In early May, the very first international type conference in Italy took place: “Kerning”. The conference’s Twitter hashtag is #keming. Got it? Kerning means adjusting the spacing between characters, to achieve a visually pleasing result. In a well-kerned font, the spaces between each pair of characters should appear of similar size. This is not always the case – and a big issue in web font technology. The Kerning conference showed that more and more web people speak about typography and that more and more typographers speak about web technology.
Then and now
The usage of different monitors, browsers and mobile devices of all sorts is tremendously increasing. Consequently, type designers, type foundries and type conferences focus more and more on technology: It’s no longer done with the “pure” design of pleasant letters.
A small and devoted audience came to the beautiful city of Faenza, near Bologna (famous for it’s ceramics culture). Keynote speaker Luc(as) de Groot gave “a brief introduction” to the history of font technology, including the basics of kerning and hinting — “Then and Now” (530 slides in 50 minutes). Just one figure: Adobe fonts in the 80's contained a standard of 115 kerning pairs, de Groot’s Calibri Light in Windows 8 contains around half a million kerning pairs. He himself is the best example for a type designer gone web fonts specialist, redesigning and hinting his fonts for customers and their devices over and over again, if necessary.
Type and content
Interestingly enough, parallel to all the microtechnological details, the question of content and it’s connection to type is becoming stronger. Swiss type designer Nina Stössinger pointed out that “letters are not illustrations” and that “reading is not looking”, which comes as no surprise. But it’s essential – e.g. in corporate and service design, to keep in mind “typography can show the skeleton of a text, the structure”, and that “ease of reading has a direct result on being motivated to deal with the content.”
In short: With the fonts they choose, designers make a piece of text accessible – a flyer, a service, a magazine or a website’s content. Or they don’t. It’s as simple as that.
“Content and structure should be connected”, says Stössinger, and good fonts are a requirement for that: “I love kerning!” Here is her connection to the fact that “typography is a fiddly craft. It’s a very beautiful fiddly craft, but still, it is a fiddly craft... It needs watchers.”