Google Fonts: Your Questions, Answered

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  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,659
    The fact that there is a debate, that there is always a debate, around the topic of revival, inspiration and derivation, should make plain to everyone that it isn't a clean subject. Dave and co seem to tend to the view that all type design is derivative and hence anything goes, but clearly that's not the case. If people are made uncomfortable by something, that's often an indication that there's something about which to feel uncomfortable.

    There is a range of factors affecting the probity of creative work within conventional systems, and all writing systems are conventional. Generally speaking, the older a work is the more comfortable people are to see new versions of it, even multiple new versions (think of the small flood of Fleischmann-inspired types we saw a few years ago). If a design has a strong individual flavour, similar designs will be more likely to be frowned on than if a design exists in an established genre, cf. the discussion about News Gothic earlier in the thread: that's a design that synthesised a whole genre of 19th Century gothics, and established design conventions for a recognisable style, within which there's room for exploration even while observing the conventions (as, for example, Source Sans does). Conversely, if one of your contemporaries has recently released a design with some strong individuality, you're going to be criticised for making something similar to it. That's the nature of the type business: we work within conventional systems, but try to respect the space that each other's work creates in the moment. Over the year's I've often looked at something a colleague has done and thought 'I wish I'd had that idea', and sometimes even the thought 'Damn, that's what I was planning to do next month'. It doesn't matter if the idea in question involves reinterpretation of some source material, or a revival of some historical type: it's at least temporarily off-limits if someone else got there first this time around.

    Dave, you seem to be using the term 'derivative' to refer to anything that even remotely references some other work. That's not a technical usage, such as employed in IP law, and nor is it common usage. Derivative implies something that directly exploits an existing work, often even to the point of utilising elements of that work. Yes, there is a messy continuum between a derivative work, an inspired work and an original work, but that doesn't mean that they're all the same, or that people can't make prudential judgements about the nature of a particular example, even as there will be some disagreement about those judgements. [Segoe UI is a good example: I know people who think it's a straight knock-off of Frutiger Next, and other people who think it's an original design within a particular genre; personally, I think it's one design too many within a too narrowly defined genre.]
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 527
    edited December 2013
    Ok... here we go again.... puff... I was trying to make good use of Matthew's advice and stop commenting, but you guys keep pulling me in :)

    I'm interested in Ramiro's second part:
    ...and trying to make poor design standards acceptable...
    Who defines what is "good design" and what is "bad design"?
    A jury of notorious, experienced designers, gatekeepers of good taste?
    Or, simply, the people that choose to use or buy any particular fonts?

    Many of the fonts that you will consider to be great design, will end up selling or being used very little. And many of the fonts that you will consider to be crap, will end up being loved by the masses.

    One of the fonts that I love the most at Google Fonts, it's Almendra. It's beautiful, original, and it comes with all the added goodies: Swashes, Small Caps, Inline display version, 2 set of figures (OldStyle and Lining), etc.
    To me, it's a truly work of art, unique and full of soul. I'm deeply in love with it.
    It was awarded at the Bienal Tipos Latinos 2012. I hope you will agree, and qualify it as "good design".
    However, for some reason that I don't understand, it's has not resonated among the masses and the stats are pretty low.

    For many of the Sudtipos fonts ("Good Design") included at Google Fonts, I expected them to reach the very top of the stats, since they are top sellers at MyFonts and Ale is incredibly popular and and his fonts are multi-awarded. But for some reason that I don't understand, that has not happened. His font have not resonated among Google Fonts users and they are low on GF stats. Maybe it just was because they are best fitted for print works, and not so much for the web... who knows? I don't know.

    On the other hand, fonts like Crafty Girls or Shadows into Light that you will catalog as "Bad Design" (Hey! Some are just handwritten auto-tracing!), for some reason, they have resonated among the public, and are at the very top of the stars.

    So, I ask again: Who or What defines what is "good design" and "bad design"?
    It's a perfect font that no one will use, any better than a crappy one that everybody will use?
    It's the opinion of an expert jury any better than the opinion from the crowd?

    We can also extend this discussion, not only to Google Fonts, but also to other resellers like Myfonts (the very same website that Ramiro is using to distribute his fonts), since both share the same approach. Nick Sherman, Adam and Jan Middendrop once explained at Typophile that they will not reject "bad design", that they specifically avoided creating a "jury of notorious", and instead they will let "bad design" sink to the bottom of the rankings. That it's, basically, the same approach of Google Fonts.

