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Towards a Ransom Note for Libre Typography

News · May 2nd, 2011 ·

Shortly before leaving for Open Design Weeks in Vietnam, I received my copy of Fonts in Context from Boekplan in the mail. It’s a start in the direction of generating a higher volume of documentation for Context, an issue which remains a sticking point for broader adoption of the software.

Perusing it I came across an interesting feature called font fallbacks. These allow you to specify a specific font to be used in the case your main typeface is a missing any glyphs. Thanks to Context’s consummate configurability, a typeface can utilize multiple fallbacks and one can specify which Unicode hexcodes (or ranges thereof) are to be substituted in any given case. This allows flexible typographic responses to inadequate coverage in any given typeface.

But my favorite aspect of this feature’s configurability is the

force

parameter. By passing

force=yes

into the parameter of the macro, one can swiftly replace a character in any typeface with the missing (or totally different) character from any another.

This might not seem too useful, but in terms of doing actual generative-style design through a generative typesetting process, it provides the perfect platform for a functional design piece I’ve tentatively labeled ‘Libre Ransom’. My goal is to have something of this working by (or during) Libre Graphics Meeting 2011 in Montreal.

The idea behind ‘Libre Ransom’ is to build a visual test for libre font coverage of underserved alphabets. By using a relatively simple phrase and translating it into various languages, we can generate typescript definitions in Context which will utilize the maximum available amount of libre typefaces for the phrase. You can think of this as something like the ACID test suite for CSS, which you can watch visually gauge the capabilities of your browser’s implementation.

Thanks to the contributions being made to the (soon to be Phoenix-like) Open Font Library and Google Web Fonts, English will have every individual character of it’s phrase in a different font. Likely this will be true of more complicated Latin alphabets as well.

Other languages, however, will not be so lucky.

On the one hand this project will be a showcase for the already broad-range of coverage for the languages of European extraction. On the other hand, it will serve as a reminder of the privileged position of those languages, their tendencies towards colonization of lingustic, economic, and physical space, and a signal of an intent to utilize the unique capacity of libre type, our freedom to contritube, in order to ensure that under-served languages continue to see more and more options for their liberated typography.

This post was re-published from my blog at dripping digital.

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  • 1 Comment ↓

  • 1. St├ęphanie

    May 3, 2011 at 10:24 am

    can’t wait to see!
    what’s ACID for CSS? very curious about this…