This week, TypeThursday interviewed Louis-Rémi and Yannick of Prototypo.You can read the interview on Medium
One point I found surprising from the interview was Prototypo's expressed interest in working with type designers to make parametric fonts, as seen in the statement:“Prototypo won’t be successful if we can’t get type designers to help us create parametric typefaces inside the application.”
What is everyone's position on this?
Are you for or against designing such typefaces?
I think they simply need more explicit relationships between the various elements of a glyph such that they can change the variables to get their sliders going. e.g. I see glyphs that have a "serifWidth" variable, which must be put in use when you alter the serif's shape. Spacing, xheight etc. are all variables and appear in formulas of a point's position.
But coding the initial typeface is probably harder than anything, this is where the skeleton should take place, as in Fontark, for by simply drawing the centreline/skeleton you actually program the outline's node pairs and there you have a parametric typeface, and not a "fixed" and limiting one, since you can edit the skeleton during all the design process you are almost unlimited and have the most flexible control over the outline eventually, plus a super fast and simple way to draw/build/code the initial typeface.
Fontark of course has beneath all that the SmartX system which enables a controllable and flexible sync of the glyphs, but that's another story.
I tried the free Prototypo demo using the preset 'Grotesque' which has many design problems from the outset, but found that with just the smallest change with a slider distorted the letterforms to a point that was so ugly it seemed that to correct these problems would be more work than my fairly traditional manual process.
This seemed like a very quick dismissal of Prototypo's results, I'd have liked to have seen results that enticed me to dig deeper.
The issue is complex and very interesting (to me at least), I see it in an evolutionary perspective, and evolution is not linear, it has leaps. One of the major changes (not to say advantages because this is a relative term) is the visible real-time modification, which is very different than "executing a command" and waiting to the result, and it has a significant impact on the design process.
Of course it is far from the traditional design process, which is great and will always be great, but, admit it or not, doesn't suits naturally to computer technology. (Drawing by hand and using besier curves has nothing in common for example).
Take Spacing for instance, You work today with classes, that's effective in a way. But i'm a designer in nature, when I see tables with numbers I freak out. With Fontark I simply and intuitively mark the glyphs I want to space (saves them as a group by a click) and tweak it up. It is like piano playing in opposed to filling reports.
So there's the traditional process, digital technology, and in between there's mostly human creativity.
I have tried Prototypo and was disappointed too, the advantages of tweaking a fixed typeface (coded in advance) are minor, and useful in a very narrow span of modifications, provided they're done well, and since you have to code every new typeface, this is just shifting the problem to another part of the process if not creating a new one.
Fontark's approach is very different, and I think it combines better the human-machine ways of work and capabilities, so to say. Prototypo is enlarging the distance between the designer and the typeface (by limiting the control to a set of sliders), Fontark let you deep both of your hands into it, like in an open heart surgery.
Another important and interesting aspect is that both PT and FA are private and independent initiations of designers (in opposed to code developers), with very little to no support at all in our ever growing corporational world, that can evolve and grow up to be really great, but as said, community's help is fundamental to it's success.
* If you think we should move this discussion to another topic, that's fine with me.
Most graphic designers will be happy to simply use a well designed parametric typeface, as it already represents a significant improvement in terms of creation over using an existing font. But they need many distinctive and well designed parametric typefaces to be able to create a font that suits their needs.
So one of the main challenges for projects such as Metapolator, FontArk and Prototypo is to get type designers to create those parametric typefaces. And the easier we make this process, the more typefaces we'll get. The problem is that, "making creation easier" is almost always synonym with "limiting the creative possibilities". This is the case with the skeleton approach, and with Hobby Splines: you give up some control on the resulting outline, but make it way easier to produce coherent shapes and alphabets.
In Prototypo we started using an outline approach but soon had to admit that it didn't scale. This is why we later switched to a hybrid approach where we combine skeletons for stems and outlines for expressive serifs.
Our next challenge is to develop a visual tool to create parametric typefaces. We're getting there, but the KickStarter campaign clearly wasn't sufficient to cover the development of such a tool ; )
@Bahman Eslami Then we can agree that Prototypo is not intended for you We've long accepted we cannot please everyone.
Parametrize the teriary glyphs first — make parametrized mathematical operators, technical symbols, maybe combining diacritics, and the rest of the bulk of the Unicode long tail. Let people use these.
For a-z, you still want a real designer. It’s like with music: many musicians will happily employ synth drums and bass, but they want to play their guitar solo themselves.