    You only have to do a quick look at Myfonts "What's New", and you will see a lot of "bad design" every week, comparable to some of the ones at GF. I think it will be easy for us to agree that myfonts also carries a lot of crappy ones.

    Also, there are a lot of derivative and look-alike fonts at myfonts. I have heard Ramiro complaining specifically about Latinotype's Comalle as being a Tomate look-a-like.
    For me that's enough to have a very negative opinion about [Dave].
    So, I ask Ramiro:
    What's your opinion about myfonts?
    It's Myfonts also justifying derivative fonts by not removing Comalle?
    It's Myfonts also promoting bad design by not having a "jury of notorious" rejecting bad designs/crappy fonts? or higher standards about the fonts they let get inside?
    Is that enough for you to have a negative opinion of them?

    If you have a negative opinion about Myfonts:
    Why your fonts are still there?

    If you have a positive opinion about MyFonts.
    Why do you have a negative opinion about Dave?
  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 740
    edited December 2013
    @Dave None of my fonts are based on existing digital data (or even typography!). Some are inspired by lettering or calligraphic models but even in these cases they are not direct copies of the model. Winco and Kade aren't based in any existing alphabet in particular and its connections with other models are very very loose. Lavigne and Tomate (actually, rather successful fonts) are not inspired in anything but my own sketches.

    Of course many of my works have been influenced by previous designs (mostly non typographic) but this is not considered to be 'derivative work' in the type community. You are trying to add confusion to the debate in order to justify people who just tweak existing fonts and present them as original type design. The fact that you don't see or seem to understand the difference only shows you ignorance on type matters.

    @Pablo: I've never made a complain about a piracy case involving one of my fonts. Myfonts do remove derivative fonts when there is enough base to the claims. I've never accused another person of copying my fonts so there was not such case. I do think some foundries have a policy of releasing look-alikes design and I consider it objectionable. It is a grey area and some folks know how to exploit it. However, the fact that some can release look-alike design and get away with it, does not mean they are going to be respected in the type community for it.
  • Sure have read John downer, who offers 3 primary classes: Revivals, remixes, clones. Ramiro and David Lemon talk of derivatives in such a broad way that I understand covers the whole spectrum.

    When John Hudson says i and the folks at Google who actually decide these things, some of whose nuanced thinking i re posted here, think anything goes, he is surely mistaken.

    when Ramiro says I am justifying the tweaking of existing font outlines, I challenge him to name then.

    I am not adding confusion, I'm saying as John says that it isn't a clean subject, there are a range of factors, and let's enumerate them as John Downer attempted to, to aid clear thinking about this.
  • >> Ramiro and David Lemon talk of derivatives in such a broad way that I understand covers the whole spectrum.

    Where I did so? I don't use 'derivative design' in a broad sense because I know what it means. You and Pablo are the people trying to blur the limits of what has already been defined and agreed years ago.
  • You said, "you [Dave] are justifying derivative fonts" which I understand in a broad sense.

    Please clarify.
  • I already did :)
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,052
    edited December 2013
    :)

    When you say I am justifying the tweaking of existing font outlines, I challenge you to name them. That is the clarification that I am seeking, and so far you've made a lot of accusations but not really substantiated them.
  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 740
    edited December 2013
    @Dave: Every time someone point out a GF that resemble too much commercial fonts fonts, like in the case of 'Fjord One' or 'Crimson Text', you argue that this appropriation is inside the boundaries of what is considered OK in the type business and point out examples of similar design "borrowing" (BTW, this is the kind of arguments guys like Fred Nader used to use).
    My opinion is that the fact that foundries have duplicated and released fonts from other foundries in the past (or in the present) does not make it acceptable. It is plenty of such examples of knock-offs and lookalikes but when you point at them to justify some fonts in the Google Fonts library, you are only putting yourself at the level of the people who indulge in these dubious practices (and blink an eye to young designers who may be tempted to follow this easy path.)
    One thing is to research an historical source, interpreting and adapting it to typographic systems and another very different is to take existing digital data, tweaking the serifs and/or stems and rename the font claiming is a new 'design'. The case of lookalikes is more complicated from a legal perspective but ethically is not that so. You can release fonts that looks very similar to other successful typefaces without sharing a single point in their digital data. Is it possible and legal? Much probably, yes. Is it considered acceptable or ethical among our colleagues? No, it's not.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,052
    edited December 2013
    Ramiro, since the designers of Fjord and Crimson do research historical sources, interpret and adapt them to new typographic systems - the web - your argument falls flat.

