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Commentary

Roboto is a Four-headed Frankenfont

Stephen Coles on October 19, 2011

Just in time for Halloween, from the depths of the Android 4.0 laboratory emerges a frightening cross-breed creature called Roboto.

It was built from scratch and made specifically for high density displays. Google describes it has having a “dual nature. It has a mechanical skeleton and the forms are largely geometric. At the same time the font’s sweeping semi-circular curves give it a cheerful demeanor.” — GottaBeMobile

This is pure PR BS. I know it when I see it because I’ve had to write a few glowing descriptions about typefaces that don’t really glow.

Roboto Font for Android
Click to embiggen image.

I’m all for the strategy of developing a unique identity typeface, and I commend Google for employing type designers in house, but this is an unwieldy mishmash. Roboto indeed has a mixed heritage, but that mix doesn’t have anything to do with the gibberish from the press release. Its parents are a Grotesk sans (like a slightly condensed Helvetica) and a Humanist sans (like Frutiger or Myriad). There’s nothing wrong with combining elements of these two styles to create something new. The crime is in the way they were combined: grabbing ideas from the Grotesk model, along with a Univers-inspired ‘a’ and ‘G’, welding them to letters from the Humanist model, and then bolting on three straight-sided caps à la DIN.

When an alphabet has such unrelated glyphs it can taste completely different depending on the word. “Fudge” is casual and contemporary. “Marshmallow” is rigid and classical. This is not a typeface. It’s a tossed salad. Or a four-headed Frankenstein. You never know which personality you’ll get.

For now, I can only speculate on how this beast came to be. The font files credit the design to Christian Robertson, whom I know to be a very bright professional with some decent work under his belt, including the convincing handwriter Dear Sarah and the adorable Ubuntu Titling font. Either Google tied him down and made unreasonable demands or there’s something nasty in the water down in Mountain View. To be fair, I haven’t seen the fonts on a phone, in person, and Google promises that they are built specifically for that medium. But I can’t imagine that would erase the inherent problem with the design. There are some good shapes in Roboto, they just belong in multiple typefaces.

In any event, Roboto probably won’t terrorize mobile screens for very long. Helvetica and Frutiger are immortal. Hodgepodge brutes like these usually have a short lifespan.

Download the Roboto fonts
See Roboto in action
For a multi-class combo done right, see Fakt, Breuer Text, and Flama.

Update: Robertson has replied with his rationale for the design:

Here’s the thinking with the open terminals on the ‘e’ and ‘g’. It has been the hard and fast rule for sans serif types that the a, c, e, g and s must agree as to their angle of exit. Interestingly, this is not the case for serif types, and certainly isn’t true for any kind of handwriting. It is common for the lower case ‘e’ to be more open than the ‘a’ for example. If there is a single story ‘g’ it will often remain open, or even curve back the other way (up until it forms a two story g).

As I experimented with this thinking I realized a couple of things:

1 / I have always hated the way Helvetica and all of her acolytes close the terminal on the ‘g’. It is just so awkward. You can’t do it with a pen; the terminal always wants to end somewhere other than straight up (note that this is not true of s or a). It’s like a ‘t’ or ‘f’ that hooks all the way around. It’s just gross. It’s even worse with the geometric bowl on top. You get such an awkward double curve. I equally hate any calligraphic ‘g’ that closes with a ball terminal.

2 / I discovered that the type with a closed ‘a’ and ‘s’ and an open ‘e’ and ‘g’ has a really beautiful texture across longer blocks of text. The rhythm has this kind of a swirl that is actually really nice to read. You are correct that Fudge and Marshmallow may initially disrupt some expectations, but over the course of actually using the font, you forget that ‘e’ is decreed to be closed like ‘a’ (it doesn’t want to be anyway and ‘g’ needs a friend). Despite the PR speak, the variation in exit vectors does make for a more cheerful type.

As for the other two monster heads, I’m ignoring the part about the straight sided caps, since I don’t find it a problem that the lower case aren’t equally straight sided. Also, I find your disagreement with the K hardly worthy of justifying another head; possibly a finger or toe.

Note that there are still some bugs in the font that has been extracted from the SDK. Many of these have been corrected already, and you can expect to see some fixes to minor kerning issues and some diacritical misalignments. Also, since Android doesn’t use much of the nastiness that is TrueType hinting, Roboto is not hinted to support older Windows browsers, for example.

Update: Jan. 12, 2012 — Google offers the full 16-font Roboto family and specimen book on their new Android Design site. (Thanks, Reed Reibstein.)

93 Comments

  1. ceegee says:

    Exactly what I thought when I saw it. Instead of creating a new typographic identity, they mixed fonts to make something “standard”, but they did it in a very bad way…

  2. Tim says:

    So do you think they should have stuck with Droid Sans, the original font Android used?

  3. River says:

    thanks for articulating this. i got an unsettling feeling from just looking at a bit of the face in an article yesterday, now i know why.

  4. Yes, I think Droid Sans is much better. It’s not a timeless classic, but it’s a more consistent take on the Frutiger model. It’s also more original in its hinted state at small sizes, where it performs quite well on screen.

  5. Nina says:

    Interesting to see how Christian Robertson stresses the angle of how the face works for longer text. On-screen reading aside though, I have to wonder how important the branding aspect is here. The promo video linked to above suggests it is certainly a factor. And this sort of thing targets exactly people who may not already have been using the font, and would have to get its “flavor” immediately. In just a few words. In this context, it would seem that a strong, original and unified character would surely be desireable, a character that would make Android Fudge and Android Marshmallow taste if not the same way, then at least decidedly related, no? And this does look a bit like the whole dessert buffet fell into a pot together.

  6. Stephen, as someone familiar with Christian’s work on Amble (for Punchcut) and some of his other work, there are elements that don’t surprise me (the Kk and the openness of the e, etc.) that are just part of Christian’s typographic vocabulary.

    I have yet to use the typeface on a device, but regardless of typographic heritage and classification I know how Christian’s mind (and eye) work. In a small screen context economy and readability are everything.

    So, I will reserve judgement until I see it and use it on a device.

  7. how the face works for longer text.

    Yeah, I can buy some of Christian’s approach there. It’s certainly better than Helvetica in a paragraph. Unfortunately, this face does need to work in display settings too: navigation on the phone, advertising, branding.

  8. david says:

    As much as I love Droid Sans, I can understand that Google wanted a different screen font for Android. As a UI font, IMO, Droid Sans has a bit too much character. In the meantime, Droid Sans seems to slowly take General GG’s place as Google’s corporate font – which is awesome, I think.

  9. I just really wish that the capital R didn’t have that little Helvetica-esque tail. It would move it away from Helvetica instantly. It’s one of the most distinctive features of Helvetica.

