Font development and release plan
07 January 2022 fonts
A path from experimental prototype fonts to high-quality commercial products.
- Alpha phase
- Constant change
- Agile development
- Test-driven design
- Reduced feature set
- No instances
- Fuzzy rendering
- Manual delivery
- Version identification
- Reasons to use alpha fonts
- Reasons NOT to use alpha fonts
- Beyond alpha
- Beta phase
- Release phase
An overview of the 3 main phases in our font development and release plan.
we are here
During the alpha phase every aspect of the fonts is still open for change – from the glyph shapes to the spacing, to the designspace setup, to the vertical metrics… everything. The fonts are intermediate prototypes for proofing, evaluating, and going back to the drawing board or the code editor. The focus at this stage is on improving the design of the typeface and finding the best way to express it as a digital font file.
At Hipertipo the boundary between type design and font production is fluid – one of the advantages of having all the work done by the same person. The automated variable font generation pipeline enables an agile process with quick iteration cycles, which allows me to fail fast and quickly update the fonts with bug fixes and improvements.
In parallel to the fonts, the design and production process itself is continuously being improved and streamlined as I strive to get better at getting better.
Fonts can only be fully evaluated in the context of their use, as they become parts of larger technical and visual systems. Typeface designers cannot foresee all use cases for their fonts and cannot test them in all existing applications and platforms. Publishing alpha fonts provides me with opportunities to collect valuable information, be it through direct feedback from users and colleagues or by observing user behavior1.
Reduced feature set
Font sources at this stage are kept small with a minimal character set – this lowers the effort required to make significant changes to the design or to the production setup. The current alpha character set includes all upper- and lowercase characters, digits, basic punctuation, accented characters for Portuguese, and a few symbols like @ & € $ * etc.
OpenType features are also limited to the ones which play a bigger role in the identity of the typeface, in particular alternate glyphs. Kerning, if available, covers only the most obvious pairs.
All fonts in the collection are variable, and the alpha fonts do not include any instances2. One of the goals in this phase is precisely to determine which instances should be included by default (if any), where in the designspace they should be placed, how they should be named, etc. I like to think that instances could be defined by the user as an optional customization step, for example.
The alpha fonts demonstrate that instances are not necessary in order to use variable fonts on the web or in DrawBot, as font instantiation can be done directly with CSS or Python code.
During the alpha phase the fonts are tested primarily on the screen and in the browser, in the same operating system in which they are designed (macOS 10.13). Greyscale antialiasing is preferred, to avoid distortions and irregularities introduced by automatic sub-pixel hinting.
Integration of manual TrueType hinting into the automated variable font generation workflow would allow me to proof hints much earlier in the process, and feed information back into the design of glyph shapes and spacing3. I hope to add this missing step to the pipeline in the future, if possible while some of the fonts are still in alpha mode4.
Font orders are all handled via email during this initial phase. Users receive a link to a password-protected page where they can download the latest version of the font.
All prototype fonts have
0 (zero) as major version number, for example
0.2, etc. The minor version number marks significant steps in the development before release. The basic target release version is
During development, when there are many iteration cycles, the fonts are identified primarily by their build number which increases automatically every time a new font is generated. This number is stored in the unique font identifier field and can be viewed in any font manager.
Each font has its own download page with a changelog. This page is updated everytime the minor version number changes. The changelog is compiled from the various commit messages in the source files.
Reasons to use alpha fonts
Alpha fonts are prototypes for testing during the design and production process. Anyone expecting a finished, ready-to-use product will likely get frustrated. Still, I can think of the following reasons and usage scenarios for trying out alpha fonts:
Experiment with variable fonts
Variable fonts open exciting new roads for experimentation and typographic innovation. The alpha fonts can be used to experiment with the technology and demonstrate what variable fonts can do: think of automatic layout, animations, interaction with text, etc.
Develop typographic systems
The alpha fonts can be used to produce any kind of designs and layouts, and are specially useful for their wide array of weights and widths. Users can provide feedback early, get involved in the making of the fonts, and be among the first to use them. This model is best suited to mid- and long-term projects.
Support independent typeface design
Buying an alpha license is also a way to support the final production stages of the fonts and my work in general.
Reasons NOT to use alpha fonts
It is not recommended to use alpha fonts in real-world projects with tight deadlines and high stakes. Alpha fonts are untested pre-release versions and may contain design problems and technical bugs. As much as I am committed to fixing all reported issues as soon as possible, I cannot guarantee that it will happen in in time for your particular project. If there is little room for error, please wait until the fonts are at least in their beta phase.
This initial creative phase gives me a great satisfaction as a designer: drawing the core of a typeface, playing with variations of an idea, exploring the designspace – this is all a lot of fun, and there is a risk that this process turns into an infinite loop, with one idea leading to another and another, until the original track is lost.
Over a period of 20 years, I’ve worked on these fonts in my spare time between paid jobs – sometimes with months or years of interruption. That was a good thing, as it gave me and the work plenty of time to develop. This changed in early 2021 though; since then I’ve been fully dedicated to finishing and releasing the fonts. This plan draws a (more or less) straight path towards the first finished release.
estimated start: 2nd semester of 2022
estimated start: late 2022 or early 2023
Even the lack of feedback is useful information, and can lead to productive questions and ideas for improving the fonts and the service. Man kann nicht nicht kommunzieren – one cannot not communicate. ↑
The only exception is Mechanica Mono, a monospaced font for reading and writing code that is also tested in the code editor and in Terminal. To make single styles available in these environments it is necessary to define them as instances in the font. ↑
Rather than seeing TrueType instructions as something to be added later, in the beta phase, as an optimization step after the outlines and spacing have been fixed. ↑
This is not a trivial task: it requires diving into support for TrueType hints in UFO, setting up a Windows environment, learning how to add instructions to variable fonts using VTT, and probably a few more yet unknown tasks and steps. ↑