Google's Roboto font for Android

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SR Neumann's picture
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Google's Roboto font for Android
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I have seen a lot of discussion and critique of this font in the tech press and amongst various geeky circles whose members are not actually trained in typographic forms. I came over to Typophile to see what you guys had said about it... only to find nothing (or at least a search for roboto returned zero results).

So I'm here now asking for thoughts about and critiques of this typeface. Here an article set in Roboto which more or less defends it.
http://boingboing.net/2012/01/02/roboto.html

To me it is unattractive but I'm witholding judgement of it's functionality until I can see it on some of the hi-res mobile device screens for which it was designed.

If there was a discussion already had, would someone be so kind as to point me to it.

Dan Beltechi's picture
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I suspect you read the Typographica post that was linked in the article. There's a lot of discussion in the comments there from folks in the industry.

Theunis de Jong's picture
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I can't read the first paragraph because some idiot code draws an iDevice on top of it. Anything interesting in there?

(Initial thought: well of course it's going to be a compromise between type design and display technique, and clearly slanted towards the latter. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on your view of the use of type: as a thing of beauty in itself, where it adds to and enhances beautifully designed pages, thus making reading a joy; or you want to read on Twitter what your mate just had for lunch.)

Riccardo Sartori's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 - 4:20am
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I can't read the first paragraph [...]. Anything interesting in there?

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
By Glenn Fleishman
Monday, January 2, 2012 • Prefer dark text?

“I can’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Screw the letter B,’” type designer Matthew Carter told me last year when I interviewed him for the Economist, just after he had received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellowship. Carter, arguably the leading living creator and adapter of fonts in the Western world, was talking about the limits of pushing legibility and readability.

I thought of his comment when a recent furor erupted over the new “house” font for Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), called Roboto. Roboto is a bespoke sans-serif font, created by a Google employee and used throughout Android’s user interface (UI) as part of the larger user experience (UX) overhaul. The intent is to make Android more intuitive, cohesive, and fluid, and work better on a variety of screen sizes, especially tablets.

Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson's picture
Joined: 19 Nov 2010 - 11:15am
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'S funny... I did a few simple lo-res tests (render to PNG, then view) last night. Looks to me that Roboto is drawn for display with print getting The Finger, and I suspect that is the root of the diss-o-rama.

Simon Daniels's picture
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>until I can see it on some of the hi-res mobile device screens for which it was designed

>The intent is to make Android more intuitive, cohesive, and fluid, and work better on a variety of screen sizes, especially tablets.

I think there's a bit of a contradiction here. A font "designed" for high-res, but part of an OS that will work on anything from 50 DPI TV's down to 300+ DPI phones?

Nick Shinn's picture
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I can’t fault the designer, who was no doubt working to brief, and has done a lovely job of styling and fitting. Aesthetics and technics.

It’s nonetheless a generic face, not an original design.

Perhaps that is appropriate for devices “powered” by (largely) open source software developed by the hive mind.
As close as one can get to aggregated/multi-designer generation without losing readability, within the constraints of type design, which has so far proved to be best crafted by one or two hands.

It would have been interesting if the powers that be at Google had requested something with more currency and personality, along the lines of Andes or Pluto, but that would not have fitted the android metaphor.

Replicants however, as envisioned by Ridley Scott, had just as much character as the humans who created them.

**

Ascenders taller than capitals is a nice typographic touch, and a departure from the classic grotesque model.

Brian Jongseong Park's picture
Joined: 15 Mar 2006 - 12:53pm
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I read the linked article on an Android tablet, and I thought Roboto looked just fine in that setting. So it does what it sets out to do. I like its narrowness and long ascenders.

But I share in some of the gripes about the design. I have no problem with genericness or lack of character, nor do I get worked up about perceived borrowing from other designs per se. But what I saw as the main criticism in the Typographica post (which many casual readers seem to have understood as plagiarism), or at least my main criticism, is that Roboto combines features from various sans genres in a jarring manner.

I've read Christian Robertson's rationale for making the lowercase 'e' more open than the lowercase 'a', and I understand it at an intellectual level. But when I remain unconvinced when I actually look at such a closed 'a' next to the open 'e'. These two letters are crucial to defining the feel of a text face, and for me the open 'e' sets a tone that is subtly contradicted by the closed 'a'. The effect is less pronounced at certain sizes, but at others it's enough to be distracting.

The single glyph that bothers me the most (maybe because it appears in the name of the typeface) is the distinctly Helvetica uppercase 'R'. It just doesn't seem to go with the other letters. Well, maybe it won't bother me so much when I get used to it.

