Coping with a big family

I have a variable font with weight and serif axes and have created thirty instances (5 serif variations and 6 weights). An accompanying italic font adds a further thirty. So sixty static font files.

For the static fonts to be manageable in font menus, I created five discreet subfamilies reflecting the serif variation, each with six weights and italics. This works fine and (in the ideal world in which we don't live) it is how I would like the fonts to be provided for distribution.

But the gold standard 'Font Family Name' doesn't permit this. The whole point of the family is the variability of the serif, so I would like to present them as a collection. I have therefore reluctantly piled them all into a single family and the resulting font menus are not easy to navigate, or indeed to control with any predictability. The best I can do is to offer five sub-packages, but the problem remains for anyone installing the lot.

With the increasing number of variable fonts being released, some with a staggering number of static fonts alongside, I'm not alone in encountering this issue. It would be useful to see a sub-family category in font menus but that won't happen - font naming is troublesome enough already!

Have I done the wrong thing or is there a better approach?
And, as a supplementary comment, how come the major resellers have not yet implemented variable font testing routines?


  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 786
    edited November 2021
    I don't understand why you feel you need to "pile them all into a single family".  I promise you that large multi-sub family super families are still seen by end users as one thing. 

    I figured this out ten years ago.  When I would introduce myself at conferences and say where I worked no one ever said "I used Freight Sans in a recent project and loved it!"  (never mind that Freight isn't a Darden Studio font, it's a famous superfamily so bare with me) everyone sung the praised of "Freight" but had usually used only one or two subfamilies. 

    This pattern held with the superfamily we actually do control, Halyard, and I've asked others.
    It's just how users think.  Break up your thing in to menu friendly chunks, it will be fine.
  • Joyce, Thank you for your comment and anecdote. 
    You are of course correct and have supported my inclinations. 
    However it was not really me that wanted to "pile them all in to a single family" but the font submission process on a major reseller (we know who they are!). Dividing them into sub-families would involve producing graphics that reflected each, rather than the whole, otherwise it would be misleading. And each serif variant is unremarkable in itself and only comes alive when used in conjunction with the others.
    Many years ago I submitted a family with a choice of x-heights to MyFonts (each with a variant on the family name) and it was suggested to me by them that I present them as a single family, in order to gain best exposure. On that occasion I followed their advice, but the option no longer seems to exist - the family name is sacrosanct. Of course it has to do with the MT way of handling data which I suppose has to have its limitations.
    Anyway I think I'll withdraw my submission and reflect on what you've said.
  • JoyceKettererJoyceKetterer Posts: 786
    edited November 2021
    Hmmm... I admit I'd not thought of that.  We aren't with Monotype in any way.  I know a lot of foundries spilt the sub families up in their marketing but I thought it was a choice because I know Adobe doesn't require it (and that's frankly the only third party who's platform I care about).  

    That said, I think there are work arounds you could deploy, I expect.  You could, for instance, shout from the rooftops that any licensee who shows proof of purchase can swap out the giant pile for nice orderly sub-piles with you directly.  

    I'm sure others who've encountered this exact issue will have better ideas than me.  I'm sorry for having the hubris to reply first.  I didn't understand your question was outside my wheelhouse. 
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,704
    edited November 2021
    As a user, I kinda hate separate sub-families, in general. At least, I do if the separation is along an axis that is reasonably common, and/or I am going to use instances from multiple sub-families in the same project.

    My reasons for this are: (1) when doing design experimentation, I want to be able to swap one REAL family for another more easily and if they are inconsistent in what is within the family that makes it harder; and (2) I just find based-on style relationships easier that way.

    I think it also offends my sense of order, but that’s just an autism-spectrum thing.

    I had a frustrating experience using Acumin (Slimbach/Adobe) a while back, because of these factors.

    That said, I recognize that subfamilies or something like them can help users navigate through the thicket of options provided by a large font family. Not having subfamilies can create pressure on the designer/foundry to reduce the number of predefined instances available, as I realized when working on a family with a large range and many axes (Science Gothic—not sure why its website is having trouble today).
  • I had a frustrating experience using Acumin (Slimbach/Adobe) a while back, because of these factors.
    I had the opposite experience: With Minion 3 I could quickly access the style I needed since they were neatly groups into separate families by optical size while doing the same with Minion Pro, which has all styles in the same family, was always a mini game to find the right style. [Let alone something like Kepler with 168 styles in a single family.]
  • It was mainly for a sense of order that I felt the division into subfamilies was useful, but I hadn't regarded it from your design POV which is interesting, thank you.

    If we were designing people, we'd definitely introduce a variable for Spectrum [spct] 0 - 1000. I wonder where we'd place the default?
  • I'm strongly in favour of lumping everything into a single family. Otherwise the font menu becomes excessively long. I already have to scroll down past the bottom of the menu to get to “Times” and that's with only the default macOS fonts installed. I’d much rather have a shorter font menu with longer style menus.
  • I am mostly with André in that regard, as noted.

    However, some apps will actively malfunction if there are too many styles (at least, in a variable font). I seem to recall hitting a limit, where if there were more than that, one of the most-used apps couldn’t access any more styles. Might have been 256. And even then, going to half that many resulted in a less-than-ideal experience as far as the submenu length, I have to admit. At least, for apps that use a main menu plus a fly-out submenu.
  • Cory MaylettCory Maylett Posts: 245
    edited November 2021
    As a graphic designer who dabbles in typeface design, it doesn't matter much whether the styles are divided up or lumped together. As long as they're well-organized, I'm good.
    When using InDesign, I'll typically set up style sheets for most everything. Once the style sheets are in place, frequent trips back to the font menu aren't necessary.
    There might be a few more trips scrolling through Apple's font bloat with Illustrator, but once I get some type onto the page, choosing this or that typeface is usually a matter of using the eyedropper tool to copy styling from one chunk of text to another.
    In other words, scrolling through the main menu and long flyout menus might be a nuisance, but not that big of a problem. Whether a family is listed all together or broken into parts, the hassle is just about the same. There are pros and cons for each.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,648
    edited November 2021
    Don't forget that there are tools in Adobe apps and Apple's standard font panel (probably Windows, too, but I'm not familiar enough) where you can create subsets of fonts, sort of like playlists, organized in whatever way works for you. You don't have to deal with mile-long font menus if you don't want to. Typing the the first few letters of name of a font when a font menu active also can make things easier.
  • Thanks for pointing this out. I'm sure that design professionals who use large font families will have found smart ways of working.

    The general consensus runs against my own inclinations but I'll cautiously go with the flow. I still think there's a limit to the number of options one should provide on a submenu, probably a dozen or so items. With many more, it seems like over-stuffing your sock drawer!
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    Adobe Type Manager was really good, back in the day.
    What‘s the closest to that now?
  • In terms of what features?
  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 626
    edited November 2021
    I use Linotype Font Explorer and am happy with it. I haven't used ATM Deluxe in such a long time that I can't really offer a comparison...

    Edit: Were you actually thinking of Adobe Type Manager or Adobe Type Reunion? The latter was the one that allowed some control over how fonts were grouped.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,128
    Probably Reunion.
    As I recall (this was in the early 1990s) I liked that I could make a set of fonts for specific jobs and have them right there at the top of the font menu, e.g.

    Moneyguide (Perpetua, Gill Sans)

Sign In or Register to comment.