Oswald - Google Webfont

vernon adams's picture

I am writing some papers on webfont usage, free software, viral production etc and am deeply interested to get feedback from type folk on my Oswald webfont, which is currently one of the most used webfonts on the planet. E.g. last week the font had 500,000,000 api pulls via the google servers.

So i'm hoping people can throw down here whatever they think about Oswald. Haters and lovers equally welcome. Seriously, please vent if you feel the need to :)

ps the GWF page for Oswald is here http://www.google.com/webfonts/specimen/Oswald

-vernon

Maxim Zhukov's picture

So i'm hoping people can throw down here whatever they think about Oswald. Haters and lovers equally welcome. Seriously, please vent if you feel the need to :)

Vernon, this is confusing… I think you should have called your font ‘Morris’, not ‘Oswald’.

hrant's picture

Is the premise of the paper that quality is a poor predictor of popularity? ;-)

Real quick:
- The narrowness makes it suitable only for display and very short text. In that context, the vertical proportions are decent. However the grid-conscious chunkiness is more attuned to smaller sizes. Basically: narrowness and grid-conscious outlines are rarely rational partners.
- In some sizes the descenders are touching the ascenders of the subsequent line.
- The spacing needs work; look at "oxi" and "brew". If anybody has a budget for respacing it you know who to call. :-)
- The widths of the capitals are too divergent, especially for this style of type.
- The "g" and "s" are out of character.

BTW in the description it says "Updated again in September 2012 based on many users' feedback". Did you show it here? If not, where did you get your feedback?

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

What is there to say?
It’s Alternate Gothic, renamed.

oldnick's picture

FWIW, the name Oswald infringes on an ITC trademark...

vernon adams's picture

Good stuff, thanks.
So i'm resisting responding to anything specific, unless someone demands it directly and convincingly :)
But as an additional question, i'm curious to hear why why type designers think that no-one else had made a font exactly like Oswald before.

hrant's picture

Because even if you clone yourself your environmental circumstances and hence your results will be different?

BTW, not being "demanding" but it would be nice to answer my "where did you get your feedback" question.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

… i'm curious to hear why why type designers think that no-one else had made a font exactly like Oswald before.

I didn’t think (about) that, because the degree of difference is negligible, or imperceptible without a close examination. I haven’t memorized every detail of what Alternate Gothic looks like (despite having licensed it c.1990 and used it for several years), so I am taking your word for it that your revival is quite close to the original, which substantiates my general impression.

Without checking against the original, and after giving your design a closer look, I suspect you have softened it up a bit, making the rounded vertical stems curved, not straight with two tangential extrema, which is how I remember the bold condensed sans faces were made from 1840 on, so it does seem slightly revisionist. But you’re in good company—that’s how recent updates to Univers Condensed have been done. And the three weights, not quite sure how they would fall in relation to the original. Also, I’m guessing your /e’s crossbar is lighter than in the original, and the tail of your /y doesn’t look authentic, I suspect the original would have been perpendicular across the bottom, not an angled kink. And so on.

vernon adams's picture

haha - i was going to answer the feedback question. Other comments i want to resist responding too in case i lead people in their response too much, .e.g i'm not interested in arguing about stuff however tempting ;)
So, the feedback referred to in the fontlog is purely from users, i.e. web designers & theme designers being the people who mainly set web text with the webfont, and will report back on issues or ask for fixes or request more characters etc.

vernon adams's picture

I am taking your word for it that your revival is quite close to the original, which substantiates my general impression

Oswald is not much like Alt Gothic at all. Same way that Steve Madden is not like Givenchy.
The first weight started from public domain scans of alt gothic, ATF 1912. Basic scans, nothing fancy. From there it was a matter of making a functional webfont of that general 'alt gothic' style. There's been a few around before, but never fully 'free licensed' i believe. I never really tried to stay close or purposely deviate from the original specimens, hence a certain indifference crept in (which i like). Also looked at quite a few specimens of other historic, condensed gothics, (the sort of faces that Alt Gothic itself was derived from, no doubt) just to inform a few details. The first version was put out pretty quick, proved popular & got feedback & got some fixes and tweaks. Further weights and version were drawn directly from the original Oswald weight.

hrant's picture

Laymen are always a great source for feedback. But that's only half the puzzle. Unless (and sometimes even if) you're an expert it's important to ask peers; they [are trained to] see things that laymen not only cannot see, but are not even supposed to see.

hhp

vernon adams's picture

FWIW, the name Oswald infringes on an ITC trademark...