Simon Daniels's picture
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>Replicants however, as envisioned by Ridley Scott, had just as much character as the humans who created them.

But didn't they have much shorter life spans? Or was that the electric sheep?

Si

Richard Fink's picture
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Yes, shorter life spans. Enabling Rutger Hauer to kick the bucket just in time to save Harrison Ford's life. Deus Ex Machina CAN work uncorny - as long as you prep for it.

And talk about short life spans - the Electric Sheep had one hit in the sixties, that was it. I heard the lead singer owns a deli in Brighton Beach.

As for Roboto - the question ain't how it looks, it's how it fits.

@jongseong
Seriously - were you able to read the fracking letters ok? Did the meaning of what you were reading make it through to your brain? Jeez, you'd think this was a matter of life and death.

Craig Eliason's picture
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Seriously - were you able to read the fracking letters ok? Did the meaning of what you were reading make it through to your brain? Jeez, you'd think this was a matter of life and death.

Richard, are you trolling? At a forum devoted to type, are you really surprised to read that someone takes design concerns (beyond the low bar of legibility) seriously?

Nick Shinn's picture
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Richard, this is the friggin’ Typophile thread, OK?
You may not be able to see the subtleties, but that doesn't mean they aren’t there, or that they have no significance. They are important to professionals, which is how things are in most disciplines.

Brian Jongseong Park's picture
Joined: 15 Mar 2006 - 12:53pm
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Well, the original poster did ask for thoughts and critiques, so I wanted to go a bit beyond "I can read the letters just fine."

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> were you able to read the fracking letters ok?

I assume you're using NotCaslon for the text of your book.

Concerning Roboto: I'm personally not so negative about it.
And I think some people who are have a conflicting agenda
or an emotional dependency on a certain Google rival.

hhp

John Hudson's picture
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Speaking as someone with neither a conflicting agenda nor an emotional dependency on a certain Google rival -- indeed, speaking as the pleased owner of a Google 'super phone' -- I think the Roboto font is a mess of contradictory idioms and nothing like as good as the Droid fonts. That said, most of the contradictions do not draw attention at the size the type appears in the UI, and it is only when c and e appear next to each other that part of my mind thinks WTF?

Richard Fink's picture
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Me:"Seriously - were you able to read the fracking letters ok? Did the meaning of what you were reading make it through to your brain? Jeez, you'd think this was a matter of life and death."

Hey, I was certainly expecting some sh-t for this comment. Ain't clueless about attitudes here at T-phile, y'know.
Just checking, checking for pulses. It's been kind of quiet here lately.

Yes, of course, it's a matter of life and death.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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There's an entire universe between irrelevant and life & death.

hhp

Patrick Lee's picture
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I thought Droid, like the Ubuntu family, had a bit too much character for its own good. To me, it was another example of how the open source community often seems to think design is the act of making things as flashy as the guys with the money do. Remember when all the Linux people were excited about rotating cube desktops and windows burning to ashes when you hit the close button?

After that, I love how damned sensible Roboto is. I’ve been using Ice Cream Sandwich for about a month and a half now, and I never thought I’d be so comfortable reading for long periods of time on a phone.

I’ve seen some of those examples of it looking funny when you take two geometrically incongruent characters and put them next to each other at 72 points. It reminds me of when I was a teenager and, for the first time, I looked, really looked, at the capital R in Arial. That was when I began my Arial-hating phase that everyone seems to go through when they’re young and naïve; I still see people online all the time goin’ all “Look at that capital R. Just look at it!”

Of course, that’s completely irrelevant to how we read text in the real world, especially on a screen. I wouldn’t put a headline in Roboto, but I’d much rather read a novel in it than in Segoe or Helvetica.

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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Certainly letterform divergence rarely gets due credit.

hhp

Jens Kutílek's picture
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Now that apparently the worst technical bugs in Roboto have been fixed, I'd like to ask the proponents of the »Release early, release often« line of thought where the updated versions are to be found. All sources that you can find via Google search point to the buggy versions from last October (FontSquirrel, various blog entries &c.)

(Yes, I know how to download the Java Runtime, then download the Android SDK, then update the Android SDK, then to figure out and work around unclear Windows error messages, then eventually manage to install the Android 4 platform package in the Android SDK and find a bunch of fonts in some subdirectory.)

Christian's picture
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You can get the most recent cut here: http://developer.android.com/design/style/typography.html

Simon Daniels's picture
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Is there a place to log bugs? l-dot in the black seemed a bit "unusual".

Si

Richard Fink's picture
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Release prematurely and then confuse the hell out of everybody.
It works!

