On one hand I hear people talking about thousands of kern pairs. On the other I hear people like Andreas saying "space everything as well as you can, then kern only what is necessary", and Bruno Maag saying "kern straight-straight, straight-round, round-straight, round-round and be done with it". I wonder if he's oversimplifying for effect, but I take from that a pushback against over-complicated kerning and over-reliance. I wonder how to resolve this.
I have to be a bit careful saying this, but... I wonder if there is a danger in coming to think of the number of kern pairs as a proxy for font quality. And I wonder if it becomes a pride issue - a way of showing how seriously you are taking things.
I just opened up a bunch of fonts. Three were by truly world class designers, whose names you will know. The first was a display face with no kerning at all, which surprised me. It's still a great font. The second was a text face with 750 pairs (no categories) and all of the kerns were at 10 unit intervals. Applying categories and compressing, I got it down to 345. Another, which is widely regarded as an absolute classic display font, has 890 pairs.
The fourth was by a designer I had never heard of. It has 230 glyphs, and even using categories has 2557 kern pairs, and they're all over the place: six units here, eight units there; /K/V gets -32 units whereas /K/W gets -31. Does that really make a difference? I don't know. But I think the designer was able to satisfy himself that he worked very hard in a way that he would not be satisfied with if he had only 300 pairs. Is there some internal pressure on people to achieve a certain number of kern pairs?
"Space like hell, kern when you must" makes a lot of sense to me. How many "kern pairs" did some of the most famous letterpress types have? And every day I see software that still doesn't apply kerning at all. But still, it's hard for me to avoid the feeling that if I end up with less than five or six hundred pairs I haven't done a good enough job.
I don't think someone's first ever typeface is meant to mature into a new or useful thing, any more than one's first story will turn into a bestselling novel. It's a learning exercise, and if you treat it as such and keep your expectations appropriate, there's still plenty to be learned by continuing with it. There's already a few lessons in this already.
Oh wow. I get that these are display fonts but I wonder what the intended rendering is for, say, Zilla Slab in a full-justified context. Ideally you'd have a flexible-width black space, but I can't see how a layout engine would be expected to know that. Pages and LibreOffice display the (inked) space character and then add flexible (white) glue afterwards, which is probably the least bad solution.