Selling opentype features as separate fonts

Jasper de WaardJasper de Waard Posts: 475
edited May 2014 in Type Business
Hi all,

Some fonts (like Proxima Nova) sell smallcaps and alternative glyphs as separate styles. This bumps up the amount of styles a lot, making it look impressive, but it doesn't make sense to me to cut it up in separate styles when they could be in one font file, from a font-user perspective. What is the reasoning behind this?


  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,126
    edited May 2014
    Proxima Nova was released before OpenType features were widely supported, IIRC.
    And the truth is, I think a fair number of font users are (still) more comfortable switching fonts than changing OpenType settings.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,317
    edited May 2014
    All the features are included in the basic Proxima Nova fonts, plus features that are not included in the extra fonts such as extended language support. I added the optional Alt and ScOsf fonts as a workaround for users of applications that lack sufficient OT support. I don't sell the optional fonts separately. Originally, this was mainly for MS Office and Flash. MS Office has decent support now, and nobody uses Flash anymore, so I'm tempted to drop them.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,706
    What Craig said.
    I'm always surprised by the number of art directors who don’t even know or care about the “fi” ligature.

    A lot of the problem lies with Adobe, whose applications have buried OpenType way down in the interface. Even if you know where they are, it’s a huge pain to access Stylistic Sets.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    Type designers install features which are part of the design and a selling point but application developers could care less about the type.
  • Thanks for your responses. It would be interesting to see if sales drop or stay as high as they are when the extra fonts in Proxima Nova are dropped. I think that not only do some people not understand opentype features, but many type buyers are also quickly impressed by a gigantic range of styles, even if those styles are not really needed. It would still feel like an unnecessary step back to add 'extra fonts' to my next release, though.
  • Max PhillipsMax Phillips Posts: 474
    Even if you know where they are, it’s a huge pain to access Stylistic Sets.
    Yep. It goes beyond poor UI design and into the realm of sabotage. I suspect there's a diehard GX loyalist behind this who has neither forgotten nor forgiven.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,030

    Nah. It is the way it is because most of the OT functionality got into InDesign as a backdoor weekend project by an engineer who had been convinced by an eager font PM that it was easy and worth doing.

    Unfortunately, the InDesign product management folks never actually thought it was worth making a "real" UI for, that the sub-sub-menu stuff that started as a hack was “good enough” for such an obscure set of features, when there were always higher-priority enhancements that they believed more users would care about.

    Last I checked, Quark had basically imitated Adobe's approach, although they made the menu one level closer to the top, which was a mild improvement.

    The OpenType panel in Illustrator happened because an enlighted Illustrator product manager decided to devote some actual resources to it, when approached by the font PM. Unfortunately stylistic sets either didn't exist yet, or there were no fonts doing them as yet. So that was not included among the few features in the panel.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    So Thomas, that was 10 years ago already. I know you are no-longer the PM so this is not on you. When is Adobe going to get off their collective fat ass and fix it?
  • YES! I’m a user of InDesign since version 1.0, but the typographic UI is still a mess. No structure, no simple reasons why certain features are completely off-topic. Very hard to find for newbies like students (and future art directors).

    Sorry for ranting off-topic.
  • LOL
    Whew. Thanks Thomas. Did you work on GX?
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,030
    Chris & Jürgen: It has been so long that I have kind of given up on Adobe fixing the OpenType UI (which would probably mean building on what Illustrator has done, and propagating that to other features).

    David B: Heh. Nope, never worked on GX. I actually did some consulting for Apple back in 1996-97, but on print-on-demand stuff.

    Regarding GX, I learned quite a lot from what I saw as the failures of GX and Multiple Master in the marketplace, and we at Adobe applied those lessons. Some of them were just structural things way above my pay grade that went down right, like it not being a single-platform technology that one company would be unwilling to license to its competitors (GX).

    But the fact that building a better mousetrap alone does not, in fact, cause the world to beat a path to your door... that was an important lesson from MM in particular. We had to evangelize OpenType internally to product teams to get support into apps, externally to apps and especially font makers to get them to make the fonts.

    I talked to anybody at all relevant who would listen on the product teams. It was not an easy sell—probably because there was already a history of failed new tech in this area. Credit where it is due: hurray for Eric Menninga (InDesign dev) and I think Mordy Golding was the Illustrator PM at the time (unless it was maybe Ted Alspach, who was also font-friendly). Without Eric in particular, for all I can figure we might still be sitting here using just oldstyle figures, small caps and standard ligatures.

    Also, recognition is due Dan Mills and then David Lemon, who immediately got the need for internal and external evangelism and completely backed it. David and Christopher Slye (among others, inside and outside Adobe) also did a lot to promote it as well. By 2005 or so,* the momentum was pretty much in place so it was no longer a question of “will this format become the new standard?”

