Brian Nelson

Ampersand NYC

November 2 2013

My completely unfiltered thoughts on the day

4:45 am

Early rise this morning. After downing a seemingly dangerous amount of ibuprofen and pseudophedrine, I ready myself for the day. The little lady stayed over at grandma’s house last night, so I can steal away without incident.

5:10 am

In the car, with my music and maps hooked up. A quick stop at the atm followed by another quick stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and I’m ready to hit the road.

6:07 am

I make it to Union Station in New Haven with plenty of time to spare. This will be today’s mantra: hurry up and wait.

6:45 am

The train, surprisingly, is right on time. I get in the first car, which I assume will be the first car into Grand Central. Also surprising to me, every row on the train has its own electrical outlet. I guess it’s been a while since I’ve ridden the Metro North.

8:38 am

Our train pulls into Grand Central. My assumption was right and my walk was a lot shorter because of it. Walking out onto 42nd St., I’m greeted by a horde(?) of half-marathon runners. The ny Marathon is tomorrow, but the foot traffic isn’t bad yet. A lot of half-marathoners though.

9:09 am

After crossing through the line of runners at my own peril, I arrive at the TimesCenter. Picking up my id tag is quick and easy. Turns out there’s another Brian Nelson here too. Maybe I’ll meet him today. The TimesCenter is nice. Very new and very red. Which is very fitting. It’s a cozy room. Not too big to be daunting and not to small to be crowded. Should make for a nice atmosphere.

9:39 am

Haven’t started yet, but the room is looking as full as its gonna get. Mostly young folks here. I’d say the average age isn’t more than 30. Which is great. I wonder how many are here on their own or on their company’s dime. Hopefully we’ll get some stats like that when the conference is done.

9:40 am

We begin! This is the first conference in the States. The other 3 have all been in Brighton, uk.

9:44 am

The first speaker is Michael Johnson.

“Our main frustration is that the brand designer has become the home button, if you like.”

“The donate button must be bevelled.”

Acumen – great example of linking brand to the online experience.

Cystic Fibrosis, Brighton Dome – other examples

The reality is that it’s not a perfect system. You can’t always get the typeface you want. The kerning can be funky, too.

Some great examples:

  • The Harriet Series
  • Glitter in the Dark
  • Jessica Hische
  • ff Mark
  • Simon Foster 20 Tongues – Lettering.js

“A bit of a headfuck, but quite amazing.” – talking about using 14 different handwritten typefaces on a website.

“The gate is open, finally.”

10:15 am

Mark Boulton is speaker number two.

  • Budget
  • Constraints

Responsive design from an architectural point of view is:

  • Sensors
  • Control system
  • Actuator

“Responsive design brings the worry forward.”

You can start looking at type way sooner in the process than traditionally.

Accounting for “stuff”, and we may not know what it is yet.

cms has a lot to do with typographic design. You have to know what your content is before you can decide the typography.

There is a concern that designers won’t take into account all the tiny details they had to with one or two typefaces available because of the vast range of choices.

“Where do I start? <p> And I go up from there.”

Some great tools:

  • Typecast – allows me to get straight to the work, without css getting in the way

The connection between physical thing and type is gone now.

Sweet spots: establish where and at what sizes type really sings.

Detect & Serve: serving a different typeface depending on the screen size or type. “Seems like a lot of work for not too much benefit”

We need better sensors: All we have is screen size and location, sort of.

  • Condition queries: reading in a darkened room
  • Reading distance: how far you are away from the screen

11:45 am

After a longer-than-expected break, we’re moving on to Jonathan Hoefler, one of the main reasons I’m here.

“Fonts on the web is porting an old idea into a new format, which is the worst way to move forward.”

Should be “Fonts for the web”

What are the problems of the web that fonts can solve?

  • Clarity – somewhat obvious but very important
  • Family – most web fonts don’t have enough weights
  • Features – small caps, ligatures, lining figures, etc.

“Type is a user interface.”

Interesting to hear their process and why they made the decisions they did, but it mostly seemed like a detailed sales pitch.

12:27 pm

We’ve made it to the afternoon. Now for Lucas de Groot.

“This is Holland. It is flat. We don’t have legibility problems because we can read from so far away.”

“This is Dutch food. It tastes great, because it has my font on it.”

“There I am drilling holes. It’s one of my hobbies.”

“I have a readability slave. He’s Russian. If he can read it, it’s ok.”

Tuning typography

  • Type size
  • Line spacing
  • Line length
  • Letter spacing
  • Kerning
  • Word spacing
  • Micro typography
  • Justification

Tuning type

  • Reduce capitals
  • Shorter ascenders and descenders
  • Letter width
  • Fatter or lighter
  • Kerning, spacing
  • Contrast amount
  • Contrast direction
  • Less ambiguity
  • Open closed letters
  • Hinting

Other factors

  • Ink
  • Paper
  • Color
  • Environment
  • Taste
  • Better text

Very entertaining from Lucas.

1:15 pm

Off to lunch. At the recommendation of my co-worker Mike, I’m trying Shake Shack, a few blocks away. The line is not short, but it moves quickly. After a short wait, I get to try one of the best burgers I’ve had in a long time. Nothing too crazy, but delicious to say the least. A little bit of walking around until we start things back up again.