    No one is taking existing proprietary outlines and modifying them, and I find it puzzling you make this accusation. There are no clones/lookalikes in the gf collection, either. Now who is mudding the waters?

    There are similar fonts, but that they draw on the same historical sources as others is well and good to me, and Source Sans is a fine example of that sort of similarity. the cartel behaviour that John Hudson described is curious but not something I wish to participate in - I feel it is legal risky in fact.
  • Ramiro EspinozaRamiro Espinoza Posts: 740
    edited December 2013
    @Dave:
    >> since the designers of Fjord and Crimson do research historical sources,
    >> interpret and adapt them to new typographic systems - the web - your argument falls flat.

    Yeah, "historical surces"... From what period? The 80s or the 90s?
    "New typographic systems" ? Like going from Postscript to WOFF? Or CFF OpenType to EOT? What is this? Another blink to your type design team? This conversation is pointless.
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 527
    edited December 2013
    ...You and Pablo are the people trying to blur the limits of what has already been defined and agreed years ago.... You can release fonts that looks very similar to other successful typefaces without sharing a single point in their digital data. Is it possible and legal? Much probably, yes. Is it considered acceptable or ethical among our colleagues? No, it's not...
    Is Caslon to be considered unacceptable/unethical?
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 527
    edited December 2013
    Yeah, "historical surces"... From what periods? The 80s or the 90s?
    And Macula? the so called "impossible typeface". It looks very similar to Bronislaw Zelek typeface to me. And certainly, not impossible at all since that concept has already been done. That's just marketing.

    Please, explain me, I'm trying to understand:
    Why do you think Comalle is a Tomate look alike, and Macula is not a Zelek look alike?
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 527
    edited December 2013
    "New typographic systems" ? Like going from Postscript to WOFF? Or CFF OpenType to EOT? What is this?
    It's the same for what you charge 2X for your automatically converted fonts :)
    If, as you say, there is no difference: Why do you charge double?

    Graphic Designers out there, take note:
    When your clients ask for .jpg or .png instead of .bmp or .tiff, CHARGE DOUBLE!
    Because it's the web! It's different from print!
    It's another medium! Another usage!
    You clients needs a different license for using compressed .png files!

    It is legal to charge double for an automatically converted font? Yes!
    Ethical?... probably not
    This conversation is pointless.
    Agree with that... it's pointless.
  • "The old fellows stole all of our best ideas," is a popular quotation from Frederic Goudy. Keep in mind that Goudy never copied anything literally, save for one type he made based on his own rubbings from the Trajan Column. And also keep in mind that, by the time he did it, the Trajan letters had lost much of their weight to deterioration, so it, too, was an interpretation.

    There's a big difference between stylistic influence and outright copying, but even an act of copying can have its own merits. Some of it is a matter of tools; in early metal, before electrotyping was invented, any attempt at copying was, by its nature, an act of interpretation. Bodoni spent the early part of his career imitating the types of Fournier, but coming from Bodoni's own hand they have their own nuances. This is quite different from basing a digital type on outlines made by someone else, in which a copy-and-paste can bring along the sidebearings and even the kerning data. When Caslon made types under the influence of earlier Dutch typecutters, the line weights and justification of the matrices were entirely his own. A beautiful set of letters can be destroyed as type by bad spacing, so you might say that the white space between the letters are as much a part of type design as the letters themselves. Moreover, in the case of Caslon, the x-heights are different from his Dutch models. He made something that was new (with the exception of one of his larger types, for which he bought strikes from Holland--it's the size that Stephenson Blake sold as 42 pt).

    My work is first and foremost as a designer and producer of books. In many instances I work with my own types, but I have also remade a number of fonts made by others to suit my purposes. I have respaced other people's fonts from scratch, I have altered and added glyphs, I have added OT features, and I have even changed their weights. But I do not claim credit for them as my own work (though I have, in colophons, mentioned that the types were modified), neither do I sell them nor give them away. I purchased the fonts or was given them by their makers. I see this work as interpretative and personal, much the same as a musical performer does when playing music that they, themselves, did not compose--a time-honored tradition that is accepted and rewarded in our culture.

    The underlying letterforms we have all inherited are common property, and so are the stylistic trends that develop from time to time, no matter if they're old or recent. There are always "references." It is for these reasons that U.S. copyright law has never recognized letter design as falling within its purview. Though I believe there could be exceptions, I think it is a reasonable standard for the vast majority. (A determination would require the establishment of a "Type Court"--not very likely!) Be that as it may, I find it to be a more acceptable path than the confusing rules of the EU or other entities.

