“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old”
It has been only six months from the official announcement of OpenType 1.8 at ATypI Warsaw, and the topic of the Variable font format (VAR) was the undisputed star of this year’s Monotype-hosted font technology conference. Compared to technical conferences of previous years, the number of attendees was dramatically increased, demonstrating widespread excitement for this new technology from individual type designers to large tech and software corporations.
Wide variety was also evident in the list of the speakers: from playful Underware and how they experiment with interfaces of Variable fonts, to techie Werner Lemberg and how he dealt with the auto-hinting of Noto Sans.
The characteristics of the new Variable font format have the possibility to shake the foundations of typography — something apparent in all talks. Designers and developers are questioning old assumptions and already asking for more.
Liron Lavi Turkenich’s talk was the first to question the boldness of a design and explain how cultural background can influence what we consider to be bold. She used Variable Hebrew fonts to pose this question directly to the audience and showed that Variable fonts can be used as an educational tool.
John Hudson talked about the stylistic variants that are necessary in the support of complex scripts and mathematics, and proposed that VAR fonts can offer a compact file size and flexibility on the design that we didn’t have before. Marianna Paszkowska’s presentation was about the possibilities that Variable fonts open for more artistic typographic experiments.
We could summarise the interest in Variable fonts in the following way:
_ Development tools and implementation of the VAR specification
_ Foundries and industry
_UI and bringing it to the world
part 3, ui for the normal folk
Laurence Penney presented the AxisPraxis 2 beta that can now store and share specimens, apart from various typographic controls that have been added. For the time being it’s the only Web service that someone can use to test, present, and share specimens of variable fonts. He also showed a Web service for making instances on the fly for non-variable browsers.
Roel Nieskens talked about his experiments with colour variable fonts. And exploding emoji.
There were also two round-table discussions:
_ The market for Variable fonts
_ Liberating Digital Type from the Metal Rectangle, with the main subject being experimental approaches on spacing and kerning issues
Of the many memorable moments of these discussions, David Berlow discussed the opportunities that come along with VAR fonts, from responsive design to publications. He also invited type designers to reconsider the fact that, with variable fonts, we don’t just sell fonts any longer, but typographic solutions.
Matthew Rechs of Adobe talked about the need to rethink how to move forward with the variable format, especially at Typekit.