Just minutes ago, at the ATypI conference in Warsaw, the world was introduced to a new kind of font: a variable font. Jointly developed by Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Adobe, a variable font is, as John Hudson put it, “a single font file that behaves like multiple fonts”. Imagine a single font file gaining an infinite flexibility of weight, width, and other attributes without also gaining file size — and imagine what this means for design.
There’s a lot to digest here, but the gist is this: much smaller font file sizes; incredible control and granularity over presentation; and (arguably most importantly) collaboration from big vendors. This isn’t just noble effort, either; all of this technology is being built into the OpenType format:
To facilitate just such advancements, people from our four companies (along with notable independent contributors) have been collaborating for more than half a year on a significant improvement to the OpenType font file specification that now includes a new technology: OpenType Font Variations, which allows type designers to interpolate a font’s entire glyph set or individual glyphs along up to 64,000 axes of variation (weight, width, etc.), and define specific positions in the design space as named instances (“Bold”, “Condensed”, etc.).
(That last bit answers one of my biggest questions: given an extremely customizable format, how do you guide usage towards simple, sensible configurations?)
It’s clear there’s still a long way to go, and Mr. Brown calls on type designers, browser vendors, and web standards groups to help get it done. Yet, even in its infancy, variable fonts seem downright impressive. Color me excited.