  10. Randy Magruder says:

    Please see the fonts in action on a phone before judging based upon what you’re getting on your monitor. I installed the font on both my Nexus One phone and on my computer, and if I had to look at it on my computer … yuck. But looking at it on the Super AMOLED, it looks very very beautiful. Please see the font on the screen for which it was designed, first. Okay, thx, bai.

  11. Richard Murray says:

    For those that say to judge it based on how it looks on a phone, you seem to forget that Android phones are using bigger and bigger screens lately. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 5 inches or more next year to keep ahead of the iPhone, and Android is not just restricted to phones but is also a tablet OS.

  12. Doppio says:

    I’m sorry but I don’t see that many similarities between Roboto and the four fonts you selected. Just look at B, C, D, G and especially Q and t.

    I admit I know very little about typography, but it is clear to me that you are using your mishmash of fonts as a straw man.

  13. Doppio, I’m surprised you don’t see the resemblance to Helvetica and Myriad overall. But my main complaint isn’t that Roboto is too similar to anything — although it could be more original — it’s that the mixture of styles doesn’t work in a single face.

  14. Jesus H. McFly says:

    It’s part Helvetica, part Myriad, and part DIN, but with none of the best qualities of any of those.

  15. Jon says:

    Richard Murray, I’ll reserve my judgement to the time I actually see it on a device, being part of the UI. But I fail to see how the size of the screen matters, dpi matters and AMOLEDs tend to be poor in that, because of their common use of pentile pixel layout.

  16. Dragan Poljak says:

    Users might not care about consistency of their font styles at all if their apps are designed badly anyway… I think especially Android users appreciate other qualities rather than aesthetics. >:) (But nothing wrong with that.)

  17. [It’s not because the screen version of Comic Sans is quite good or not so bad (b&w on Windows XP, text sizes) that we need to see it in large sizes everywhere]

    I’m 100% against too much rules on typography.

    — I love Gill Sans for this. Because Eric Gill adapted is design to the weight (black more open and contrasted, light fully simple, etc.)*

    — Same manner for distinctive design depending the size: ITC Bodoni earlier example.

    — Even (the good) Wayfarer by Jeremy Tankard is a clever way to mix irregularity with different endings, forms.

    But here frankly, mixing such forms doesn’t work.

    Or perhaps its a comeback of ’90s Grunge Type into a new form? :)

    * As already explained elsewhere, my Parisine follows this idea of different endings through weights.

  18. si says:

    Please see the fonts in action on a phone before judging based upon what you’re getting on your monitor.

    Or just make the type size five times bigger, put your monitor on the floor tilted upwards, and stand on a chair to view it. You’ll get exactly the same result.

  19. Filip Blazek says:

    Oh my god, I had to laugh when I checked this crap a couple of minutes ago (there are already jokes about the font on Facebook). The diacritical marks are soooo funny, especially ogonek, the Polish users will certainly appreciate it. Ldot/ldot is also pretty lunatic. napostrophe is pretty cool. I admire the solution of dcaron, lcaron, tcaron & Lcaron – next time I will also ignore the diacritics I’ve never heard of. Why to waste my time.

    And guess: are the accented letters kerned? Of course not. Welcome in 1990. I hate this arrogant approach.

  20. Si says:

    Also, since Android doesn’t use much of the nastiness that is TrueType hinting

    Ah so that explains why Rubin hired former Apple employee/TrueType architect Mike Reed and why they had Ascender hint Droid Sans so well. It all makes (no) sense now. :-)

    Re: the font itself. To be honest I think there is room for a “Local Gothic” UI font on these devices. This design doesn’t go far enough in that direction IMHO.

  21. I’m more curious about which fonts you gave glowing reviews to that did not deserve it. I realise this is naive, but I wish people/companies would simply be honest about the strengths/weaknesses of a design and not resort to hyperbole.

  22. Satya says:

    When you copy from one source, it’s called plagiarism; when you copy from many sources, it’s called Google.

  23. Gib Wallis says:

    Hi, I found the article fascinating (and the remarks!) because I mostly react to fonts as “meh,” “ugly,” or “hmmm, nice!”

    I’m not that excited at Roboto (meh) but in looking at the two alphabet samples you posted, the capital G, O and Q seem so drastically different from Roboto and the supposed sources they look really shoe-horned in, like you couldn’t find a font that fit so you just threw them in.

    Since my eye isn’t that fine for the very small nuances of fonts and those letters really stood out, it sort of deflated your central argument of it being a mish-mosh of fonts. YMMV.

  24. the capital G, O and Q seem so drastically different from Roboto

    My intent wasn’t to show which fonts specifically are copied, but how Roboto is cobbled together from unrelated styles. There are surely other typefaces that have an ‘O’ and ‘Q’ that are more similar. I just show DIN as a very recognizable typeface in the genre of straight-sided industrial sans. Perhaps the graphic itself is misleading, but I try to be clear about this in the accompanying text.

    The ‘G’ is probably Roboto’s most original glyph — I’ll grant you that.

  25. Todd Masui says:

    I say if you’re going to open up the “e, g” terminals, it should be done with the “a, c, s” as well otherwise, it becomes a ransom note font with similar, but different fonts mixed together.

    The straight-sided bowls on the capitals don’t work either since the lower case letters don’t share this feature.

    These inconsistencies are part of why this font feels so disjointed.

    And the “K, k” have to go. My eye tends to stick on these letters. They’re too unusual in a such a banal font.

  26. Bobby Tannam says:

    That ‘G’ is slick though…

  27. Jens Kutílek says:

    Leaving the design aspects aside, the technical execution of the fonts is terrible. I wonder if the production was done by someone else than Christian Robertson. If he knew the fonts in full, I guess he wouldn’t have described the glaring errors as “minor bugs” that just have to be fixed. Hack-job letterforms for language-specific letters, diacritics misplacements and design errors aren’t “bugs” that happen just like that, instead they show a high degree of cluelessness as well as ignorance/disrespect towards international font users.

    Come on, there are tools readily available in which you can see your creations side by side with a known-good typeface, so how can this stuff happen? This dilettantic job is a slap in the face of every self-respecting type designer and font engineer who spend months and years getting the tiniest details just right.

    The so-called Italics are another thing. Slant the upright by 8.1° and overlay it with the existing Italic style — there you have it. Oh, wait, the K, S and Z are adjusted, so somebody actually looked at the fonts after slanting.

    The small caps? Haha, yes, of course the 26 basic letters are enough. Who needs accented small caps anyway?

    Kerning … the standard numerals are tabular in width. But why are they kerned? That defies the whole purpose of having tabular numerals in the first place. The Latin accented letters are not kerned, as Filip already said, but there are a lot of unneccessary kerning pairs, like Cyrillic lowercase to Latin lowercase.