And I still dig GWF's idea of hinting:

And I especially like the globbed crossbar effect, here:

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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But Richard, you can still read it, right?... ;-)

hhp

Richard Fink's picture
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Just to be clear, the screenshots in my previous post are whatever font is being used at developer.android.com site. In Windows. On browsers using GDI. Which is just about everybody except IE9.

Another thing I don't get: Android is a mobile platform. Bandwidth is a concern.
Roboto-Medium is 157 kb.
Wow.

In fairness, it's got a pretty extensive character set.

But even still, there are completely useless entries in the name table that takes up bytes, a DSIG (not sure how big), kerning data which is mostly useless due to lack of support in browsers. (Can the Android App API make use of it, I wonder?)
And if you ask me, the small caps are better off spun out as a subsidiary font of their own. A more practical arrangement considering, once again, the lack of support for advanced OT features.

Once again, the TT hinting is beyond my understanding:

In Windows GDI, as is:

As opposed to this, redone with little effort:

Yes, it's only two lines of caps at 19px, (for brevity), but there are discrepancies like this at EVERY size. (Less so at large sizes, of course.) Take a look in any HTML specimen sheet, by all means.
How does something that looks this shoddy in so many environments get released?

Richard Fink's picture
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hrant, I get your point, man. Give it a rest. You're bringing back the heartburn I got from that restaurant you took me to in LA, so give me a break. (Naw, just joking. It was really good. Liked the dessert place, too.)

We are talking about two completely different KINDS of defects here.

One is the shape of the letterforms - a matter of taste.

The other is the technical botchery of the rendering of those letterforms, well designed, poorly designed, or somewhere in between.

OK?

Simon Daniels's picture
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>How does something that looks this shoddy in so many environments get released?

Agree they could do better re. hinting, but I think it's clear that this is first and foremost a UI font for Android 4.0 "high-res screens". Releasing under an OSS license and GWF availability are really a bonus.

The Droid fonts spoiled us. They were developed and hinted by professionals for Android v.1. I have absolutely no idea why earlier versions of Android running on lower res screens didn't utilize the hinting. Although the reason may rhyme with "grapple combatants" :-)

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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Richard, I really think they're two facets of the same issue.
It's all "technical".

hhp

Richard Fink's picture
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@sii

"this is first and foremost a UI font for Android 4.0 'high-res screens'. Releasing under an OSS license and GWF availability are really a bonus."

I thought of that, too. But by what magic does Roboto look good as a UI font when warts are so clearly visible as a plain-old web font in a browser?
Don't know.
I'll put together a test page and take a peek on my son's Motorola Android phone as well as my Amazon Fire. Plus there's probably an emulator I should have installed and handy, anyway.
(BTW - the Fire's display hasn't garnered much praise in the blogosphere, but I find it excellent, with body text noticeably sharper than on the iPad 2. Perhaps a tad less sharp than the iPhone's Retina display. And for watching HD TV, I can't imagine anything better.)

@hrant
What!!?? I'll come back tomorrow and respond after I've read the entire thread again to see if you've got a leg to stand on.
Nothing like a Sunday afternoon argument. (If warranted.) :-)

Rich

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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Sunday, Wednesday, same diff.

hhp

Simon Daniels's picture
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>And for watching HD TV, I can't imagine anything better.

Perhaps an HD TV?

Richard Fink's picture
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@sii

Well, I suppose it all depends on what you're watching.

@hrant
Wednesday works for me.

Dan Gayle's picture
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"Another thing I don't get: Android is a mobile platform. Bandwidth is a concern. Roboto-Medium is 157 kb. Wow."

Of what concern is the size of a UI font when it comes to bandwidth? You're not downloading it, it's already on the phone. (Unless you're using it as a webfont, but there are much better fonts to choose from if you're going that route, unless you insist on open source fonts, in which case there is no help for you.)

-----

I hate it primarily because the name sounds like something from 2002 Free Fonts.

Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson's picture
Joined: 19 Nov 2010 - 11:15am
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@Dan – Open-source fonts, especially those with an OSI-approved licence, can always be used legally as webfonts.

Dave Crossland's picture
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rich, when you say 'redone with little effort' could you be a little more specific?

Richard Fink's picture
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@Dan Gayle who said:

"Of what concern is the size of a UI font when it comes to bandwidth?"

Well, just because it's being promoted and labeled as a "UI" font, doesn't mean it's a pre-loaded "system" font. I think we've got some semantic confusion here. The way I see it - it's still a web font which, at some point, will download along with an app or a web page. At that point, it might be cached, it might not be, depending.