Would you care to clarify? or be more specific?... much thanks.

vernon adams's picture

i moved the quote from hrant from here to below, because it's a good one.

It's neither the popularity nor the free/open-source nature of Oswald* that causes "long-term" type designers to see flaws in it. We see flaws in it because there are flaws in it. More to the point: if you were to invest more time into it there would be fewer flaws. Except you don't live in a barrel.

I totally see and accept the flaws, but the remit for a font like Oswald was not to create a flawless font. The remit was very clear; this -
make a highly popular and easy to use webfont, i.e. one which would be used by a lot of web designers to typeset a lot of text on the web, text that previously would have been text-as-a-bitmap-image-file, a.k.a. turn a lot of jpegs and gifs on the web into editable, searchable, copyable , shareable, active text.

Looking at the stats, the adoption of Oswald amongst web designers has been strong, and the stats for it's api pulls show that's it's being read a lot, only Open Sans is being read more as a webfont right now. I think we can also assume from the stats that Oswald's steady rise in adoption by designers meant that there have not been any real world issues with legibility, or other similar issues that would 'turn off' readers.

With the design of Oswald, it's easy to say 'meh' and stuff like "it's Alt Gothic renamed" etc but going down that route leads you away from some very interesting type related stuff, in my opinion. Oswald contains an 'approximation' of a type style, it was built like that purposely because the design process would be quick and i sensed it would result in a popular webfont (i was right on both). I think that 'approximation-ness' may be a too often overlooked aspect of designing fonts. For example, fashion designers use it a lot, and in the right hands it's an art in itself. H&F-Jones do it a lot with type, and to great success, but have smartly branded it more high-end, under 'revival'. But Oswald was not designed for that league; it was created as a straightforward approximation of a clear popular style, plus there should be no licensing issues with it's use, plus it should be easy to get at and use, and also the design does have amounts of it's own personality. It's a no brainer really?

The money thing; The design of Oswald was funded by Google as they were the only people at that time who were interested in funding the ideas behind a type experiment like Oswald. The connection is obvious looking at the question "what sort of fonts would get a lot of web designers using active text in place of bitmapped text?" :) I doubt that any other type-related companies would have funded an experiment like that, seen it's interest, or could have provided the tools to make it happen.

-v

ps if anyone else is funding how to make highly popular webfonts, you know who to call ;)

Nick Shinn's picture

… going down that route leads you away from some very interesting type related stuff …

I’m afraid I don’t find highly derivative or generic designs to be interesting (unless they’re mine).
Rendering issues don’t excite me either, although I do admit that they can occasionally inform type designs in an interesting manner.
Of course, usability is extremely important in the marketplace, but more often than not it is the uninteresting fonts that are most usable and hence popular, because their neutrality and familiarity are easy to work with.

And that is why I don’t consider Oswald to be an experiment.
None of the most popular Google webfonts are experimental, but this is:
http://www.google.com/webfonts/specimen/Snowburst+One

Well done Vernon, you have exploited the Google webfont opportunity and created a “best-seller”, owning the niche of bold condensed gothic web font, in the way that Gotham/Proxima owns its niche. Now you can build on that, perhaps by extending its range to include italics or a single-bowl /a and /g variant. More importantly from a financial perspective, you could monetize this product (if you can resolve the name issue) and produce desktop variants under your own foundry imprint, that may be licensed via commercial font distributors.

Chris Dean's picture

@vernon adams: Can you tell us a bit more about the paper? Is this part of a thesis, undergraduate, graduate, course, publication, promotioon &c? Thus far I understand you want to write about “webfont usage, free software, viral production etc” and you also want feedback on your typeface. What is your angle, or main point you hope to get across in your paper?

dberlow's picture

The bubble is summarized thus:
"...what sort of fonts would get a lot of web designers using active text in place of bitmapped text?" :) I doubt that any other type-related companies would have funded an experiment like that, seen it's interest, or could have provided the tools to make it ..."