    The fonts have no hinting for screen display optimization. Fair enough if it’s unnecessary for the Android devices, but why use it on the android.com website as a web font then? “Not hinted to support older Windows browsers” obviously includes your own Chrome 14, dear Google.

    The superior figures don’t align, the glyph order is erratic, some Vietnamese accents are on top of the letters instead of below, some Cyrillic glyphs are plain wrong, the vertical font metrics are all over the place … this list can go on and on.

    It really makes you wonder what the problem is at Google. We heard at the ATypI conference how much scientific research went into the Droid font family, and now these perfectly produced fonts are ditched for a beast like this … makes you wonder if all the research at Google is just done in order to have something nice to present at conferences. What happend to the Arabic that was so meticulously crafted by Pascal Zoghbi and presented in Reykjavík as the latest development happening in the Droid font family? Maybe Roboto is a joke after all, and we fell for it.

  28. It’s almost impossible to draw a new letterform without compromise legibility. Circles are circles everywhere.

  29. Adam says:

    Really? How about you guys actually try it first instead of basing your decision on someone else’s opinion?

    This dismissive attitude so many people have is such an annoyance.

    There are plenty of people on XDA (if you aren’t on there, you probably aren’t going to win a debate on smartphones) who love this font.

  30. Mayene says:

    I’m so glad this was written. It seemed unjustified comparing it to Helvetica only and didn’t seem a big deal when I saw that original comparison, but with this much more detailed mash-up of fonts, its easier to see why Roboto is not very original.

  31. Someone sent me a (leaked?) version of Roboto. I can comment about the Greek glyphs (I’m a Greek, not a professional font designer) that they are quite clear and readable BUT there’s a big mistake: accents on capital greek letters should not be on top of the letter glyph (like latin accented capital letters), but to the left of the glyph, the accent glyph top being the same as the letter glyph top.

  32. There’s a sample test Python script there: http://bpaste.net/show/19573/

    The words «Άσε Έλα» most probably show up in your browser with the accents correctly placed.

    There’s the font rendered with Roboto: http://imagepaste.nullnetwork.net/viewimage.php?id=2621

  33. [...] from Google: http://typographica.org/2011/on-typography/roboto-typeface-is-a-four-headed-frankenstein/?mid=5091. Still don’t know what to make of it… On the one hand, part of me wants to love it. On [...]

  34. Stephane Gagne says:

    I have not seen it on a phone, but on my tablet (10.1″ Xoom), it is much better than the previous default font. UI, email (Kaiten), calendar (calengoo), browser, … all much better for my needs, which are : easy to read and easy on the eyes when using as small a font as possible (in Kaiten and Calengoo, I minimize the font size to fit as much as possible). I can’t speak for aesthetics really… I do think it looks better (can’t say why…), but for me, it is just more practical (it is an easier experience when using small fonts)

  35. Adam Twardoch says:

    As Filip points out in his post on typo.cz (here’s an English auto-translation http://bit.ly/oTIHoT ), the non-English letters are poor to abysmal. Judging from the version posted at http://bandbinnovations.com/xda/Roboto-Fonts.zip (which I presume may be pre-release), I can confirm:

    Many diacritical combinations look like they’ve been chopped together in great hurry (misaligned amacron, missing accent in dcaron, lcaron etc.) while others show sheer ignorance (absolutely horrific ogonek shapes, Ldot, napostrophe).

    The Cyrillic is even worse. uni0414 (Д) is strikingly ugly (and most of the other descending “teeth” are far too short, in ц, щ, д etc.), uni0431 (б) completely unbalanced, uni0433 (г) unproportionally narrow, uni044A (ъ) and uni0454 are simply wrong structurally, uni044F (я) looks very amateurish. Looks like the designer has designed the Cyrillic letterforms after being told on the phone what they look like, and without ever having seen one.

    Regards,
    Adam

  36. Tomas Kapler says:

    For me the important part is how the fonts fit the android screens — so if they fit in their grid, or if there is high antialiasing. And this is what i do not know. Look on PC display is not important as they will never be used there.

  37. vernon adams says:

    (disclaimer – my own opinions)

    To begin to get your head around many of Google’s softwares, in this case fonts, you need to consider two main tenets of the free software community – a) Stallman’s notion of the ‘bazaar’ model over the ‘cathedral’ model – and b) ‘release early, release often’. For some these tenets are anathema, for some in type design they are near heresy.

    So a font released ‘early’ with technical or engineering errors; the market & it’s users become feedback for ‘fixes’. Render issues, missing glyphs, wrongly placed diacritic marks, etc; this stuff can get fixed after feedback. An article & it’s comments like this, are part of that feedback. You are all font testers. So in the case of Roboto, there’s clearly diacritic issues that need fixing. That’s positive outcome. It’s just that this part of the design process happens in the open, rather than behind closed doors. Blushes are not spared, but community-based feedback can be more valuable than ego-based feedback. Plus of course, as open-source software, anyone can fix Roboto.

  38. Jens Kutílek says:

    release early, release often

    That surely doesn’t imply releasing a software version containing features that will be damaging for a big part of its users, does it? Wouldn’t it be more logical to start with a working but limited feature set (in this case Basic Latin) and then add to it later?

    With fonts it’s especially bad to release half-baked versions, because fonts tend to float around forever.

    Plus of course, as open-source software, anyone can fix Roboto.

    Oh yeah, I can vividly imagine some Mongolian Android phone user redrawing all Cyrillic letters before recompiling Android on his quad-core 16 GB machine.

    Is there any evidence that users even *want* to fix fonts, in the unlikely case that they have the knowledge to do so?

  39. Indra says:

    What left me particularly startled and speechless the other day is that google not only wild-sources the development and testing of fonts, but now also wants us to pay for them ourselves: http://www.google.com/webfonts#AboutPlace:about

  40. vernon adams says:

    On the ideas of ‘originality’ in this article. I re-read through a good few times and agree with the author that he doesn’t claim that Roboto ‘plagiarises’ other fonts. But there’s definite questioning of the font’s originality, aka it’s ‘origins’. I’m confused a little though; is it the act of being unoriginal that is the issue? or the act of mixing different ‘genres’ that is supposedly an issue? or both? It’s a font, of course it’s not original. No font is original (FF DIN, Univers, Ronnia and Helvetica certainly aren’t). Originality is irrelevant; It’s not claiming to be a long lost Rembrandt :) I haven’t looked too closely at Roboto’s outlines but i have the font as default system font on an android tablet, works really well imo, the so-called ‘mash’ of genre’s seems to have a positive effect; the font is functional (on a uk-english system, heh), unobtrusive, but with enough of a contemporary ‘bit round – bit geometric’ to look good ;) Plus, it’s open & non-propietary.