    Instead we can complain that it is a standard, so why the heck isn’t the UI better? I for one am just happy to be in this luxurious position. :)

    * I also don’t mean to belittle the ongoing work from great Adobe people like Miguel Sousa, Paul Hunt, Steve Ross, and others I am probably forgetting. Just saying that the success of OpenType as a format had been pretty much determined by the time they joined. I could also talk about the more technical work behind the scenes, and the programmers doing amazing things there. But that's another story.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    The type people at Adobe are not now or never have been the problem. Whoever is in charge of individual application development needs to stand up and either explain himself or take the heat. If it is too tough a job for mere mortals to handle, we will understand ;-)
  • Thomas, I'm sure we have different experiences with the GX OT vortex, but

    "...right, like it not being a single-platform technology that one company would be unwilling to license to its competitors (GX)."

    GX was implemented at the level of the OS, so all Mac developers could access it evenly, and because that is what each OS "should have done..." MS implements it app by app as well as feature by feature, so no one else ( font founder or app developer ) gets leverage, they say themselves. Adobe had and has no interest in other app developers, until purchased... So, whatever Apple lacked on licensing, which itself is an odd excuse, is I think more than provided for otherwise in OT implementations;) Licensing's odd as an excuse because GX layout and vars were implemented as open tables anyone could develop for on any platform. It's not like the working or the interpretation of an f I ligature or the weight axis need to be licensed. Besides which, if OT was so license able, how'd that work out?

    "...building a better mousetrap ... "

    Real Lessons of GX, that nut and bolts are not enough, and human readable feature names must get all the way from founder to user, not so goodly learned. The web will fix it for those who need it, exactly as in this topic — files and files and more font files, juggling in the background to the tug of software strings that make up for what is missing about families, features and sizes.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,706
    edited May 2014
    I made some Multiple Master fonts with Fontographer c.1994 but they wouldn't output properly at my service bureau. End of experiment. So I would have to say one reason that format failed was lack of indie foundry support, if one can call it that, which would have given MM more traction in the marketplace. As soon as FontLab got its Mac version up to speed, I was making OpenType fonts and publishing them.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,030

    > GX was implemented at the level of the OS, so all Mac developers could access it evenly

    Yes, but Apple was (reportedly) unwilling to license it to Microsoft. Hence OpenType, and why no developer of cross-platform apps such as Adobe or Quark made GX apps. Despite how cool the technology is.

    > Adobe had and has no interest in other app developers, until purchased...


    Now, I will first say that any organization as big as Adobe has multiple arms, and they act somewhat independently on (relatively) minor things. But I personally reached out to the QuarkXPress product manager on behalf of Adobe, about OpenType support, back in the very early 2000s, as I recall. They weren't ready at the time, but I was clear that we would be happy to offer info, support, test fonts, whatever.

    I later had a lengthy chat (like 20-30 minutes) about it with one of their top executives (Schiavone? White's predecessor? I am forgetting now) at a reception at... hmm, I think MacWorld in January 2005 or 2006. At that point I was pushing them on both OpenType and Unicode, and he told me exactly how many people they had working on converting the app to Unicode, which was a huge development effort, and doubtless part of why they had not embraced OpenType earlier. They basically had to completely overhaul their entire text model from the ground up. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I want to say that he said they had 20 developers specifically tasked with different parts of that effort.

    At that time, Quark was one of Adobe's biggest enemies corporately. But I had the full backing of at least my immediate level or two of management in having these discussions. I was offering to support Quark with technical information and advice.

    > Besides which, if OT was so license able, how'd that work out?

    Slowly but well. System level support on Mac, and WIndows (and even many flavors of Linux, no?) for most everything. Complex script OT support moving slowly over time on Mac, but you've got OT Arabic and Indic support at least now.

    Of course some years back, OpenType became the basis for the Open Font Format and a real open standard, and a lot of OpenType dev is actually coming from that side of things now.

    > Licensing's odd as an excuse because GX layout and vars were implemented as open tables anyone could develop for on any platform.

    You could develop fonts for them on any platform (if you had tools, which in fact were Mac only). But you could not deploy apps using them. Therefore the major app developers never went that way, and without app support most font creators saw little point.

    There were actually other issues for app developers, such as giving up control of line layout, another mistake not made by OpenType.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,030
    Apologies to Jasper for hijacking his thread.


    > So I would have to say one reason that format [multiple masters] failed was lack of indie foundry support, if one can call it that,

    Absolutely. That's one of my points. With OpenType we reached out to other foundries and did everything we reasonably could (staff and time permitting) to help them. If somebody had an output or workflow issue we were all over it. Sometimes it took time, some issues were not easily solved, but there was serious engagement in ways that hadn't happened with MM.


    I think that the product managers just need to feel like there is broad enough interest in a feature, or that it will appeal to more than a very small niche among their users. Clearly that has not happened yet for OpenType features. In all fairness to them, much as I personally care about this stuff, and think it makes the design universe a better place, I don't think they are insane to not make it a higher priority. Wrong? Maybe... but not crazy. From their vantage point it is not nearly as clear as it seems to you and me.