None?

vernon adams's picture

Chris, sure,
I write (and read) a lot, it's an old habit from art school, conceptualising and digging into what you do and why you do it. A lot of artists and designers do that, so nothing unusual. Right now i am extending that practise into specifically putting together some 'conference' presentations i would like to give sometime & blog posts. Also the more i get into this area the more i think there's a 'story to tell', especially as people in different areas of design & tech are telling similar stories, but from their separate fields.
Ok, so first off, i didn't really want 'feedback' on the typeface (e.g. "is my 'a' too fat?"), but it's interesting to what i am writing about to understand a little of how designers on a forum such as Typophile view Oswald, and what would they think and say about it, because it reveals something about why other people design type, and what they think type does when it functions out there in the world.
So in terms of subject matter, i am writing about type in a world where there are technological, commercial and social shifts occurring pretty radically, which are effecting artistic and design production, and are effecting the way that digital matter is authored and consumed. Some of the things that are in the thick of all this are; textual information and it's distribution, viral spread of style or behaviour via the internet, intellectual property rights & it's relation to innovation and creation. Type is just one field effected by these shifts, so it's interesting to see how these changes are occurring in say, publishing or fashion design, as well as in type.

vernon adams's picture

None?

dberlow - when you consider the main ingredients;
• interest in more active searchable text on the web
• interest in speeding up the web (text is lower bandwidth than jpgs)
• interest in what best drives adoption & use of web stuff
• server power to host & handle squillions of api calls per week
• tech support and knowledge to make it all happen

Did i miss anyone who better ticks all those boxes? :)

Nick Shinn's picture

Vernon, dberlow is responsible for webtype.com.
He has been at the forefront of implementing new type technology for several decades.
And unlike Google, he has no other fish to fry.

I know you have been a Typophile member for a couple of years, but did you see these?—

http://typophile.com/node/91021
http://www.typophile.com/node/84733
http://www.typographyforlawyers.com/?page_id=3207

dberlow's picture

Thanks Nick, I'm on?

Vernon, Yeah, the a is a bit of a blob.
• interest in more active searchable text on the web
...is practically universal.
• interest in speeding up the web (text is lower bandwidth than jpgs)
...is practically universal.
• interest in what best drives adoption & use of web stuff
...is practically universal.
• server power to host & handle squillions of api calls per week
There are a small of number of these but no one is trying to cut off the spigot yet for paying customers.
• tech support and knowledge to make it all happen
...the first depends on the quality of the fonts and the order of the site from which they are served. google should put more information in and around fonts about their use if the second is to be true.

Can't you name anyone else who ticks all those boxes? There are dozens.

• free for all, forever perhaps.
There. Now you're alone.

Té Rowan's picture

I have this feeling that comparing Webtype and Google is like comparing a Mercruiser 350 and a Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96.

vernon adams's picture

Nick Shinn - errr, yeh, i know who he is :p 2 words - "permissions table" ;)
FB & webtype .com do what they do as a normal private business afaik. Make a thing, make it good, sell the thing. That's great. They make good stuff & to success, but i am only talking about free software models and how they can drive type related stuff, because i think that free software models (or aspects of them) are really interesting models for driving something like 'type use across the internet'. The fact is that free software models can help build creative and innovative platforms on which people can make money. Look at the internet itself - built solidly on free software models and rampant with free software values - it has provided the environment that companies such as webtype.com makes the $$$s (they do make money right?). Look at the mobile smartphone market (definitely making money!!), built around the GPL'd Freetype render engine, and big chunks of the Linux kernel.

dberlow -
so... could you name a few from those dozens you know of? Some of the boxes are universal, some less so, as you point out. But to be on the list they have to tick ALL the boxes, otherwise they don't, erm... 'tick all the boxes' :)

-v

vernon adams's picture

Té Rowan -

Mercruiser 350 and a Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96.

excellent engine analogy

dberlow's picture

I got up to 11 with one link. And this only is in the font sector. Thousands of companies are now self-hosting to achieve all your ticks.

"I am writing some papers on webfont usage, free software, viral production etc and am deeply interested to get feedback from type folk on my Oswald webfont..."

The bottom line is, whatever you write will not likely help people to properly use your font, but I'm willing to read it.

Nick Shinn's picture

The fact is that free software models can help build creative and innovative platforms on which people can make money.

Google webfonts would only be free if Google were a not-for-profit staffed by volunteers.
As it is, Google webfonts are, among other things, a promotion for the Google brand, and a means for it to monitor website usage, which is valuable information for its core business. These are encumbrances.

We’ve been here before, prior to the Internet, with bundled desktop fonts facilitating Microsoft, Adobe, Apple etc. to make profits in their core businesses, while also seeding a font culture that has a commercial sector.

“Free” is the way it is, but despite having profited from it personally I’m not convinced this model is the best way forward. I have a feeling that the way digital culture has developed these past 25 years is in some way complicit with the exploding income gap; but not being an economist or academic, it’s just a feeling.

As an artist, I’m very aware how hard it is to make a living producing creative content as a writer, artist, fashion designer, or musician, now that the means of production and distribution are open to everyone everywhere; and how the humanities are being derogated in academia. Culture has certainly been democratized, but not wealth.