  41. Dberlow says:

    All of us are font testers? I am, I know, but most folks just want to start using them. Do yours come with a big clear warning?

  42. Jens, I guess you do have the knowledge to fix fonts. When you have a broken font, do you want to fix it?

  43. Adam Twardoch says:

    Vernon,

    The problem with your approach with regard to fonts specifically is that when it comes to aesthetic questions, there’s hardly ever a situation when something is “broken” in the sense that all users would agree on that.

    Type design is a bit like writing. In your model, you’re saying: I’m going to publish a novel online, it’ll be full of spelling and stylistic mistakes, and based on community feedback I’ll gradually improve that. Or I’m gonna start playing a series of half-baked song at my gigs, and will gradually improve them as I go. Sure, it’s a valid method. But the risk is that for those who aren’t experts or regular users, you’ll expose them into mediocre quality only once. If all projects were run the same, then basically the majority of fonts, musical compositions and novels would currently be half-baked, and only a small portion mature. The next generation of users would be educated on those half-baked solutions and many of them would assume that that’s the “valid quality” or even “final quality”. And they would later apply that level of quality to their own work. (“If Google says that these are good Cyrillic characters, then I assume they’re right”).

    I believe that society can seriously go wrong if by default everybody assumes that everyone else around them is incompetent (or if they assume that their surroundings are competent but are actually wrong).

    Specialization in labor has allowed us to trust in other people’s skills and competence. If you lose that, the cost of interpersonal transactions will raise immensely, and people will shut off. They will no longer try out anything new because they’ll always have to assume that they’ll run into one of the “release early” dudes.

    If I were to replace fonts with gas ovens: would you really want a “release early, release often” gas oven?

  44. I re-read through a good few times and agree with the author that he doesn’t claim that Roboto ‘plagiarises’ other fonts.

    I’m glad you see that now, Vernon. I’ve clarified the text, removing “almost wholesale” so it doesn’t give the impression that I was calling Roboto a copy.

    But there’s definite questioning of the font’s originality, aka it’s ‘origins’.

    The typeface still looks very much like Helvetica overall (with a few Humanist glyphs tossed in). This feels like an odd choice for Google. They should want to distinguish themselves from Apple, who has settled firmly on Helv for iOS. I know that Robertson is capable of much more original work that would be a more obvious — and consistent — departure from Helvetica. But I have a feeling, as you allude, that Google’s iterative process will let Roboto morph into something better. I hope.

  45. vernon adams says:

    Jens Kutílek, David Berlow, Adam Twardoch,

    Stallman’s notion of the ‘bazaar’ model over the ‘cathedral’ model – and b) ‘release early, release often’.

    These are ideas that are not too easy to get a grip on, they appear wholly counter intuitive, though less so now than they did 20 years ago. They are simply another model of producing something, in my case digital fonts. I kind of agree with all the question marks about it raised here, but it’s the production process i prefer to use.

    I looked at the source files of Roboto after reading this article. I agree, from a purist angle, it’s just ‘not right’ :) But i’ve been using it for it’s designed purpose (have others here?), as the system/gui font on an android tablet, and I’d say it looks ‘just right’. That’s interesting i think. Looking at different android forums users do like it. Imho it’s a bit of a zeitgeist object ;)

    :) Adam – you mean release an illegal and dangerous gas oven?? A ‘released early’ font won’t kill or maim, though i do know people have suffered bruising after hitting their head against the desk because fontlab crashed yet again ;) ps i love fontlab.

  46. Dan Reynolds says:

    Plus of course, as open-source software, anyone can fix Roboto.

    I’m curious as to how this would actually work. Let’s say that one of us had an Android device using Roboto. We could fix the fonts’ design and technical bugs, and then – if we also had the necessary knowledge – update the software on our devices to replace the official fonts with our improved versions. But, I don’t see how this is a productive use of resources. Google developed a font that is now served, potentially, to millions. Christian – and anyone else at Google who worked on Roboto – was surely paid for their time on the project. What about all of those “font testers” out there? They are probably not paid. They would be doing work for free that Google should have paid someone to do in the first place. Moreover, anyone who does try to fix Roboto themselves will not get the bang for the buck that Google did. There is a big imbalance here. Google made the fonts once, and the work is used by millions. But for one person out there who fixes the font? This work will not have the same reach.

    Now, since this is open source, the person who fixes Roboto for himself could share his “improved” version with people he knows, or anyone he can reach over the Internet. But this will still a very small reach, compared with Google’s reach. So I doubt that it is worth the investment of someone’s time. A better use of time, theoretically, might be to improve the font, and send the fixed version to Google. But would Google really build this improvement into back the the OS? What if 10 people each “fixed” Roboto, and they all sent their improved versions back to Google. If Google takes one of the versions, and ignores the other nine, then one person might see a productive use of his work, but the other nine will not. And this “lucky” person will still not have been paid on the scale – assumedly – as the designer(s) who made Roboto in the first place.

    So, while anyone can fix Roboto, I don’t see what is actually in it for anyone to go down that path. Wouldn’t it be better for version 1.0 of the release to not have so many errors in the first place? Everyone out there is “free” to fix Roboto. But in doing so, they are also “free” to do unpaid work. Their time would not be time spent making the world a better place, it would be time spent making people who do get paid by Google look better than they should.

  47. Jens Kutílek says:

    Vernon: A ‘released early’ font won’t kill or maim

    You probably missed the story about a murder because of the missing differentiation between i and dotless i in a Turkish cellphone.
    Though that wasn’t exactly because of a faulty font, more an encoding problem.

    So there is no excuse for the missing or misplaced diacritics in Roboto.

    Dave: I guess you do have the knowledge to fix fonts. When you have a broken font, do you want to fix it?

    I do have the knowledge, and whether I want to fix it depends on how badly I want to use that particular font. But I’m hardly representative of font users in general.

  48. vernon adams says:

    Dan -
    An opensource font can evolve the same as any opensource software, no different than the way Apache, Darwin, Android, sendmail, Inkscape, Freetype, etc etc evolve. While there’s an obvious different paradigm to closed or proprietary software, there’s also major similarities; if a font doesn’t function well enough, or doesn’t look good, people won’t use it. However, In the environment of the web and net, opensource fonts seem to have gained major ground (i.e. usage) in a short time. I would argue that it is their ‘freedom’ that is the essential function. A ‘free’ font can be sent/recieved across the net without hindrance, the font becomes more akin to standard net protocol, like smtp, or a css call. Imagine if you were restricted (by money or movement) to send/receive css calls, html pull/push, or send/receive mail. Some might opt for a closed service, for ‘extras’, but most would not, and then some bright competitor would make ‘extras’ free too ;) The challenge for proprietary font producers is how will they manage to include that essential function of ‘freedom’ into their products in a way that complements, and not compromises, their closed-ness.
    -v

  49. Dan,

    would Google really build this improvement into back the the OS?

