An Event Apart: Upping Your Type Game

by August 6, 2012

In her presentation at An Event Apart in Washington DC 2012 Jessica Hische talked about the impact of lettering and typographic history on Web type today. She also shared some practical tips for working with type online. Here's my notes from her talk on Upping Your Type Game:

  • Be a specialist professionally but a generalist in life. To be a really good tour guide, you need to remember what’s it like to be new to something. So you can put yourself in other people’s shoes.
  • Don’t put things in your portfolio that you don’t want to do. Instead do side projects if you need to. You want to show people the kind of work you want to be doing.


  • Lettering is illustration of words. Lettering is drawing and calligraphy is writing. Calligraphers practices to write quickly in a variety of styles.
  • Script typefaces tend not to come in multiple faces because they are so limited use. A letterer can fill in the blanks in a script typeface, adjust it to fit better, or recreate parts of it.
  • There are only a few tools for making fonts. FontLab is what everyone uses but complains about. Glyphs is a new tool gaining popularity.
  • Spacing letters in a script font, requires redrawing, you can’t just add more padding.
  • Optical sizing means creating different faces for different display sizes to make them more legible.
  • Don’t ever set your kerning to zero. This overwrites the kerning the designer set. Use auto or metrics instead.


  • It’s really important to understand the history of your craft. If you understand how things were made in the past, you know why they are the way they are today.
  • Historical processes inform modern processes in a big way. Lots of terminology has remained from earlier systems.
  • Movable type allowed people to set fonts, adjust spacing between them, and even do kerning. This process was really time-intensive.
  • Linotype was the next major innovation in type, which cast lines of type instead of individual letters that had to be handset. This changed the publishing industry as newspapers could have morning and evening editions.
  • Photo-type setting used sheets to set type and no longer used hot lead. This was the last major innovation before the computer for setting fonts.
  • Traditional type forms have stuck around because they “feel right” Doing things differently is possible but might not align well with expectations.

Practical Guidelines

  • Look to your content to make decisions about your font faces. Using a favorite font can be dangerous as it limits your design styles.
  • What content is most prevalent on your site? Headlines or body copy? Choose the typeface first that will appear most frequently on your site and satisfies the needs of that content.
  • Text type: look for higher x-heights, lower contrast (between thick-thin relationships), excellent spacing (don’t rely too heavily on kerning), number of weights/optical sizes, a true italic font (not a lazy sloped roman), real small caps (css font-variants will create fake ones otherwise).
  • Font weights allow you to manage font “color” across different display surfaces.
  • What feeling does the content communicate? A different face can communicate different emotions.
  • How experimental can you be with new technology? Opentype support is poor but we can use it anyways to encourage Web browsers to embrace new features.
  • Pair typefaces with similar DNA. Siblings, cousins, or distant relatives (for fonts) work well together. The more different typefaces are, the harder it is to match them well.
  • If you are using more than three typefaces on your Web site, you’re either an expert typographer, or making a Geocities page.
  • Which Webfont services are most favorable to type designers? Font designers work for a long time on fonts (years), they need to be supported.