In Fontark we have an excellent visual tool to create the initial typeface, the designer draws the skeleton and FA's engine extracts a workable outline of pairs of nodes of it in real time (we put a lot of efforts in developing this engine, not trivial at all with besier curves, and we still have a lot of work to perfect it) and caps which can vary and wear serifs etc', the skeleton is editable all the way up to the end of the design process, plus you draw the skeleton over what we call the Matrix, and SX system, which is a sophisticated grid of anchors, that syncs the skeletons across the typeface, all very simple and intuitive, but quite a challenge to market.
Basically, FA is not designed for amateurs, it is aimed and built for design work, as professional prototyping and for skilled graphic designers that can create typefaces if they have time/the right tool for it.
We also plan a templates market and fonts market, but all of these demands a lot of resources.
@Adam Twardoch ; I think that practice will show that Unicode have many short tails instead of one long one, and you'll need a designer for each one.
I don't need any parametric help drawing the Latin alphabet. There are very few situations in alphabet design where parametric tools would improve the process, other than keeping sidebearings consistent. I've seen a lot of parametric tools and they all seem to focus on modifying the alphabet. Interesting for you; useless for me. Defining and adjusting the bowls and humps (like bh) wouldn't save me time. Bowls are reused 3 times at the most (bpþ,dq) Humps (nhηm) Not worth the trouble of setting up. Maybe nice for doing obliques? It's really not important to me.
The ability to adjust the x-height, ascenders and descenders is useless to me. When I make an ultra-light from heavy or vice versa, I adjust the x-height by scaling the lowercase vertically. This messes up the ascenders and descenders which takes me about 4 minutes to fix, maybe a couple more minutes if there's Greek. The distortion in the stem thickness when scaling doesn't matter because I only scale x-height when I'm designing a different weight. If I'm scaling my boldest weight to use as a template to create my lightest weight, the change in stroke thickness is of no concern. I just can't imagine any other reason for adjusting the x-height. The ability to adjust the height of diacriticals after they've been applied would be a time saver. For example, if I change the x-height for a lighter weight, I need the lowercase diacritics to shift vertically while leaving the capital diacritics alone.
Smart sidebearings would be helpful. Right now, at least in FontLab, you have to copy/paste, memorize or scribble on scraps of paper. Sometimes I want to tweak a letter after I've filled out the diacriticals. It's especially painful after generating 80 instances but I've done it. One time, it took me 2 solid days to adjust the sidebearing on one letter because I noticed it after generating instances/cleanup.
Here are some examples of characters that would benefit from automation. Currently, I make these using disposable component glyphs which, after interpolation, are decomposed. Then the welding begins. Removing overlaps, building connections, checking sidebearings. It's especially messy for italics. These characters alone can add 2-3 days of work to a large family.
Flippies: my own term. These are glyphs made with components which use 180° rotations (xy scale -100%) )}]>≥›¿¡әҺһƎ At the end of production, these are decomposed. During production, they're annoying because they move in the opposite direction of parental sidebearing shifts. They're not just used for the sake of laziness. When you're interpolating something like ?, you want the ¿ to interpolate identically.
Glyphs made of components which are really parents. If I make ƠơƯư using OoUu ̛ , I can't use them as parents for ỚớỜờỞởỠỡỢợỨứỪừỬửỮữỰự. I don't know if there's a parametric solution for that one but it's sure is a drag.
Serif assistance seems pointless to me. Serifs are not just caps, stuck on the ends of lines. They're the letter itself. I don't understand how adjusting serif parameters would be useful. If you need different serifs, you need a whole new font. If I make a Clarendon serif and change it to a slab, I need to rethink my K, my O, ball terminals, the g...basically make a new font. It's exciting for stage presentations to get the audience cheering but not something a type designer would have a use for.
To make things clearer I will divide the type design process to 3 stages as follows...
Stage A - The DNA, the design work, The A-Z art.
Stage B - Tuning. Mainly dealing with proportions - Thickness, contrast, relations, spacing, slant, etc'.
Stage C - The tail. The extraction, compositing, welding, OT features, etc'. (And there should be a D stage for pure technical issues such as naming, hinting, etc' but these are out of this disscussion).
You say that there's no problem with stage A with traditional tools, B is practically part of A, and C is the pain in the ass (hope this word is aloud here).
Prototypo (at the moment at least) is focused on stage B.
In my opinion A and C are related and dependant, the method you perform A is influencing, limiting and binding C (and One big reason why all the C problems hasn't yet been dealt with efficiently), and I say that there's a lot to improve in A tools and methods (crazy guy), improvements that makes (B and) C much easier to deal with, but I'll start a new discussion for that later on.