Type is indispensable: An interview with Christopher Slye from the Adobe Type Team

Typekit’s Communications Director, Mandy Brown, interviews Christopher Slye from the Adobe Type Team about the past, present, and bright future of web fonts.

Mandy Brown: Hi Christopher! Tell me about what you do at Adobe.

Christopher Slye: Hi Mandy. In the last couple years, I’ve handled all kinds of work related to fonts on the web. Most of my previous years at Adobe were spent doing font production, so I have a technical and design background which has helped me understand and explain some of the issues — internally and from customers — that make web fonts so complicated. Over the years here I’ve also been involved in various font licensing issues, and of course that’s a big part of the web fonts equation as well.

So, like a lot of people on the Type team here, my work covers a fairly wide spectrum of tasks. I meet with product groups around Adobe to understand and help with their font needs. I evaluate new technology. I am Adobe’s representative in the Web Fonts (WOFF) Working Group, and I try to stay involved with Adobe’s related Standards efforts. I often field questions about licensing. I write the occasional blog post and I help with type marketing by creating graphics and ads once in a while. And of course I’ve been coordinating our web fonts partnerships. I don’t really do font production these days, but every so often I get to help by answering a question or offering an opinion about something. A lot of us have been around here a while, and we all have some accumulated knowledge that often comes in handy.

MB: You’ve witnessed a lot of change — both from within Adobe, and external to it — regarding fonts over the years. How do you feel about where we’re headed? What has surprised you? What are you still hoping for?

CS: Well, I don’t know if the resurgence of interest in type and typography these days is truly unexpected, but the relative swiftness and force of it does surprise me. Many people have noticed by now that fonts on the web have caused a revival that is very much like what happened with desktop publishing in the late eighties. I was a young designer back then, and what I’m seeing today reminds me of how I felt when PostScript fonts emerged: the sudden availability of typographic variety and the technology to use it was thrilling. Everyone got on board, and it spawned a new generation of typophiles — the veteran type designers and other type professionals we have today. Now, it’s not that type is merely making a comeback — there’s a palpable typographic movement among web designers who are suddenly getting access to something they didn’t really have before.

So obviously I think that’s exciting! What I’m hoping for — as a designer, along with everyone else — is better integration of web fonts with the web and print workflow. It’s a problem everyone’s working on now, and the technical and legal barriers make it harder than it seems, but I know it will get better.

MB: You’ve worked closely with the Typekit team for over a year now. How has that collaboration affected your work?

CS: Probably in many little ways. Since Typekit is a shipping product, it has forced us to confront some practical realities about web fonts, such as choosing font formats and setting vertical metrics. Whereas we might have imagined a more ideal web font world, the Typekit team, from their hands-on experience, have given us many reminders about the limitations with all the browsers out there right now.

One thing it has certainly done is gotten me out of the office more, literally and figuratively. Anyone who works at a big company like Adobe can easily find they haven’t really left their office for several years! We can get our heads down on a big project and tune things out. One of Typekit’s strengths has always been its engagement with the type and design community, and that’s spilled over to its foundry partners — it brings us all a little closer together in a way. In addition to all the online efforts, Typekit has hosted all these events and gotten me mixed in with them and their users more than I might have been. Not only is that fun and interesting, but it has also given me something to bring back to the office. Everyone here has heard about web fonts and wants to understand them, and fielding those questions has kept me very busy. Aha, there’s your answer — the collaboration has made me very busy! [Laughing.]

So Typekit has been a great conduit to keep in touch with what’s happening out there, and now I’m much more involved with all kinds of different teams here at Adobe, and I can pass on what I’ve heard and learned. But the collaboration has also been such a personal pleasure. Everyone at Typekit is always available, very generous, and curious. It’s been a reminder that doing great work doesn’t have to be drudgery.

MB: Adobe has long had relationships with other foundries, but the Typekit acquisition brings new — and many independent — foundries into the fold. How do you see this benefiting them?

CS: I think they’ll have everything they’ve liked about being a Typekit partner; and on top of that they’ll be getting more exposure to all Adobe’s customers, and the opportunity to participate in the new features and functionality that are yet to come.

Since this is more about font integration than simply selling fonts, we’re aware that we are standing in between foundries and our customers more than we have previously been. What we really hope to do is give our users tools which make it easier to use type — seamlessly and consistently among our products — but we also want everyone to have the fonts they need. This means we hope to make things easy for any designer or foundry who wants to participate. The biggest benefit we can offer is the shortest line from them to everyone who is using Adobe products and services.

MB: And how do you feel about the future, now that Typekit and Adobe are under one roof? Where do you hope this takes us?

CS: I’ll bet my hopes are pretty much the same as everyone else’s. Around here I like to say that type is just about the closest thing we have to a common, indispensable element in nearly every Adobe product and service. It’s the most persuasive argument I can make for type’s importance today and in the future. New technologies and media have not really diminished its significance.

Typekit is coming in with a lot of concrete experience with web fonts, and a determination to do a lot more. The Adobe Creative Cloud presents many opportunities for type, and everyone at Adobe is curious to see what Typekit brings. I am already getting emails asking “When can I talk to the Typekit folks?” It won’t take long for everyone to get to know each other, and I know there are going to be some cool ideas coming out of those conversations. Adobe is full of incredibly smart, creative people — a huge accumulation of expertise spanning decades of technology — so we will have some tricks up our sleeve that will inspire the Typekit team, too. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

The bottom line is I want to see great, affordable fonts everywhere. I want font streaming to be seamless and comprehensive. Our customers have been asking for it, so we all know what we have to do.

Christopher Slye joined the Type Development group at Adobe Systems in 1997. Today, as Technical Product Manager for Type, he helps guide Adobe’s type-related technology and initiatives. You can follow the Adobe Type team at @adobetype.