    So, given my liberal interpretations, what's my problem with Google Fonts? It violates my own sense of fairness and integrity because it opens the possibility that the work of others that was created for an exchange of payment is being misrepresented or given away. That can happen on MyFonts or other sales outlets, too, but at least there one can seek redress if property rights have been violated. And, amongst type people, there is the standard of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." With Google Fonts, the property rights have become vaporized and they have no skin in the game.




  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 527
    edited December 2013
    There's a big difference between stylistic influence and outright copying, but even an act of copying can have its own merits. Some of it is a matter of tools; in early metal, before electrotyping was invented, any attempt at copying was, by its nature, an act of interpretation. Bodoni spent the early part of his career imitating the types of Fournier, but coming from Bodoni's own hand they have their own nuances. This is quite different from basing a digital type on outlines made by someone else, in which a copy-and-paste can bring along the sidebearings and even the kerning data. When Caslon made types under the influence of earlier Dutch typecutters, the line weights and justification of the matrices were entirely his own. A beautiful set of letters can be destroyed as type by bad spacing, so you might say that the white space between the letters are as much a part of type design as the letters themselves. Moreover, in the case of Caslon, the x-heights are different from his Dutch models. He made something that was new (with the exception of one of his larger types, for which he bought strikes from Holland--it's the size that Stephenson Blake sold as 42 pt).
    I agree with all that.
    But you are choosing to see only the similarities, and not the differences between Fjord and Fedra, and accusing it of being a copy-past job. While you prefer to see differences and not the similarities in Caslon's types.

    AKAIK, Fjord was developed by Viktoriya Grabowska, during an entire year, as a graduation project for his MA in Graphic and Type Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Poznań in 2010. It was previously named Young at that stage. It has also received some awards, as you can see of the author's blog.
    So, if it went thought all the usual stages of a typical graduation project in a university. I have many doubts about it being a quick copy-paste job, as you and others are assuming.
    Does it deserves the benefit of the doubt? I think it does.
    Those of you that seems to think that GF expressly hired someone to create a Fedra clone, are simply misinformed, and plain wrong about it.
    So, given my liberal interpretations, what's my problem with Google Fonts? It violates my own sense of fairness and integrity because it opens the possibility that the work of others that was created for an exchange of payment is being misrepresented or given away. That can happen on MyFonts or other sales outlets, too, but at least there one can seek redress if property rights have been violated. And, amongst type people, there is the standard of "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." With Google Fonts, the property rights have become vaporized and they have no skin in the game.
    I have no problem if you think that. It's ok with me.
    But, again, not everyone want's to keep control of their fonts.
    Many people want their fonts to become Libre.
    Many doesn't have any problem in giving their work away, if they have been previously compensated.
    The mayor part of the world population does work-for-hire.
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 246
    edited December 2013
    Moderators — can you please ask people to not attack each other on such a personal level here, or close the discussion.
  • Agree with Indra. I have asked the same previously.
  • kupferskupfers Posts: 246
    edited December 2013
    So why are you not acting according to it then? (And don’t say “but because he said … first …”. This goes for everyone who struck a rude tone here). Kindergarten.
  • So why are you not acting according to it then?
    Agree again Indra. I should not have come down to the same level. Apologies for the rude tone of my last posts.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,052
    edited December 2013
    I do apologies if I was rude; I certainly don't mean to attack or harangue any one personally, and aim to focus on the substance of the discussion and not the individuals participating in it.

    John, sorry I misinterpreted you there - took 'and co' a bit literally I guess :)
  • Pablo:

    You responded to some of my points by citing a reference to some fonts by a Ms. Grabowska, which I don't know and had not discussed.

    But let me get closer to what I believe is the heart of the matter: I have reason to believe that the outlines of some glyphs and ranges of glyphs that appear on Google Fonts might not have originated with their credited authors, but rather in commercial fonts. Let me point specifically to the italic lowercase of your own Libre Baskerville. For one thing, the lowercase design is not Baskerville, but Monotype Bell (based on a Richard Austin type). You've modified the design nicely, adding a Baskerville "g" and “k,” but kept Monotype's modernized "h" (Austin’s original had a foot that curled under). But, most tellingly, you've used the Bell “p,” which is decidedly non-Baskervillian. Though the weight and terminals of Libre Baskerville and Monotype Bell are different, the control points of the two seem to coincide quite a bit, though that may be coincidental.