    This is the main reason why companies release libre software :)

    Red Hat is the largest libre software company: 100% of all their software is libre licensed, and they make many millions of dollars profit a year and are traded on the stock market. Red Hat has released fonts that are maintained with the ‘open source’ method’s best practices in exactly the way you describe. Including for complex script fonts. So to say this is impossible or unlikely is odd, because it has been happening for some time.

    I can’t speak for Google Inc, I can only speak for me, and with my work for the Google Web Fonts team, if you send me a an improvement, I _will_ get it built back into the main fonts distributed to millions of people. If several people do the same thing at the same time and there is a ‘collision’ then there will be a discussion between the people sending changes, the original designer, and myself, and we’ll decide if we can _merge_ the changes, or discuss why picking one in particular is better.

    The “version control” software made famous in design circles by github.com makes doing this kind of thing convenient :) If anyone thinks it sounds really complicated, please be assured its not really very complicated.

    Wouldn’t it be better for version 1.0 of the release to not have so many errors in the first place?

    That’s the whole point of ‘release EARLY’! Why is it such a problem for a font to be made available for testing with many errors? Maybe in the 90s fonts used to hang around a long time, but now everyone has the internet and finding out there is an update and installing it takes a couple minutes – or can even be done automatically.

    What is surely a problem is calling an early release a “1.0″ release… and everything in the SDK is for Android programmers, not for users, so I’m not sure it makes sense to think of this as a 1.0 release – I guess we all have to wait and see what the font is like when it gets distributed to users :-)

    Everyone out there is “free” to fix Roboto. But in doing so, they are also “free” to do unpaid work. Their time would not be time spent making the world a better place, it would be time spent making people who do get paid by Google look better than they should.

    The participation in the libre software world, and in libre encyclopedias, and now the other categories of libre functional works goes on and on, shows that plenty of people don’t see things this way.

    Mostly because the people who are not the original developers who are making changes ARE paid to make these changes by their customers; and sometimes because people have an intrinsic pleasure in doing the activity.

    Not everyone demands to be paid to take part in something.

    Jens:

    I do have the knowledge, and whether I want to fix it depends on how badly I want to use that particular font. But I’m hardly representative of font users in general.

    We agree that when you do have the knowledge to change something, you can consider changing it directly yourself, and if you don’t have the knowledge, you are far less likely to consider the possibility of making changes.

    But this is why libre licensing is important – most people who use libre software don’t have programming knowledge, but because the software is libre, they control the program instead of the program controlling them. Since there is easy worldwide access to programming knowledge, when people wish to make use of that control, they can do so, by PAYING someone else to make the changes they want.

  50. Joshua K. says:

    This font really looks like inconsistent parts tossed together, and the design of some characters like the german ß is simply unusable.

    The ideas Robertson stated remind me of Rotis — but despite the criticisms Aicher’s font has faced, it looks an awful lot more consistent than this concoction.

    The Droid family is much better.

  51. wansai says:

    @ vernon adams,

    that line of thinking and indeed the process itself should not apply to any type of design. You simply don’t release badly broken, unfinished designs as… well… it’s not finished!

    This is very different from the software model where you can release first then iterate, iterate, iterate.

    Something as integral as the type should not ever be released in alpha state because people will be using it daily. I’m a huge proponent of release and iterate, but anything from the design fields should never be released in such an unfinished state.

    It’s perfectly reasonable to release a finished design then later going back to make adjustments and clarifications. It is Never reasonable to release broken.

    My opinion? Google had a tight timeline to meet, This was the result. I’m seeing it affect the rest of the Android UI as well. It isn’t just the typeface issue.

  52. PP mc says:

    For a font which is meant to be primarily targeted towards modern digital devices, having “I” and “l” being almost impossible to distinguish is inexcusable.

  53. PP mc says:

    For a font which is meant to have a primary goal of clarity and accuracy on modern mobile digital devices, having “I” and “l” being almost impossible to distinguish is inexcusable.

  54. M Quad says:

    Great article, definitely an awkward type design. The curves with straighter vertical emphasis on only the cap chars, but not the lowercase makes no sense and makes this type design looks half baked. The horizontal section on the K seems picked-up from other more innovative contemporary font designs and looks out of place.

  55. Matthew Butterick says:

    Some thoughts prompted by points in the Roboto discussion but related more generally to Google’s influence in the font world.

    I can acknowledge that open-source software projects need fonts that are available under compatible licenses. To that extent, “libre” fonts (or whatever the term du jour is) fill a practical need.

    That said:

    1) Google has a great engineering culture, a weak design culture, and no discernible taste. Therefore no one should be surprised that this also describes the Google Web Fonts library. I’ve tried — really, I’ve taken off my type-snob tiara and tried — to find some usable fonts in there. I haven’t. In fact, browsing Google Web Fonts reminds me mostly of 2002 Honest Fonts.

    2) Does that mean free fonts can’t be good? No, but as I think Matthew Carter once quipped, typefaces are never finished, just abandoned. And with free fonts, a designer’s incentive is to abandon them as soon as possible. Looking at Google Web Fonts is like looking at rows of babies in baskets left outside the orphanage.

    3) This is why drawing parallels between open-source as a method of developing software and a method of making type is misleading. Successful open-source software projects are meritocracies led by benevolent dictators. These benevolent dictators are often among the most respected engineers in their field. Libre fonts are not meritocracies. These fonts are usually the work of one to three people, working apart from other type designers, and the font is done when they say it’s done.

    4) Moreover, it’s painfully misleading to draw parallels between Red Hat’s role in the open-source software world and Google’s role in the libre-font world. Red Hat historically has put top open-source developers on payroll so they could afford to do their thing. How many top type designers is Google employing? And I don’t mean throwing out a few thousand bucks here and there — I mean full-time jobs with benefits, stock options, etc. Because that’s what the open-source guys at Red Hat get. They sure aren’t working for free. Neither is Linus Torvalds. Neither is Guido van Rossum. Neither is Matt Mullenweg. And so on.

    5) And that gets back to the ultimate problem with libre fonts: they don’t sustain type design, because they don’t foster the development of type designers. They are an evolutionary dead end. I can’t get mad at Google for doing Roboto or Google Web Fonts because corporations will do what’s in their best interest. If Google wants to be the Costco of typography, fine. All I can do is say to the people who are making libre fonts for Google — wake the hell up! “But Google’s giving me money. And exposure.” Sure. But releasing fonts through Google will not make you a better type designer. Google will not train your eye, nor your mind, nor your hand. Google will not make you raise your expectations for what you can accomplish. What will make you a better type designer is working alongside better type designers and regularly subjecting your work to their scrutiny. Anyone with talent for type design has that option. And if you don’t pursue that option, and your growth as a type designer is thereby stunted, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

  56. Well put, Matthew.

    Since it seems obligatory that anything posted online gets an automatic riposte from someone who simply disagrees, let me encourage the next contributor to this thread to first Google “Matthew Butterick” before posting a response.