2:30 pm

Trent Walton, from Paravel.

Be thoughtful. Using text properties is the easy part.

A lot of talking about some cool css text properties. Check out the site

3:20 pm

Nick Sherman, from Font Bureau.

There are a lot of things you can’t do well on the web right now:

  • OpenType support
  • Fractional spacing
  • Hyphenation
  • Justification
  • Line balancing

Why can’t we represent something at actual size on a screen? An inch should be an inch, no matter what device you’re looking at.

  • Size Calculator
  • Donald Knuth’s Metafont
  • Superpolator
  • Matthew Carter’s Sitka

I wonder how Jonathan Hoefler feels about Nick Sherman’s opinions on interpolation. Does this mean that “in between” fonts are just as good when created by a machine or is a human touch irreplaceable?

His solution seems to be “Make noise” but I’d argue that early and aggressive adoption makes browser companies uncomfortable with lagging behind.

Observation: A lot of web designers are happy with today’s available controls because they don’t know any better. They may not necessarily know the intricacies of typography and therefore don’t know what they’re missing.

4:03 pm

Another break. It’s getting late up in here, and I’m definitely starting to lag a bit. The burger for lunch is sitting pretty heavy, so I’m off to find something caffeinated.

4:15 pm

Just noticed Jeffrey Zeldman is here. He’s short like me. Cool to see some big names in the web design world here. It’s nice to know that the “real professionals” still enjoy/need the inspiration and education.

4:31 pm

Aaaaaand we’re back, this time with the only female of the bunch, Jenn Lukas. Jenn is a developer first.

She’s likening a website to a sandwich and its layers.

Layer 1: A sturdy bottom bun

Developers and designers need to come to common terms and language to be able to work together.

Layer 2: General cheese

General styles – set up some font sizes and families for every element out there.

Providing examples (handoffs) leads to better implementation across the board.

Layer 3: The meat

It’s super important to set aside the time and the budget for designers and developers to do proper qa.

Designers need to be conscious of what using @font-face means in regards to page load, cost for a client, etc.

Layer 4: Bacon

Icon fonts – No more image sprites, which is a big win. No retina-sized images necessary, either.

Layer 5: Accessilettuce

aria-hidden = true is an option to hide symbols or icons

Layer 6: Typecastomato

Using Typecast to quickly mock up type styles for a website. I tried this a while ago. It was nice, but it’s not free anymore, and I’m not sure I’d use it enough to make it worth it.

Layer 7: Onion (Making designers cry)

Plan for shorter or longer content, so your developer knows what to do.

Observation: It still surprises me that developers are making these designs become a reality, and not the designers themselves.

Layer 8: Ka-raaaazy sauce

Developers like a challenge. “How can I make this work?”

Blurs, text-masking, and clipping should be used sparingly.

Layer 9: Quality-assurance bun

qain the browser. Don’t design in the browser.”

5:17 pm

And now for the final talk of the day: Christian Schwartz.

  1. There’s a unique thing about type – it can be both old and contemporary at the same time.
  2. Typography is a collaboration between a type designer and a typographer – sometimes a direct collaboration.
  3. Type designers revisit the carious genres of type with each change in typesetting technology.
  4. None of these changes have happened overnight.
  5. In five years, all browsers will support @font-face. What will the conversation between designers and type designers be at that time?
  6. Using the same typeface on screen and on page is not a magic bullet.
  7. Identity is more than just a typeface. In a publication, it also comes from the structure of the information.
  8. In many ways, reading on screen isn’t that big a change. Longstanding rules of typography still apply.
  9. How are type designers influencing web design?

To make a typeface work on screen, sometimes you have to rework the design of it.

Type needs to look good, but not necessarily the same in each medium.

“A typeface looks different on coated and uncoated paper.”

“The design constraints of the screen are not so different from other media.”

6:37 pm

I’m on the train home. Not able to attend the after party unfortunately. I would stay later but the sore throat and stuffy nose is kicking my ass.

I’ll leave you with some quick impressions.

Overall Impressions

All in all, it was a good conference. I don’t think it was great, but it was good. It was focused a lot more on type design than I expected. I guess I assumed there would be a bit more about graphic design but the content seemed to favor those that actually designed typefaces.

Also, most talks felt more like a “state of the industry” affair. There was, deservedly, a lot of grumbling about what we can’t do, and not a whole lot of solutions or new ideas. Yes, it was great and exciting to hear how some big names in type design are conquering web type, but there wasn’t anything groundbreaking here.

I related most to Jenn Lukas’ talk, which was mainly about bridging the gaps between designer and developer, with another section about icon fonts. Most of the points she made seemed obvious to me, but I am finding out more and more that the positions I tend to occupy are somewhat few and far between. It’s like a designoper, a cross between the two disciplines. But one that I personally think should be showing up more and more.

Anyways, I’ll leave it at that for tonight, and give it some time to digest. I’m glad I came, and I’m glad I experienced the Shake Shack. All in all, a really good day. Thanks nyc.