Everyday Type

Everyday Type

H&FJ Webfonts Imminent?

March 17, 2011

Archer Specimen Screenshot

Archer Specimen Screenshot on typography.com

In my opinion, the H&FJ typefoundry makes some of the best fonts available today. Their fonts can be seen in logos or identities from the Obama campaign to Wells Fargo. In my mind, these typefaces have always been synonymous with print. But do Hoefler and Frère-Jones have something up their sleeve? Let’s take a look at the evidence. I think I’ve even settled on details and a date for the release.

Twitter Feed

I’ve gone to the incredibly nerdy length of going back through hundreds of tweets from H&FJ’s Twitter feed since the beginning of the year. And I’ve dug up some interesting gems. Let’s go from most veiled to most explicit.

HTML5 Logo

H&FJ's HTML5 Logo tweet

H&FJ's HTML5 Logo tweet

These were interesting choices of typefaces for the HTML5 logo. Though they’re great faces, I don’t typically associate them with HTML5. Or CSS3. Why? Because their licenses don’t allow for @font-face embedding. (More on this later.) If it were me, I might’ve chosen something like Droid Serif and Sans. They’re not as beautiful, sure, but think about it. They were two of the first faces available on the Google Webfonts API and they’re designed for the Android platform (and mobile is the way a great deal of development is going).

Obviously, the designers of the HTML5 logo likely don’t know anything we don’t. Something like the release of H&FJ webfonts would be top-secret.

But maybe they have good foresight…

New Things in 2011

2011 Promises Lots of New Things on Typography Dot Com

What sorts of new things?

I mean, what else could this be referring to? New font releases from H&FJ are always exciting, but they’re clearly talking about something big they’re rolling out here. Note also that they don’t say that “2011 promises lots of new things for H&FJ,” but rather for typography.com, the website.

Speculation 1: H&FJ webfonts will be available through typography.com, not a type delivery service.

This suggests that rather than making their fonts available through a font delivery service like Typekit, the folks at H&FJ are cooking up a little something of their own. What could this look like?

Well, let’s look at another tweet:

Tweet about H&FJ's own web type service

Are H&FJ creating a proprietary type-delivery service?

This was apparently overheard at SXSW, where H&FJ was present supporting the Interactive Awards. Why is this important? Notice that 48 people retweeted it. One of them was none other than H&FJ.

It can’t really get more explicit than that.

It has been said that 2010 was the year of the webfonts. Why is it nearing the end of Q1 2011 and we’ve heard nothing but implicit references to an H&FJ type service? Simple.

In response to the typography.com FAQ “Can I use your fonts through @font-face or a webfont hosting service?”, H&FJ had this to say:

Not yet, but very soon. Right now we’re working to ensure that each of our thousands of typefaces looks as good on screen as it does in print, and can be delivered with the kind of reliability that both designers and their clients have come to expect from H&FJ.
One more piece of evidence will bring us to a second speculation. Consider this recent tweet:

H&FJ's response to a user mentioning they'd pay top dollar for webfonts

H&FJ's response to a user mentioning they'd pay top dollar for webfonts

So what does this tell us? Consider just buying hand-hinted webfonts with direct licenses that weren’t restrictive. Especially for a broad family like Gotham, for instance, this would cost a fortune. They can’t have that in mind if they’re reportedly hoping to “avoid top $”.

What is the alternative? A graduated rate. This would be the only way to make their type affordable. My guess is that they will likely use the webtype.com model, where you can license a font for a year based on pageviews.

Speculation 2: Hand-hinted web-only versions of their fonts available for license monthly based on pageviews.

It’s pretty obvious they didn’t want or need to be first to the market. They’ve been slowly biding their time, likely hand-hinting fonts and making sure they’re up to their own standards. Otherwise, we’d have a situation like we do with so many fonts on the web. How many times have you read that X font is available on Typekit, then ran to the web to test it and found out that, because it was designed for web, it looks completely unacceptable on anything but OS X Safari? If I had a nickel…

In any case, H&FJ basically confirms this assumption with this tweet:

H&FJ's explanation for the wait on webfonts

H&FJ's explanation for the wait on webfonts

Why the wait indeed? Because hand-hinting is painstaking and takes time to do well, even for some of the best minds in the industry.

Current Market

Getting involved in the webfont market for a typefoundry is, at this point, a no-brainer. If the multitude of type delivery services is any indication, webfonts are huge, and people are paying for them. If you make fonts, people want them on the web. Period.

Interlink Conference

This June, the lovely Pacific Northwest city of Vancouver, BC brings us Interlink, a web conference. Who’s sponsoring? Well, Opera Software, makers of the browser of the same name. Also, MailChimp, the excellent email marketing company. Oh, and there’s FontSpring, distributors of fonts for @font-face embedding. Yeah, these all make sense. As you’ve probably already figured out, H&FJ is sponsoring.

Why is this significant? Well, if we ignore all of the previous speculation, it doesn’t really make sense. Before I restate my argument that they’re known primarily for print type, let me acknowledge that you do indeed see H&FJ fonts on the web. However, currently, you only have two options: making them an image, which is terrible for SEO, or using sIFR font replacement, both of which are quite inelegant solutions considering the number of fonts available for direct @font-face licensing or, say, Typekit’s two lines of javascript.

But why might it make sense? Well, I’d say for 2 reasons, starting with the least exciting.

  1. H&FJ’s own Meagan Fisher (of Owltastic fame) is presenting. This is pretty big news. If you’ve never read anything by Meagan, I recommend her excellent article on making your mockup in markup. She’s an extremely gifted designer and coder and has worked with some of the best minds in the industry.
  2. H&FJ will likely roll out their type delivery service at the Interlink Conference. Think about it. It makes perfect sense. They’ve been telling us to be patient for a great while, and now it seems like at least once a week, there’s some sort of veiled reference to it, which suggests the date is getting closer. I know they’re not Apple and wouldn’t have just placed Meagan Fisher up on stage to demo their new product—she’ll have a ton of great things to say and present by her own merit—but this summer in beautiful British Columbia at a sold out web conference with everyone’s attention on you? Under what circumstances could you better roll out a service? They know that it’s going to be huge, and it’s going to really change the industry. Why roll it out via a tweet saying, “Oh, BTW, we have webfonts if you’re interested…” at 10am some random Tuesday morning? Why not do it with a bang?

The Verdict

I’m not much of a fan of March Madness, so I’ll take an office pool of when H&FJ are going to roll out their type delivery system. So here are my predictions of details:
  • Date: Thursday morning, June 2, 2011. This will give the internet time to go crazy before Meagan Fisher gets up there, and give her some time to make use of their fonts for her demo on mastering CSS 3.
  • Venue: The announcement will come at noon EST, which will be 9am PST, likely via a tweet, which will link to their blog with the details.
  • Specifics: Beginning late Q3 2011 (come on, give them time to really make sure the service is bulletproof!), users will be able to subscribe to a proprietary type delivery service via typography.com which will likely bundle web-only licenses at an affordable price based on pageviews.

What Do You Think?

Is this too obvious? Do you disagree with the date or time? Is the speculation too far reaching? Let’s hear it in the comments.