  57. Google is a bad competitor for type foundries, in the way Michael Porter presents it because its policy is blurred and goes against the interests of most other type foundries. Costco of typefaces already exists: it’s called MyFonts.
    Free fonts, in the sense of pro bono, is absurd in a long-term perspective. Pro bono fonts can be useful for advertising or experimental stuff.

    Free fonts, in the way of better empowerment of the final users, do have a real meaning for better adaptability and suitabily to people’s needs, e.g. linguistic coverage or embeddability. Those improvements won’t grow on trees and of course will have to be funded, which implies an other economic model.

    Libre type design has little to do with better type design as such; it is not a matter of drawing technicalities but of “sociability”, i.e. how the type design will deal with the rest of the environnement.

    The latter point is crucial; I sense a general move of self-segregation among type designers (which is the dark side of Mr Butterick stated above), which seems to be a warm and safe attitude, but will eventually prove to be most ineffective, because the people you must convince are not yourself but your customers and/or the public, depending on your strategic aim.

  58. Darren Scott says:

    “A camel is a racehorse designed by a committee.“

    This screams of a group of Google executives sat round a table having “creative input” into the design.

  59. vernon adams says:

    “I think everybody should like everybody”
    – Andy Warhol

  60. Wei says:

    In reply to Mathew Butterick’s comment:

    Google has a great engineering culture, a weak design culture, and no discernible taste. Therefore no one should be surprised that this also describes the Google Web Fonts library. I’ve tried — really, I’ve taken off my type-snob tiara and tried — to find some usable fonts in there. I haven’t. In fact, browsing Google Web Fonts reminds me mostly of 2002 Honest Fonts.

    I think you’re being way too harsh here. I’m not sure what selection of fonts you’re looking at on Google fonts but it’s nothing like the “2002 Honest Fonts library” link you shared.

    I see many nice, usable typefaces in that library by skilled designers such as:
    PT Serif by ParaType,
    Merriweather by Eben Sorkin (who regularly updates his blog on the progress of finishing the family),
    Signika by Anna Giedryś,
    Lekton by a large team of designers,
    Quicksand by Andrew Paglinawan,

    It could probably be safely said that what you as an accomplished type designer finds “usable” a typeface is very different to average person.

  61. vernon adams says:

    Jonathan Hoefler, spot on, sound advice. Buttericks “criticism” should be viewed against the context of the critics own professional path and design output. I would much rather hear a critique from Butterick, the type designer, in the context of his own professional path and output. Otherwise it’s just more of the same ol’ “big guy dissing the small guy”.

    So, Matthew, how is the type design path you have taken so much better to the path a designer producing libre/opensource fonts may be taking? Or, how are your type designs so much better? Give examples, enlighten us, I’d love to learn more.

    Also, bearing in mind that the landscape has changed dramatically since you would have started your type design path, I am interested more how you see type designers are now best to develop and output their work in the present; where styles come and go weekly, on the net, amongst free content, where font saturation directs more design than ever before.

    There’s an awful lot of type designers in the world and very few foundries that can offer the sort of apprenticeship/nurture environment you prob benefitted and now espouse to others. What’s your advice vis-a-vis that situation? Work for a major foundry or “go away”? Same goes for developers, there’s a cosmic amount of web developers compared to the situation in your early days. Not every one of them can hope to get “bought out” by a corp, anymore. And many are not interested in that route these days anyway. So where do you see that now? Work in a corp for stocks and a pension, or, “go away”?

    More real world, nuts and bolts, experience-driven advice please.

  62. Vernon, I think you misunderstood Matthew’s point. He didn’t say anything about the size of the font organization you should work with. He advised “working alongside better type designers and regularly subjecting your work to their scrutiny”. There are scores of foundries, large and small, that do offer this kind of environment. Matthew is simply saying — and he’s right — that Google is not one of them.

  63. Wei:

    I think you’re being way too harsh here. I’m not sure what selection of fonts you’re looking at on Google fonts but it’s nothing like the “2002 Honest Fonts library” link you shared.

    There are indeed a handful of very well-made families on Google, but those are the exception. Google’s standards for inclusion are so low the overall impression of the library is quite amateur. MyFonts had a similar problem for many years until the professional foundries joined up and raised the bar. Of course, there’s another big difference: those fonts aren’t free.

  64. Not that I want to defend Google. Personally, I am very critical about what they do. Some reactions to Matthew’s points:

    Re: 1) There are some good fonts. At least ten.

    Re: 2) That the font is free does not mean the designer did not get paid. Something acknowledged later as “throwing out a few thousand bucks here and there”. Well, for some thousands bucks is just fine (or a lot!).

    Have a look and check how many designers there are from the Eastern Europe. And why is that? Google business model/culture misusing global presence? The state of the East European markets where people just do not buy fonts? Or EE schools which do not teach their students to value their own work? Or EE economics simply? Should we set up a Fair Trade Fonts movement?

    5) As far as I know, no one protects those submitting their fonts to Google from advice from elsewhere. Perhaps from their teachers, external consultants etc. Acquiring knowledge is not limited to apprenticeship anymore. There are many good (brilliant!) self-taught type designers.

    Sidenote: buying fonts from independent foundries is a new invention of the advertising (graphic design) market. Invented some 20 years ago. Traditionally, fonts were included with printing systems (of whatever kind). In this respect, practice of Adobe or Google is very traditional. Perhaps someone else should be questioning sustainability of their business.

    What is not traditional is hiring freelance designers to do in-house work (it really is not in-house, is it?). In this respect, I find Matthew’s suggestion of full-time professional type designer (or perhaps more) at Google very sensible (compare with Adobe). People at Google listen now! If you want to make good design decisions, hire good designers.

    Generally (if I may): what designers who care should do? Talk loud about what is good and what is not. There are so many typefaces and very little public criticism (and even less is grounded) or curatorship. It does not matter whether those typefaces were released via Google or MyFonts or any kind of foundry. It needs to be clear whether the product is good (as in finished) or unfinished (as in bad). And this is not always the case.

  65. vernon adams says:

    Stephen Coles:

    Vernon, I think you misunderstood Matthew’s point. He didn’t say anything about the size of the font organization you should work with.

    I may have misunderstood but I assumed Matthew was drawing on his own professional experience working via Font Bureau, etc. Besides, “scores” of these smaller, wonderfully nurturing foundries you mention, is nowhere near enough to go ’round. Also, what about designers who are not so interested in the traditional proprietary type world? I suggest there needs to be more and more alternatives to the path you and Matthew seem to propound. One Route is not enough any more, and a lot of people are willing to simply sidestep it anyway.

