Everyday Type

Everyday Type

Why I Chose Typekit

April 1, 2011

Average reading time: 6 minutes

Typekit plus Everyday Type equals Love

We’re a little over a year beyond the huge realization that we can finally use real fonts on the web in a viable, sustainable, and affordable way. Type delivery services have started cropping up all over the place, and we’ve seen that there are so many ways to add new and exciting typography into our designs. Over the past 15 months or so, I’ve been experimenting with a number of the services over this time, looking at their offerings, fonts, and philosophies.

As a designer and a blogger about type, I took my type delivery service selection seriously. I wanted a service I trusted. I wanted a service I could commit to so that I could get that decision out of the way and go back to what I care about: creating great experiences on the web with solid typographic style.

Ultimately, I chose Typekit. What follows is my list of reasons why. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am in no way associated with Typekit other than as a customer.)

Great Minds

When I first heard about Typekit, one of the first selling points for me was that Jason Santa Maria was behind it. This was a typographic name that I had already come to trust, after seeing his work on his great art directed blog posts. This was a guy that knew type on the web. I was excited to see what he would bring to his role as creative director.

As Typekit unfolded, I began to follow Tim Brown and his extremely insightful blog posts and tweets through his project NiceWebType. Well into the font race, I started to turn more and more to what Tim was saying about font rendering and other type issues to guide my typographic choices. He was bringing up new issues on his blog and through his talk at the Build Conference that struck me as a complete revelation. Through his project Webfont Specimen, Tim continues to serve up great typographic tools for testing type. He has become one of my favorite proponents of type on the web.

Meanwhile, I had caught wind of Zeldman and Dan Benjamin’s Big Web Show. That’s where I first came across the work of Mandy Brown. If you haven’t heard of her already, Mandy writes A Working Library and has likely influenced most of what you’ve been into in the past few months if you’re at all interested in web typography or books thereon. I’m only just now scratching the surface of her work, and I’ve come to really appreciate her approach to type, which I see to be a sort of meta stance: though she clearly loves type itself, her work is primarily directed toward type in the service of the reading experience. I think (and hope) that this is going to be the future of typography, to be honest with you. Not just looking at how fonts look, but how they read.

I could continue for hours about the team at Typekit. Suffice it to say, they’ve got some of the best minds in the business working on this project, and that immediately garnered my trust.

User Experience

Let’s face it: the Typekit website and their product are simple and intuitive. By contrast, Monotype’s product has a five minute video accompanying it. I never really needed to watch a video or read a tutorial about Typekit. It just worked. I knew what to do, I did it, and I reloaded the page. To my delight, there was the type.

Monotype Web Tutorial

A 5-minute video? No thanks!

They’ve continued to develop their product, however. If I remember correctly, one of the tipping points for me was the browser screenshots. It’s useless to use a font that looks great on Safari for OS X if it gets mangled on Firefox 3 for Windows XP. Typekit’s extensive screenshots for every major browser and OS pairing, however, save me time in browser testing and let me know what to be prepared for so that when I publish my kits, there are no surprises.

Typekit's browser sample screenshot

Typekit's extremely helpful browser screenshots

The advanced specimens, excellent type tester, and the ability to browse fonts by tag, category, and foundry have been immensely helpful for me in the quest for the perfect typeface.

I just haven’t found this constellation of features on a great number of the other type delivery services. I’ve been less than impressed by Monotype’s service. How can you sell me on a type service when I don’t trust your typographic or design choices?

Webfonts.fonts.com UI

Monotype's UI. Yuck!

I will say, however, that Webtype and FontDeck have a pretty simple interface, and FontDeck especially has a beautiful site and a relatively simple process for getting set up.

Fontdeck user interface

Fontdeck.com. That's better.

Availability

One important advancement that I hope is coming in the type community is the realization that FontFont and Adobe aren’t the only foundries that design type. There are so many boutique foundries, and even individuals, that are making great fonts every day. Typekit exposed me to great new type by upcoming designers that makes me extremely hopeful for the future of type design.

Though they don’t boast the greatest number of fonts available, their selection of foundries is fantastic and is clearly the hand picked selection of people very active in the type community. Monotype is great if you want to use the same stale fonts designers have been using since the linotype days, but Typekit’s selection is really reinvigorating the type community. We’re going to start seeing some great new fonts on the web, and Typekit is a big part of the reason why.

Simplicity

Typekit runs on two lines of JavaScript placed in the head. I thought this was an excellent model when I first came across it, and I’m still amazed that this works.

I realize that some people may see this as the fatal flaw. What about users who have JavaScript turned off? In this case, FontDeck, for example, serves up their fonts via CSS, which can admittedly be more available than JavaScript for some developers. Typekit has taken the time to give tutorials on fallback fonts and CSS, but for some developers, this may be a dealbreaker. For me, however, most of the sites I develop are destined for a small, savvy user base. Because of this, I have the privilege to work with some great new technologies and to be, for example, relatively certain that a vast majority of the browsers of my users will support many CSS3 properties and selectors and HTML5 tags. I don’t immediately see myself developing many large scale projects that need to support a JS-less situation. So Typekit’s JavaScript solution is perfectly fine and elegant for me.

