This is one part rant, one part genuine question and one part report on my singular perspective made in hope that it will be useful or insightful for someone, somewhere.
I am a type user with a relatively narrow specialization. However, I'm not necessarily a "type enthusiast", which for the purposes of this post means that I don't follow with any regularity the latest industry news, events, niche publications, forums, blogs or social media accounts. (An argument could be made that this is in fact a serious flaw on my part, since to be a good
type user I should also become a type enthusiast in the provided sense, especially since it would alleviate some of my grievances described here. This might very well be the case, but I still believe I have some legitimate complaints to make simply in my role as a perpetually lost and confused customer.)
Occasionally, I'm in the market for new fonts that I could use in my work; or, sometimes I just wish to find out whether any potentially useful new fonts have appeared out there or have received substantial updates from their makers.
Whenever I look for fonts, I have very specific requirements in mind, including language support, character coverage, OpenType features, as well as a whole list of particular expectations
resulting from my personal preferences and the character of my work. As far as I can tell, I know all the major websites that allow me to browse through the available fonts; these include both store platforms and various databases.
To sum up, I know fairly well what I'm looking for and I'm pretty sure I also know where to look for it. However, as it turns out, my every experience of browsing for fonts is always exceedingly, tortuously frustrating
It's not that I'm not able to find any
fonts that I need; actually, I think I have a pretty good idea of what is out there. What bugs me the most is that I'm never able to tell if I'm still missing something important - and there's no easy way for me to find out whether this is indeed the case.
Apart from this, the effort of compiling information from various disparate sources is just a giant miserable slog; some websites give me too little information, while others give me too much, because there's no way for me to filter out what I certainly don't
need. Then there are some things I would love to know at a glance and from the outset, but I have to dig deep to find them out. I know that some things in life don't come easily, but the sheer amount of time and energy I have to spend on each of my font searches just seems way too much.
As I see it, this situation arises from a combination of the following circumstances:
- There is nothing resembling a centralized, truly exhaustive font database out there. Existing solutions are able to provide me with some valuable information, but are always missing some crucial features that I have to interpolate from elsewhere. For instance, while Identifont is an admirable and impressive resource, it does not provide basic technical data about the fonts, and its "similar fonts" feature does not work in a reliable way (i.e. some fonts from the database are not included on the list, presumably because their makers opted out of it); also, since it relies on voluntary participation of the foundries, there are significant (and presumably permanent) lacunae in its database.
- The catalogs of most major stores and renting services have severely limited interfaces, which actively prevent access to the information already contained in their own databases. I recall a point in time when I could reliably use MyFonts to actually browse for fonts; this is no longer the case because of the recent simplification of the "advanced search" filters. Adobe Fonts is just laughably bad; I spent many an afternoon numbly scrolling through dozens of pages there, looking at the specimens of every serif font one by one, because no more efficient method was provided (and don't get me started on the fact that I can't see any diacritics in the main search results, when diacritics are the very first thing I look at when evaluating a typeface). I could fill a whole thread with serious usability misgivings concerning just about every major font outlet out there.
- Many independent or "boutique" foundries don't sell through any external vendors (which is more than understandable and perfectly OK in my book), but for whatever reasons they also don't seem interested in promoting their products through channels such as Identifont. I'm perfectly serious when I say that I simply don't know how people such as myself are even supposed to find out about their highly exclusive wares. I'm staggered by the number of great typefaces from such foundries that I discovered purely by accident, usually by stumbling on a casual remark in some old message board post found at the very bottom of some Google search results; if that is the case, how many typefaces of this kind am I still ignorant of? How could I even tell?
Now, I know at least some of such foundries and visit their websites from time to time. However, their browsing interfaces sometimes leave a lot to be desired; very often I have to download PDF specimens to find out whether some basic OpenType feature is implemented in a given font or not. This is all very interesting, but also slow and completely disjointed from my other font searching methods. There is no way for me to compare at a glance the offerings of these small foundries with all the other fonts of interest that are available elsewhere.
- While various forums and social media exist, I would strongly argue that they provide a highly inefficient, inconvenient and error-prone way of finding structured information of the sort I'm looking for. If I were to use them for my purposes, the whole endeavor would depend upon good will and actual expertise of the users, as well as sheer chance (for instance, my post might be overlooked by the one user in possession of the good answer). When it comes to internet communities, I'm also wary of starting threads that are simply requests made for my sole personal gain rather than opportunities to start actual discussions.
I can come up with explanations for most of these problems on my own. I realize that some solutions are costly or near-impossible to implement. An exhaustive, full-featured database I yearn for is probably unattainable because of such factors as clashing corporate interests and the volunteer effort needed. I'm also aware that customers with my approach and expectations are probably a small minority and there is little reward in catering to them.
Still, this state of things just strikes me as weirdly incongruous with my other experiences of "looking for retail products on the web". There are websites with powerful, granular search interfaces which enable me to find exhaustive listings of things such as camera lenses, music releases, board games etc. according to my very specific requirements and preferences. It is only with fonts that I'm expected to gather bits of partial data from many separate sources, each of them imperfect in its own way; all the way hoping that this time I didn't overlook something relevant, and often made to feel like I'm browsing through the store shelves while blindfolded and wearing oven mitts.
I think it's not controversial to observe that typography is already a field fraught with elitist tendencies and pretensions to esoteric knowledge; I can see why this is the case and I can live with that. What irritates me is that the knowledge about what is currently available for licensing on the open market also has to be so difficult to attain and apparently dependent on actively following various niche and specialist resources (or belonging to the actual niche and specialist communities). Frankly, I don't see why so much effort has to be spent on looking for something as basic as the more-or-less complete list of, say, garaldes with Cyrillic support, tabular figures (including italics!) and italic small caps.
Am I doing something wrong? Am I expecting way too much? Am I ignorant of some new exciting resources? And really, what is the expected process for someone in my situation to follow?