen upon highlighting anyone’s name…

    1. Platinum Krishna says:

      Yes, please stop trying to fix real problems and fix the problem that no one has or even cares about.

    2. Haha…good point Platinum and great name. A company that preaches good typography on the web should be using type properly on their website, but I absolutely agree with your point. The important thing is to push out a great product we will all love.

  4. liberalart says:

    Maybe I’m missing it, but I’m still looking for some sense of what this will cost. A range, however large would be helpful to determine if I’m just wasting my time here.

    Also, please take into account non-profits in your fee schedule. They’re getting hammered right now by donation drop-off, but we do some of the coolest social stuff in this sector.

    I’d love to move to typekit if it’s as good as the previews look as it would solve so many problems so please try to make it not something only major publishing corps can afford.

    1. I thought that the font pricing issue is still one of the big issues to be tested?

  5. Lane says:

    I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.

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