@abattis
Dave said:>rich, when you say 'redone with little effort' could you be a little more specific?

No.
But I will because you are Dave. But allow me to fall back on my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question: Would you consider processing the font with ttfautohint "little effort"? Last month I processed a font for the monthly issue of Konstellations and that was about all I had to do to get it looking good, cross platform. Right now, that's a rarity with ttfautohint, but once in awhile you can hit the jackpot.

But on the other hand, tonight I was struggling with a font where the height of the numerals fell in between the x-height and the caps line - always a problem for me, at least right now. No easy solution to getting the horizontal alignment right. (Autohinters seem to focus on x-height and caps height and sometimes if you hold your breath, the ascenders come out right.)

But getting back to the numerals: they CAN be done without "cheating" by scaling them up to the caps height. (Which I admit, deadline nearing, I have done.)
But it took about an hour of drudgery for those. The rest of the font processed smoothly. Now, compared to using VTT, I would call two hours or so of work, "little effort".
If we take forty hours as a baseline for manually hinting a 256 character font, getting nearly the same job done - or sometimes done better - in 5% of the time, I consider little effort. And a great value proposition, too. I end up with a font that I can deploy with confidence, knowing it will look good in any browser on any platform with no further ado.

BTW - well-crafted (and THOROUGH!) HTML test pages are essential. Those took considerable effort, and I STILL have a little more work to do on those before I'm 100% satisfied - even though I've been at this for about a year now. A test bed is essential, too, and there's certainly been effort there - in integrating everything - apart from the money spent. You have to have at least one Mac and one Windows box and at least one Android device and I consider the iPad and iPhone essentials, as well.
Loaded up with the major browsers - some past and some present.

Which is why I'm left wondering if there are any nasties lurking in the font hrant got from the FS Generator. Without good test pages, problems hide like cockroaches.

I sincerely hope not, but I'd be curious as to what HTML pages hrant is relying upon for his assessment of "acceptable".

David Berlow's picture
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But ain't Roboto just another near-clone based on the gross metrics and the same bitmaps of a small size(s) of aliased Helvetica/Swiss721/Arial? Look closely.

Me thinks we are just seeing the familiarly readable rehashed by the next generation of developers, (or... "the rich" just keep getting "poorer"?)

Michael Duggan's picture
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the fonts are unhinted, they just come in a folder called Hinted.

Simon Daniels's picture
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Is this true for the web fonts used to render the content on the Android design pages, or just the download package?

Michael Duggan's picture
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both

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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Mike, that reminds me of when I was shopping for a car,
and asked what the "4" in "4×2" meant if the car was not
4-wheel-drive. The lady said it means it has 4 wheels.
I said it's a good thing it's not a "3×2".

hhp

Simon Daniels's picture
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So a motorbike would be a "2×1"?

Hrant H Papazian's picture
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And a street luge would be a "4×0".

hhp

Simon Daniels's picture
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db> Me thinks we are just seeing the familiarly readable rehashed by the next generation of developers,

+1. This theory makes sense - a UI font that's much closer in appearance (and metrics) to how most people view search results.

Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson's picture
Joined: 19 Nov 2010 - 11:15am
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@hrant – Had it been a 3×2, you would have had a Robin Reliant and become the butt of even more jokes.

@Sii – Correct. The formula is number_of_wheels × number_of_powered_wheels. Some manufacturers add a third factor, number_of_steering_wheels. They, of course, are the ones making mongo eckspensif four-wheeled sport cars with all-wheel steering.

Riccardo Sartori's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2009 - 4:20am
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@hrant – Had it been a 3×2
It would've been a DS:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VWiRxHJHNWc

Hrant H Papazian's picture
Joined: 3 May 2000 - 11:00am
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> Robin Reliant

Unless it was front wheel drive... "3×1"!

Now the DS, that thing was way ahead of its time. It even
had headlights that rotated with the steering, so you could
actually see where you're going. And to tortuously somehow
tie this into fonts: the French car design industry was the
one to give us beziers!

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture
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'merkan 3-wheeler:

Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson's picture
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@hrant – Of course I hadta reverse the name… it’s Reliant Robin.

@riccard0 – The only way a DS could be cooler is with a flat six and a CVT tranny.

@Nick – This… is a real-life car?!? Bloody… It makes the Sinclair C5 look cool!

Nick Shinn's picture
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Reynir, that’s Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion.
The prototype crashed (1933) and killed the driver, it never went into production.
Here’s the Robin:

Reynir Heiðberg Stefánsson's picture
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Now I know where the Russian Ryebread (the UAZ 452) got its styling cues from.