Price

There have been a great number of debates about whether to pass the cost of fonts onto the customer, just like you would for stock images, or whether you should eat that cost and chalk it up to the price of doing business. Personally, I’ve been using my Typekit account for all my clients, and I’ve been happy. As a freelance designer, I tend to work for small companies, and my sites aren’t particularly geared toward a huge population. For my purposes, then, I find the 500,000 page views per month more than adequate. Granted, I might be tempted to purchase a font and embed it with @font-face if I were to, say, be commissioned to redesign nytimes.com. (Notably, however, nytimes.com uses Typekit.)

If you’re a developer whose sites reach closer to the 1M views per month threshold, Typekit still has a plan for you. If you’re over that, then perhaps you should consider purchasing a @font-face compatible license. But for me, I prefer to stay small, and Typekit suits me fine.

Je ne sais quoi

Fontslive, Fontdeck, Fonts.com, all of these places give me the same feeling as when I called Verizon to cancel my plan, willing to pay the crippling early termination fee. When the customer service representative dutifully asked why, I said simply and matter-of-factly, “The iPhone.” The woman made a valiant effort to do her job and to try to tell me about some of the “excellent smartphones” they had at the time. And you know what? I’m sure some of them were great. But none of them was the iPhone.

I cringed when she mentioned these other options. It was almost embarrassing. Today, a lot of what’s going on on the Windows Mobile or Android platforms is great. But I still feel admittedly self-satisfied when I see these phones, because they don’t exude the undeniable cool that the iPhone does. As a designer, I value that. Apple knows that, and they make sure I know how cool their phones are. And I buy them.

Similarly, Typekit sells to me. They talk to me through their informative blog posts, tweets, and individual projects. When Monotype tries to sell me fonts, it feels like a guy with a toupée selling haircuts. Typekit, on the other hand, feels like a well dressed gentleman trying to sell me a beautiful Italian suit.

Simply put, Typekit has their brand figured out. They have that certain je ne sais quoi. You can’t describe it exactly, but you know it when you see it. Their site, their copy, their whole ethos just feels right. This segues nicely into my next point.

Customer Service

How many times have you had a problem and a customer service team sought you out rather than the other way around? I posted this tweet about a weird rendering bug I found in Firefox when testing Type Together’s Adelle at 42 points with 60 points of lead. (My fonts really go through the ringer before I decide to use them.) Typekit contacted me via a Twitter reply to see if they could work out a solution.

And get this: I met Mandy Brown the other night at Typekit’s party for An Event Apart, I mentioned this weird bug I had with Adelle, and she responded, “Oh yeah, is this the one where the bowl is missing on a letter in Firefox or something?” I was stunned.

Granted, my problem was quite a stumper: one bug on one particular glyph at one particular size on one particular browser-OS combination. But the fact that Mandy had seen this problem tells me that this bug went around the office and a lot of people took a look at it. That gave me the piece of mind that there are some really brilliant people working together to figure out my problem. To have that many people checking out my bug must’ve cost Typekit money, but I’d bet that a lot of them were motivated by a love for type and a genuine curiosity about what could’ve caused that bug.

Firefox rendering bug on Type Together's Adelle Web font

The crazy bug. Note the e's.

In short, these people are really dedicated to customer service.

Progress and Values

Arguably the most compelling aspect of Typekit to me isn’t the browser screenshots. It’s not the large number of fonts, and it’s not the great people involved. It’s what Typekit represents for the typographic community.

After reading Tim Brown’s sublime articles on font rendering, I realized that Typekit had a unique aim among font delivery services. The business models of Monotype Webfonts, Webfonts.com, and FontDeck seem to be to make money by offering designers more choices for fonts on the web. Typekit’s, by contrast, seems to be to make money through making web typography better.

Don’t get me wrong. Making money by making webfonts available is not an inherently bad model. These companies have a product and they sell it. They’re entitled to that. This isn’t about chiding them for trying to make a buck. It’s about how I feel as a customer.

I don’t feel like Monotype is particularly concerned with what I do with the fonts once I have them. After that transaction, our relationship is done. (Except, of course, if I need technical support.) My sense with Typekit, on the other hand, is that I really feel guided about best practices for web typography. It’s a continuing relationship after I press the “Sign Up” button. They seem to want to make sure I have the resources I need in order to use the fonts responsibly once they’re in my kit. And I appreciate that help.

Anecdotally, a great example of this came up in my conversation with Mandy Brown. We were talking about customer service, and she mentioned that a designer had contacted her about the rendering of some display font that was being used as body text. Mandy wasn’t sure how to handle the ticket, so she helped educate the designer by suggesting some alternatives for body text. As an outspoken advocate for reading experience, Mandy didn’t just help this designer, she educated her. (For those of you thinking that Mandy should’ve just let the designer have her choice, the designer was apparently very pleased and grateful for the help and proceeded to ask Mandy for a recommendation for a font for body copy.)

Final Thoughts

I chose Typekit around the first of the year, and I haven’t thought twice since. I can think of a few features I’d like to see, but I’m confident that they’ll come out. Typekit continues to develop, and I feel like I’m in good hands.

Do you love Typekit? Use another service? Sound off in the comments about who you use and why.