I don’t think fonts are typical of this situation, because they are professional tools rather than consumable products like music, clothes, pictures, films, games or writing. That makes big-picture generalizations about software and the internet a bit suspect, when extrapolating to or from the font sector.

vernon adams's picture

I often forget to say thanks for time and brain power, so first off, thanks for the comments.

dberlow - yes the webfont-server sector is alive and well, but there's no comparison for me there; i suspect that 2+ years ago, only one of those companies could have reached the amount of users that Oswald reaches. I refer you to the Mercruiser 350 and a Wärtsilä-Sulzer RTA96 analogy above.

It could be purely coincidental, but i bet that commercial webfont use has risen as a result of the huge usage the google webfont services have had. Certainly the ease-of-use, nothing to lose, aspect of trying a webfont from the google service is a significant non-hurdle to adoption. Once designers have tried the technology, they are more inclined to think to use that technology, to sign up with a commercial service, and be able to convince their clients that extra cost is a good investment.

Nick Shinn - Richard Stallman, the 'godfather' of the free software movement, has suggested that the use of webfonts endangers users' freedom, as does any practice of running programs that come across the network. If the program comes straight from a server, then in practice you don't have control of it, and it's effectively not-free. That's the only serious argument i have heard for saying that free webfonts are in fact not 'free'. It's a good argument too.

vernon adams's picture

nick shinn -

I don’t think fonts are typical of this situation, because they are professional tools rather than consumable products like music, clothes, pictures, films, games or writing.

An interesting division you have made there. Care to expand? How is a font a 'professional tool' whereas a film, game, or piece of clothing is just mere 'consumable product' ? Surely a 'professional tool' is just a type of item in the 'consumable product' basket?

dberlow's picture

"Surely a 'professional tool' is just a type of item in the 'consumable product' basket."

It is, with the addition of skill, not only in its use, but in its choice.

"Richard Stallman, the 'godfather' of the free software movement, has..."

...his books printed with commercial apps and fonts.

I guess principles only go so far into the font zone before even the most powerful just give up.:)

Khaled Hosny's picture

...his books printed with commercial apps and fonts.
His book is written in Texinfo (a documentation system he designed) that typesets the printed form with TeX, and the PDF linked in the above page uses Computer Modern typeface, non of the three is proprietary software (which I gather what you meant by “commercial”, because free software ≠ non-commercial). You can even download the book source (not only the PDF).

dberlow's picture

Look further sonny.

Nick Shinn's picture

A professional tool is one that professionals use to manufacture goods for sale, or to help provide services such as web design.
The trade market is what makes fonts different from writing, pictures, etc.
Even though those may be used in the production of products for sale, they are used only once—consumed—and even if they are repurposed for anthologies, or reused (e.g. stock photography), it’s not quite the same as fonts, where such reuse is the rule rather than the exception.

vernon adams's picture

"Surely a 'professional tool' is just a type of item in the 'consumable product' basket."
It is, with the addition of skill, not only in its use, but in its choice.

dberlow & Nick Shinn - Yes, exactly. So there is a clear distinction that we can make here that completely separates a 'professional tool' like a font, from those other sorts of objects that are not 'professional tools'. So a font is made by one set of skills, personified by the typeface designer, for specific use within another set of skills, personified by the graphic designer, printer, art director. We can see a clear 'market' within that too. Font X takes Y amount of skill & labour, so designer B will invest Z amount of $$s into acquiring use of Font X in order to make his product B worth more $$s. That works very well.

However, i think that is also a snapshot of an historic era; the world no longer fits as neatly into that hole as it did say over 10 years ago. There are other things today. Graphic designers and printers are no longer the sole consumers of fonts (just like by the 1970's printers were no longer the sole consumers of fonts). Nowadays, where the boundaries between producer and user has eroded (what Axel Bruns calls ‘produsage’), the font is now equally a ‘non-professional’ tool. In the form of the webfont, the font is now an integral part of large amounts of online matter that is created much more for a 'social market' than for what we could call a 'traditional' commercial market. And significantly it's not your 'professionals' creating all that content, it is increasingly content being produced by users of these markets, or by 'produsers' in these social markets and satellite markets . These social or non-traditional markets use webfonts on a huge scale. Compared to just 2-3 years ago, it's huge. So this is where font design and font licensing enters the scene; how does the traditional font & it's licensing operate within these social or non-traditional markets, where content is being created often by non-professionals, and is being created and consumed in large parts for free? It is also content that is largely transient, copy-able, share-able, and re-useable. The font is more and more not a professional tool at all, it is more a social object and a free roaming web object. Let's not even get into the question of whether the creators of 'fonts as professional tools' have a sense to what fonts these new social markets actually want and will use. If they don't know (or think they know better) then they should perhaps take note, because it is likely that the commercial markets will more and more mirror the visual trends and memes of these social markets.

