Is it ok to call a "typeface design" the UI of a font software program?

Opinions welcomed.

I'm always looking to communicate font software / encoding to non-type people. The objective is to differentiate "font software" from an "image of lettering", clearly and quickly with minimal jargon. The term "User Interface" (UI) enables a quick analogy to the visual setting underlying software in a phone or an app, which most people are familiar with. But, is it fair to describe the typeface design as the UI of the font software?

I initially got the idea from reading this passage:

‘a book can be considered a user interface to its content… a technical research paper can be seen as a user interface, that to succeed must take account of its intended user community…almost anything can be seen as a user interface; doing so will highlight certain issues of design and representation that might otherwise remain obscure,’ – GOGUEN, J., ‘An Introduction to Algebraic Semiotics, with Applications to User Interface Design’, in Computation for metaphors, analogy and agents, ed. by C.L. Nehaniv, LNAI, 1562 (Berlin: Springer, 1999), pp. 242–91


  •  is it fair to describe the typeface design as the UI of the font software?

    Given Variable Fonts themselves require UIs, I'm not sure this is so helpful.

    Rather I would say, the typeface design is the output of the font software; a font is a machine for making type. 
  • I think of font as the gear not the lever.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    Yes, and a mug is the UI between me and my morning coffee. 

    A plate, however, being flat, is more like a platform for serving food content.

    This metaphor game is fun!


    My first published typeface (by Face Photosetting, 1976)—thankfully long since vanished into the murk of history—was named Interface.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    Katy, It can make for an interesting intellectual discussion to try and extend a metaphor beyond its original intention, but when we turn it around to become a definition, the waters become muddy.  Type existed long before the software definition of user interface. In the same way, the handle of a hammer is a user interface. In terms of software, the code that it takes to put the type in proper position is not the "user" interface, it is the programmer interface.  The users are the readers who, for the most part, ignore the whole process and just read the words.  They react to what they see and read.  The type designer designs the fonts to be consistent with what the software needs to display them properly. The web designer uses the code to display text as intended by the person doing the layout, and the reader [user] gets to ignore it so he/she can get on with the job of comprehension.
    Who would you be talking to when you use this metaphor? This would make a big difference to see what help using it might be or not be.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    @Katy Mawhood Semiotics has been around for decades and has been looked upon in many ways pro and con.  It can have its uses in communication design in terms of message encoding. As part of my design education in the 60s and 70s, I studied Semiotics [or Semiology] as used by mostly the Ulm School people (and later by the Royal College).  We studied Barthes, Peirce, Eco, Posner, Krampen, and others. [Krampen taught a course in our sophomore design curriculum]. Most of the emphasis was on finding the proper syntax to convey a message visually. Much of the thinking in linguistics flavored Semiotics but it was an attempt to see what science might be applied to message making by graphic designers.  I found it enlightening and intriguing as an academic exercise in school but not practical enough to have a prolonged use in the rapid-fire work world of deadlines and client approvals.
  • This wrap-up of the distinction between font and typeface from nearly a decade ago is still useful, and includes my long-favorite analogy of Nick Sherman that typeface:font::song:MP3. Except now I realize .mp3 files are no longer the most prominent means of playing digital music so in that respect the analogy might need updating. 
  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 236
    edited October 2017
    I feel something like "typographics" would be easy to use by people outside the industry because it sums up everything without getting into the specifics and might not bore them to death either. I mean my wife rolled her eyes a couple of times when I tried to tell her the distinction between typeface vs font vs lettering...she was like “get to the point!”.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,374
    My first published typeface (by Face Photosetting, 1976)—thankfully long since vanished into the murk of history—was named Interface.
    Does anyone have a 1977 Face Photosetting Type Catalog around? I really want to see Interface now.
  • I think Fonts are more software libraries that other software can call on to execute functions. A typeface’s UI is the combination of software that has to be used to render the typeface.
  • A typeface is digitally encoded as font software. A type designer conceptualizes, draws, spaces and kerns a typeface, and encodes this typeface into font software. In order to typeset and render some text, the computer reads and decodes the font software.  
  • @all, not a new academic definition – but as a communication tool to in-house teams who need something that is very quick and easy to digest.

    A lot of the above definitions use "technical language" (e.g. output, execute, kern, decode), or are lengthy / require further reading. I realise that the term "user interface" is also technical, but it can be described quickly by analogy with smart phone apps – most grasp the basic UI concept quite quickly.

    @Chris Lozos: The audience is our in-house teams who, as you put it, "ignore the whole process and just read the words". That's fine, right until there are any issues – specifically technical issues. There is often a fundamental gap in their understanding about what font software is, and its role in HCI / multi-script communication.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,374
    edited October 2017
    When I need to answer questions from customers who don't understand my EULA, I refer to: the font itself (OTF, TTF etc.) vs. what you make with the font.

    The concept of embedding is a question I get often and I find these terms help people understand what the term means. Embedding is especially difficult to explain and the Wikipedia page is hard to understand. I can't send people there for an explanation. The first paragraph suggests that fonts are only embedded in documents and not hardware or software applications. And are they really controversial? Not around here. The page is only available in English so anyone conversing using Google Translate probably won't find it helpful. A web search for font embedding shows a lot of results for embedding fonts in documents but not software or hardware.

    I often get questions about font modification vs. modifying something the font has been used to create. For example; adjusting vectors on a logo or applying effects to text. I;m often asked whether or not what the user makes with the font can be trademarked or copyrighted.

    Some of you know how much I love far fetched analogies but I think this direct explanation gets the point across.
  • The objective is to differentiate "font software" from an "image of lettering", clearly and quickly with minimal jargon. 
    Perhaps I am of a simple mind, but is it not, in fact, quite obvious to your average Joe or Josefine that the one is the font and the other is the stuff you make with it?

    I would go so far as to say that the idea that fonts are software is foreign to most people to begin with, and inventing a remedy for this self made problem might be solved simply by calling things what they are in the users' mind.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,374
    The term software can be confusing. Some people I've encountered have trouble understanding not only the concept but also the language embedding font software into application software. They don't seem to grasp the idea of software being added to software. They may not even know that an app is software. I'm sure there was a time when being a web or software developer required some knowledge of how computers work. But I've encountered people using kits that help them generate software applications with no technical knowledge required. They know that they've used the font in the app generation tool but they're not sure whether the font goes in to the app or if it's used to generate the app. E-book development tools don't explain to the author that font software is being embedded into a document. Is the book software? Replace font software with font or the font itself and I think it's going to be easier to grasp.
  • @Craig Eliason: That wrap up provides an easy and clear distinction between "font" and "typeface". It's a little ironic that the right half of the page has columns with "New Fonts" and "Popular Fonts" while the visuals in the column are highlighting typefaces. ;-)
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