automatic spacing correction for locl FRA. Good or bad?

Hello Typedrawers,
I am designing a font family and thinking about adding a OT feature for French only, allowing to substitute in few specific cases the normal space with a thin one, as in French should be.
I’m planning to do it with a ligature-like substitution (sub space guillemetright by space_guillemetright.loclFRA;) inside locl{} language FRA. I could even do it with a contextual kerning, whatever…
It would be particularly useful on the web or software other than Indesign, where it’s a pain to type « thin space ».
My question is not about the technique but if it’s a good idea or not.
I’m discussing with some graphic designers and type designers I know but can’t find a solution. Some of them tell me “NO: you have to leave the work to the typographer”.
However, in real life I see that people don’t know how to type thin spaces or even don’t know they have to + on the web it’s a pain even if you know the rules.
Even for me knowing the rules, it’s a pain to type “thin space” and I’ll appreciate it comes straight with the font.
What do you think about it?


  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,786
    This would make switching between your fonts and other fonts more trouble than it’s worth. Nobody reads the readme.txt file, so users wouldn’t know what’s going on. Especially not the users who didn’t buy or spec the fonts in a document they open years after it was created.

    And it only takes seconds to change /guillemetright /space to /guillemetright /thinspace with find and replace. So you wouldn’t be doing the user a big favor.
  • Sure, it could be useful on the web. But interoperability will be my first concern, too.

    For the thin space, correctors like or automate the correction.

  • Georg SeifertGeorg Seifert Posts: 650
    I don't see why it would be harmful. The same arguments could be used against proper kerning of all punctuation because that is bad in most fonts and thous it will not be interoperable, too.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,095
    What Georg said.  :)

    I don't see how this is an interoperability issue. Yes, this font is spaced differently. Why is that a problem? We expect spacing to change when we change fonts.

    Also, Adobe has been doing different spacing for French for some characters for at least a decade, and while some people have liked it and a few have not liked it, nobody has freaked out about it. It is not that big a deal.
  • Khaled HosnyKhaled Hosny Posts: 284
    Things that “magically” happen is always an issue when the magic is not a standard behavior; people will be surprised by it and there will almost always be some edge cases that the magic is breaking and do not provide away to fix it or there is away but it will break the text with fonts that do not have the same magic. Text that depends on a specific font to display correctly is usually a bad thing unless there are some really strong reasons for it.
  • I don’t think this is the sort of breakage you’re afraid of – if people type the regular space, and the font optimises it, then that’s a bonus. The underlying string is space guillemet, and it will preserve a rough approximation. If people type the correct thinspace themselves, the string will be better, and the font won’t touch it. I’m for this sort of fix, as long as it’s clearly delineated, such as in the locl feature.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,744
    I do a similar thing in the Fraction feature, replacing the space between a number and a following fraction by a thin space. 
  • I’ve done it with French punctuation. Breaks nothing if another font is chosen as mentioned above by Robin. The fonts were used in a few journals where the author was quoting late 18th/early 19th century French authors. So along with the punctuation thing, I also coded in the medial /s rules (insofar as I could/needed to). And it saved a lot of layout time—and peace of mind. Had I used GREP and F/R to deal with the manuscripts, the proof reading for those two issues alone would have driven me to tears. 
  • Keep in mind that on the web Chrome doesn’t treat spaces like other browsers do, and may not apply any substitutions involving space.
  • Khaled HosnyKhaled Hosny Posts: 284
    Is it so? It used to be an issue in Firefox but not anymore, however substitutions involving spaces will prevent it from doing an optimization that speeds up OpenType processing so for longer pages of text and with especially complex OpenType layout feature this can result in significant degradation in text layout speed. I was under the impression that the situation is similar with Chrome nowadays.
  • Hello! thanks for your comments!
    Speaking with Georg, he suggested to simply add a negative kern between space and guillemetleft and so on in French only (using language FRA into a kern feature). It would be easier than a ligature.
    And yes, if an user uses the correct space (thin space) no substitution and no kerning happens.
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