    David B., good points, as usual, but i think your’re way off on the “Eastern Europe” angle, but some other time on that. :) Mainly, though, the “At least 10″ good fonts bit: articles like that are interesting, because it’s enlightening to match what type people mark as “good” or “bad” against what users actually use; sadly, some of those fonts on the “10 best” list don’t get used much. We mustn’t assume that good type designers always make succesful type, especially in a more open market.

    I’ll use my own font Oswald an an example asIi know it best. Oswald reached its billionth webfont “call” a few weeks back. Only Open Sans and the Droids get more pulls, and Oswald is only a single weight, display font. It would never get called “good” by type snobs, I knocked the first version up in 3 days and have only made minor changes since, until last week when i created a bold and light version and finally did some decent metrics for the original and fixed as much as possible. To me it’s fascinating to see a font like Oswald get used in such numbers. If I put in 3 months dev time on it would it get used more? The same? Or maybe less? I have a handful of fonts in a similar position to Oswald and many dozens of that grade and better in development. So with reference to Stephen and Matthews comments above — I’m interested to hear what I should be doing with these fonts. How should i improve them generally? What criteria should i use to ensure they are all “top stats” faces? What should i steer clear of? How would e.g. the foundry environment benefit them? How can i get more people using them?

  66. Aldous says:

    “The snobbery of knowledge has been replaced by the snobbery of ignorance.”

  67. Matthew Butterick says:

    Wei, the job of “accomplished type designers” is to make fonts that are usable for the widest audience, under the widest circumstances. The fonts that the “average person” relies on, day after day and year after year — including you, I’ll wager — were made by these designers. They are not libre fonts. 

    David, I’d be happy to see Google put type designers on payroll or find other ways to fund high-quality fonts. Apple and Microsoft have done it successfully. Google can certainly afford it. But unlike those companies, Google is less interested in building a platform than building traffic. (Who knows, maybe Amazon will step up and improve the fonts on the Kindle. They can afford it too.)

    Vernon, the professional type-design community occupies a place in the design world similar to the place Harvard occupies in the world of universities. If you have the talent to get in, the training and friendships will pay you dividends for decades. There is not “one route” into this community. Some people have design degrees; some don’t. Some people work as staff designers; some as freelancers. The community is certainly bigger and more diverse than when I started. But what all these people have in common is a commitment to sustaining the craft of type design, and being part of a golden thread that winds back 500 years. 

    If that sounds pretentious and fuddy-duddy, put the principle to the test: who are your type-design heroes? What are your favorite fonts? If they’re all in the Google Web Fonts library, then ignore me and keep doing what you’re doing. But if those designers and fonts are products of the “traditional proprietary type world,” then maybe you should think longer about which tradition you want to be a part of. 

  68. I agree with Matthew about community being an important part of the process of expanding, sustaining, enriching type design. Having a participative design community around Google Web Fonts, not only talking about technical stuff but also doing design critique and pushing for more quality, would help a lot. Maybe it is there, but I haven’t seen it. Or maybe designers are not willing to share or have not had the need.

    Where I disagree with Matthew is in the part concerning tradition. Tradition is great for sustaining quality and giving a solid base. But tradition alone won’t push things forward. I don’t know if Google Webfonts is the way to do that, but I personally think it has the right ingredients.

    They have the technology, they are trying to do things in a different way by embracing the libre software way of working. They have drawn the attention of many different people, including all the people who have commented in this post (even if it’s for, sometimes, counterproductive comments). They do have the support of many. And the people working at Google seem like a great team, improving constantly. I have probably left out plenty of other stuff.

    The main point is that they are doing things differently. For some that may seem like a negative point, but if you want to change the way things work…

    And I know that question was not directed to me, but no, there are only two of my favorite fonts in the Google Web Fonts library, but that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. Helping to improve and create a “new tradition” certainly seems more attractive to me. And one can always be in both worlds.

  69. Tim Ahrens says:

    My two cents:

    • I agree with David B that some of the best type designers out there are self-taught. Although feedback from good designers certainly helps, I don’t think it plays a key role in developing type design skills. Doing as others have taught you won’t help, you need to see and feel it yourself.

    • I don’t think Google needs to employ professionals to design type. It would be sufficient to have top-class designers choose the fonts. That raises the question: who has chosen the ones we have today? I don’t mean this as a rhetoric question or criticism, I’d be seriously interested how that decision is made. Their website does not say anything about it. Does anyone know?

  70. vernon adams says:

    Matthew, I can’t see at all how “the professional type-design community” is to the design world what “Harvard is to Universities”. For one, Harvard is a private establishment, with a clear form; you have either attended Harvard or you have not. The professional type-design community is an abstract concept; it surely exists, but it’s form is not concrete and its ‘membership’ has no measurable parameters. Who is a member and how do they prove it? Who grants membership? I’m not at all sure what are you trying to say, apologies.

    Anyway, I would think that the ‘design world’ in general tends to propagate it’s output in a very different way than some “Harvard-dominated field” would. In Europe, for example, Design is still strongly rooted in a Public education system, and dare i say it, “the street”. Art and Design education in the UK and Europe stems directly from educational models shaped by particular artists and designers of the 1930s and ’40s; its kernel is highly egalitarian. With regards to type design, Figures like Tschichold and Renner were certainly part of that wider thread, that effectively established Design as a new field that could be studied and pursued as part of “the plastic arts”. The type design course i attended at a UK University was clearly part of that educational heritage. It certainly didn’t feel like “prep school” for some “Designer’s Harvard”. Heaven forbid! :) So i guess that would be the tradition i am a product of.

    And so, Matthew, what about your own type design output? Where do you see its value? What could i learn from it? How is it part of that half millennial Golden Thread you mentioned? I would love to hear some positive specifics of your type design work, to be honest.

  71. David Lemon says:

    I’m pondering the self-taught-designer notion. It’s certainly happened; Hermann Zapf, Matthew Carter, and Robert Slimbach are all essentially self-taught. But when I think of the type designers who’ve risen to prominence in the last decade, I’m failing to think of a single one who hasn’t attended either the Reading or KABK masters program, or worked with a standard commercial foundry. I’d say the odds of learning what really needs to be learned are far higher that way. I am fortunate to have a ringside seat on what goes into top-notch design, and I’d say it’d be a major miracle for someone to figure it all out on his/her own.

  72. Wei says:

    David, Kris Sowersby managed to figure it all out on his own!

  73. David Lemon says:

    Kris Sowersby picked up a lot working with FontFont, i.e. the major foundry “apprenticeship” route. And with regards to my earlier post, even Matthew Carter worked with Enschede and then Linotype, learning as he went.