    Is it possible that work that parts of commercial fonts are being copied, albeit with modifications, and being given away on Google Fonts? And, if so, how does that coincide with your Libre philosophy?
  • PabloImpallariPabloImpallari Posts: 527
    edited December 2013
    Scott, I'm always happy to clarify any doubts.

    For our version of Libre Baskerville, we have used a public domain ATF Baskerville specimen as the source (as stated in the font description). A Fry's cut of Baskerville.
    I'm attaching a image, comparing the specimen to our font.

    As you can see in the image, we didn't changed the /k, nor the /h, nor the /p.
    Those changes that have puzzled you into believing that we reused other fonts where already there. It is Fry to be attributed :)
    The only change we did, is to add the characteristic aperture on the /g tail. Because we like it, and we tough that other people may also like it.
    Other changes we discussed, was to make and updated version of the /A /V and /W with less angle. But finally we decided to keep the original more slanted ones as default, and to provide the modernized less slanted ones as alternates (available via ss01).

    Some may say that a Fry Baskerville is not a real Baskerville, but that's a topic for another discussion.

    Back to our topic:
    We created all the outlines for it.
    And we don't like point piracy, be it Libre or Propietary.
  • Sorry, forgot to attach the image in the previous comment. Here it is
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,655
    edited December 2013
    Moderators — can you please ask people to not attack each other on such a personal level here, or close the discussion
    Sorry if I missed stuff, but I’m honestly not reading most of this thread because the posts have become very long and there’s not much in them that I haven’t already read elsewhere. Anyway, everybody please keep it civil.
  • @James Thank you for not closing the thread; there's a lot of good opinions and information being written here. There has been a very small amount of give and take creep in but nothing objectionable. Just saying.
  • Pablo, thank you for the explanation. When Stephenson, Blake revived the Fry's Baskerville, they abandoned the italic, which wasn't so nice. For ATF, however, Morris Fuller Benton made a new italic--using the lowercase from the Austin's "Bell" types, which were already in use in the United States. So indeed, they are largely the same.
  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,052
    edited December 2013
    Scott said, emphasis mine,
    But let me get closer to what I believe is the heart of the matter: I have reason to believe that the outlines of some glyphs and ranges of glyphs that appear on Google Fonts might not have originated with their credited authors, but rather in commercial fonts.
    ...
    the control points of the two seem to coincide quite a bit, though that may be coincidental.
    ...
    Is it possible that work that parts of commercial fonts are being copied, albeit with modifications, and being given away on Google Fonts?
    Pablo, I must commend you on being so polite in your response to this :)

    Scott, given canonical point placement techniques, the control points of any two glyphs from type in the same genre will of course be found in similar places, and yes, it is entirely coincidental. I guess that if we look at some ps outline glyphs in Myriad and Frutiger and Segoe, we'll see this. I have none of these available to me, so I'll be happy for someone else who has legally licensed copies to post the image. So Scott, what is your reason to believe that any font in GF involves point piracy? You seem to be making baseless statements and I really don't get where this is coming from.

    When I point at the duplicates made by - say - Matthew Carter ("the traditional way to build a library," ho ho) I am pointing out these clones because there are no clones in the GF collection - except for ATF or otherwise indisputably public domain designs. My point is not that all type design is derivative and hence anything goes, as clearly that's not the case; my point is that folks like Matthew Carter have profited handsomely from making 100s of clones, while being held up as an esteemed colleague in our community, and those who design and publish original designs that dare to be contemporary - or even faithful historical revivals - are made out as villains, even to the extent that they are accused of point piracy by Scott and Erik Speikermann.

    Presumably the fonts supposedly involving point piracy are not those which are - clearly - the wholly original yet woefully pitiful and substandard works of rank amateurs ;) I guess you are referring to the works you think do carry some quality. As Pablo has said, many of the designs unfairly derided as rip offs are postgraduate student projects, which are done over months of interpreting, adapting and working, supervised by veteran type designers. If it passes academic standards of plagiarism, which are necessarily higher than the standard that Erik Speikermann explains in his video and which so far there has been an eerie silence about, it is reasonably original?

    John, you say that students often makes type that is "too derivative," continuing to use the term 'derivative' in a way that refers to anything that even remotely references some other work :) With this definition, almost all type design is derivative, which is why I am opposing its usage by David Lemon :) As Raph explained, those involved in deciding what GF has published have made prudential judgements about the nature of each design published, and I'm okay with disagreements about them.

    Where I am confused is when folks like Scott and Ramiro say that similar designs are clones, or when David Lemon says that similar designs that Adobe releases are not similar at all.
  • I never said that "similar design" are clones.
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