-v

vernon adams's picture

"Richard Stallman, the 'godfather' of the free software movement, has..."
...his books printed with commercial apps and fonts.

And thus the spell was broken and the evil vanquished. All the apache servers went down like a string of ¢99 xmas lights, sendmail refused to send mail and the whole internet evaporated in an instant, like the last drop of nasty moonshine that everyone had suspected it really was. Rip 'free software', so called.

Nick Shinn's picture

So there is a clear distinction that we can make here that completely separates a 'professional tool' like a font, from those other sorts of objects that are not 'professional tools'.

That would appear to be what I said, but I wasn’t trying to make the point that fonts are exclusively for professionals (which goes against my own experience, as my customers cover the spectrum from amateurs to professionals, especially at MyFonts), only that the professional market for fonts makes fonts different from other digital products to which they are often compared.

Pamela Pfiffner stated in her 2002 history of Adobe, Inside the Publishing Revolution, that the number of practising graphic artists was increased 25 fold by the digital revolution. I suspect that those figures were based on assuming that every user of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator was a 100% professional graphic artist. But the marketplace isn’t like that, there are prosumers, part-timers (through desire or force of circumstance), and those who have a non-graphic job which requires a modicum of design work. Many of those working as graphic artists have no formal training as such, and those graduating from a 1-, 2-, or 3-year course may have limited typographic skills. I’ve taught type design to 3rd-year students, and have observed that many have by that time forgotten a lot of what they learned in their first-year “type 101” course—there being so many things a designer is required to know these days, animation and programming, for instance.

Some of the best typographers I’ve come across in the publishing business have a background in writing and editing—they are very keen on making the text as readable and as accessible as possible, whereas some graphic designers are not really into words and conceive of text as grey bars in a layout.

I don’t see much fundamental difference between Google webfonts and MyFonts in terms of the professionalism of the markets they cater too, and foundries publishing through MyFonts have been offering free fonts for some time—the success of Jos Buivenga’s (Exljbris) Museo family was in large part driven by his “free” strategy and duly noted by other foundries.

Fonts are more like cameras than photographs, they are used to add value to a product, rather than as a consumable. But I wouldn’t draw too close an analogy, as there is no indie-camera industry.

The font is more and more not a professional tool at all, it is more a social object and a free roaming web object.

The introduction of @fontface hasn’t made web typography any less professional. It just means that web designers, from amateur to pro, now have a greater variety of web fonts to choose from than MS “core TrueType” fonts (Verdana, Georgia et al).

If anything, @fontface has professionalized web design, by opening up a new market for font licensing, offering a level of sophistication not available through the limited selection of MS fonts.

The argument has been made that Google webfonts are giving the public the unsophisticated fonts they want—but they will learn, just as the MyFonts market did as it matured; compare MyFonts best sellers now with 10 years ago, when the list was dominated by script faces, distressed faces, and mid-20th century classics. Those were by turn naive and safe choices. Now the list is full of extremely well crafted original designs from living designers who own their own foundries.

… non-traditional markets, where content is being created often by non-professionals, and is being created and consumed in large parts for free …

Google webfonts are traditional, not only because their design is by and large non-innovative, but because free generic and conservative fonts have been with us from day one of digital — bundled with the LaserWriter, bundled with Internet Explorer, bundled with Adobe applications, and bundled with the Mac and Windows OS’s. The whole history of the digitization of graphics, its tradition from the late 1980s, has been one of democratizing what were once exclusive trades.

… it is likely that the commercial markets will more and more mirror the visual trends and memes of these social markets.

I would say it will be the other way round, with commercial fonts driving the scene.
That would seem to be the case with Vernon’s Nunito, a latecomer to the rounded sans trend that began in 1997 with the release of VAG Rounded by Adobe, and was picked up by independent foundries with faces like Bryant, Chevin, Gotham Rounded, etc. GE’s corporate face was also a part of that early-noughts trend.

5star's picture

I've never heard of this generic font until now ...and I'll prolly forget all about it soon after this post is entered ...sorrys.

n.

Té Rowan's picture

Generic in action: "I want a Helvetica here, and a Times here!"

Syndicate content Syndicate content