  74. vernon adams says:

    After the initial criticism, and the unveiling of more Roboto weights, i wonder if any of the nay-sayers have had time to reappraise the font? Is it looking any better? or is it still a ‘frightening’, ‘cross-breed’ ‘creature’?

    Still waiting for Mathew to drop some Harvard-esque pearls about his own type design too… :)

  75. vernon adams says:

    Matthew “I used to work for Redhat” Butterick has just blogged further about opensource fonts.

  76. Julian says:

    Disclaimer: I’m a laymen. I know nothing (well, I’m familiar with the basic concepts, an educated laymen then…) about fonts and typography. I’m just your common user. I don’t even know for sure how I came to this site (I think I was trying to download the font).

    That said, after using the Galaxy Nexus and the Transformer Prime, including making tests with the Droid family in those devices, there is _no way_ I prefer the Droid font.

    To my laymen eyes, Roboto works _that_ much better on those devices. Is it original? Is it a brilliant technical work? I don’t know (I’d guess not reading this site). I understand and admire the value of scientific progression and discussion in a field (I’m careful about it in my field, too), but to my uses Roboto works better than Droid. It’s better to my eyes, my reading goes more fluent.

    Is it because I don’t have taste? Who knows… But anyway, I just wanted to give you guys a layman opinion.

    Best regards.

  77. “Kris Sowersby picked up a lot working with FontFont, i.e. the major foundry “apprenticeship” route.”

    It would be more accurate to say “working with Christian Schwartz”. I didn’t work directly with FF on either Meta Serif or Unit Slab. I’ve also been fortunate to work with Chester Jenkins, who has taught me much.

  78. While I am wary to join this discussion, I have to agree with Matthew when he says:

    “What will make you a better type designer is working alongside better type designers and regularly subjecting your work to their scrutiny. ”

    And the “best exposure” you can get is to make quality work. But this is true of all industries.

  79. Paul says:

    Forget all this esoteric stuff about font design, and look at the practical failures of Roboto.

    Any font where you cannot easily tell the difference between I and l is a failure for practical every-day use.

    As a lay-man I also find it difficult to read blocks of Roboto of more than a sentence.

  80. R says:

    Another layperson here. Found this while looking for info on what font is sys default in ICS, because as a longtime Android user I really, really like it… it’s MUCH better than the original Droid fonts.

    Your core argument seems to be that this font draws direct and obvious inspiration from multiple canonical fonts, and is thus an abomination.

    The Beatles’ _Sgt. Pepper’s_ draws direct and obvious inspiration from multiple musical canons. Most people consider it an ultimately / utterly cohesive and culturally definitive masterwork.

    Your argument is thusly flawed from out the gate, and reeks of elitist dismissal for elitist dismissal’s sake.

    And, again, I think Roboto looks absolutely great. I have not seen a stock font in any OS that I’ve liked this well in a very long time. And I’m trying to see if I can get it onto not just my Froyo-entrenched phone but also my actual computers as a system font.

    Go on with your font-cork-sniffing in private, and let the rest of us marvel at how good our ICS devices look in operation.

  81. DA says:

    Yeah this font blows….Droid Sans looks much better…

  82. Drew says:

    Sorry but the comparison to Myriad is wrong. Get out your measuring stick.

  83. I’m leary to jump in here (especially to defend Google), but I think it should be noted that Roboto is for the users of Android devices. Fonts are a tool and should not be designed for other designers, but rather for a use case.

    If you read the Android Developer Docs on design, you can get a sense for how this font fits into their design universe. If you ask an Android user, they’ll probably tell you it’s an improvement over Droid Sans.

    So while I agree Roboto has its weak points, it succeeds where it’s supposed to.

  84. Mathew says:

    Hi everyone,

    I’ve actually been trying out this font, and I know it’s not intended for print, but it actually causes the printer to error out. I’m 100% positive it’s the font causing the error.

    Something like a 49.0EC error or something like that. Just thought I should share this, maybe someone will pick up on it.

  85. Cass says:

    I’ve just been playing around with this font in a design…Regardless of it’s origins and the ‘mishmash’ of styles…My thoughts about actually working with this typeface on the ground…

    It woulds great as a body copy typeface, so long as it’s 18 pt or higher and with relatively spacey line-height. Everything else is awkward and unkempt. It renders (very) badly at any size smaller. Go bigger up to display size, and again it starts looking strange. Not just because of the variety of ‘styles’ you get out of different words – but it just loses that softer edge it has down at 18pt.

    Overall, it’s very bizarre. Seeing it at 18pt as body and seeing the great variety of weights and styles made me really want to make this typeface work for me…but I just can’t! Which is how I ended up here and reading this post.

    What a head scratcher.

  86. Hrant says:

    I haven’t yet made the time to read all the above comments, but I wanted to chime in with an on-the-ground perspective: since Wednesday I’m the proud owner of a Galaxy Note 2 (my first cellphone – no, I’m not kidding :-) and even as a jaded type freak I have to say that -so far- Roboto is working for me. Besides being sufficiently readable, it really seems to match the “mood” of a portable communication/organization device well.

  87. Juddc says:

    I picked up Roboto to use for a job when a client decided they didn’t want to buy a subscription or purchase a webfont system.

    It worked for me. Workman-like, some quirky personality (which I like), and approachable. Not the nicest face, but it suited my purposes very well. Granted, I’m not scrutinizing it in a vacuum. Its being used in context.

    In the meantime, I’m just happy I’ve got some choice these days. If I ever see verdana again it’ll be too soo…

  88. Toby Thain says:

    To people citing “pull” numbers, asking “how can I get more people to use X”—

    Popularity just isn’t a virtue in itself.

  89. Eric says:

    I’m using Roboto at small sizes for a web/mobile site in the 12-14pt/px size range, and it suits the look better than anything else I’ve found. It does have its flaws, but still seems better than helvetica/arial/verdana/etc at that size. Although I am looking for something even more crisp, just haven’t found it yet.

  90. ERIC says:

    UPDATE: I just tried out Droid Sans in place of Roboto… and it’s much more crisp in the 12-14pt range. If anyone else has other suggestions for the 12-14pt range, I’m looking for crisp, sharp, and delicate renderings.

  91. Jan says:

    This is not a design thing but I think you guys should know about another problem. Roboto is not printed on some systems above a size of around 17 pt occuring e.g on some HP printers.

    check out the follwing link:

    http://code.google.com/p/android/issues/detail?can=2&start=0&num=100&q=&colspec=ID%20Type%20Status%20Owner%20Summary%20Stars&groupby=&sort=&id=38383

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

Set in Bureau Grot by Font Bureau, Nocturno Display by Nikola Djurek, Fern (unreleased) by David Jonathan Ross, and JAF Bernini Sans by Tim Ahrens.

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