    Now, adding a glyphs panel to Photoshop, *that* is way more obvious to me. But the cost is pretty high, which is doubtless part of why it hasn't happened yet. But the workaround of setting text in Illustrator and pasting it into Photoshop is pretty lousy.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    They sell their collection of applications as a "Suite". You should not have to bailing wire your efforts to get all the applications in a suite to work together.
  • Thomas, maybe "Adobe having no effective interest in helping app developers" would have been more accurate. Sorry. I don't care GX vs OT, never ever did. I only entered that to counter Max wild fantasy. I care type designer, font, typography, user, in whatever the appropriate order is for each project. Your Adobe stridence in a desire to help app developers, always references a lack of top-level adobe support. And you confuse with Unicode talk. Everyone had that bottom up rewrite. Everyone.

    So, regardless of your sometimes heroic acts, 20 years of OT-disappointed users, founders and developers, is the reality. You probably think adobe and MS apps didn't hook up to GX for technical reasons, and that can't be changed. But GX is all still there hooking up to OT just fine. The UI issues, and the font preparation and perpetration issues are only going to go away when all the apps and OS stop trying to be the colossus of nodes, astride the typography of the world. It's over. I mean, we are stuck with some rendering, but the OS, apps, font formats and page description languages, not so much.

    For Jasper, or nearly anyone else, if you are consistent in your sources, your customers will be able to thank you more quickly as you react to their reactions to their feature needs as brought on by the variety of types, apps, OS, pdls and combinations there of.

    Chris "You should not have to bailing wire your efforts to get all the applications in a suite to work together."

    You who? We do. Many of you scream for Victoria. Bailing wire, It's da fewcha o fonts.

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    edited May 2014
    David, The "You" I was referring to above is the professional user of the Adobe Suite. A graphic designer or layout person who makes a living using the suite should not have to learn a different set of typesetting procedures to use each application in the suite. In the case of Photoshop, you have to leave the program to do it at all.
  • George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 568
    Hopefully the Creative Suite apps are sophisticated enough to correct the spelling of "baling wire". Some users seem to have lost that capability.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    Sorry for my spelling deficiency, George. Gillty as charged ;-)
  • George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 568
    Got it; sentence deferred. Need to polish the gilt, though.

    Now if we had an app to work on David's Brooklyn-ese. :-)
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,342
    George, you may need to swap your language tag from Brooklyn for Boston to get David's accent though ;-)
  • Sorry, I should explain, bailing wire is what you use to get water out of a boat, if you have lots of time.
  • George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 568
    Thanks for that info Chris. I think it was the "da" in "da fewcha" that made me think of Brooklyn.

    My apologies, David, for that slight. I should have realized you lived in a better neighborhood.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,030
    I'll just register that I still take David’s revised summary as incorrect, based on the facts. I was allowed and encouraged by Adobe management to reach out to Quark. Adobe evangelized OpenType in all sorts of ways in all kinds of venues, to app developers as well as foundries and end users, anybody who seemed relevant. I did a demo and talk at Adobe MAX that was in part aimed at getting developers excited about OpenType.

    But I think I have made my points, so I will shut up now.
  • Marc OxborrowMarc Oxborrow Posts: 180
    I'm not sure I followed any of the rest of his post, but David's "Colossus of Nodes" was a nifty play on words.
  • Dmitry GoloubDmitry Goloub Posts: 10
    edited May 2014
    How do you think, is it worth trying to convince Scribus developers to bring OT support? Convincing FLOSS developers should be easier than Adobe. If you forget about Scribus' ugly UI, It’s an open-source desktop publishing app with some big potential, I suppose.
    BTW, most browsers already support most opentype features throughout font-feature-settings: "xxxx"; css tag (some still with vendor prefixes, but anyway). I don’t believe that it is very difficult to bring up such support.
  • George ThomasGeorge Thomas Posts: 568
    Once the Colossus of Nodes becomes an annual award, much like the Oscars, the very first statuette must go to David Berlow for coining the name. I can just see the limousines, red carpet and celebrity type designers arriving for the big show.

    So we have the name, now if someone will just design the statuette, that will be a good start. Next we need categories because we need more than one winner, right?
  • 'I'll just register that I still take David’s revised summary as incorrect, based on the facts."

    The facts? The fact is you say "I" a lot without appreciating what that actually means in the greater scheme of platform development. I believe you did all these things. But I also know the threat of GX then, (a common page description language, graphics environment and text foundation for app developers), was the same as the threat of the web now. And the reactions of those with entrenched investments in proprietary technologies, has changed little. What's new, and changed things for the entrenched, is google, mozilla, 10's of millions of htmlophiles, and Jasper, e.g. :)

    "Once the Colossus of Nodes becomes an annual award, much like the Oscars..."

    I'd like to win a "Nodie" some day. ;)
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