One of my favorite documentaries is Jiro Dreams of Sushi, which tells the story of 85 year-old sushi master, Jiro Ono, who has spent his life honing his craft at a 10-seat restaurant in a Japanese subway station.

Jiro is the picture of craftsmanship and dedication and runs his restaurant as such, whether apprentices prepare egg sushi 200 times before meeting the standard or octopus is massaged for 50 minutes for tenderness. Even service is meticulously executed. Jiro places sushi in front of patrons and watches them carefully, modifying portion size and even placement to suit right or left-handed diners.

But beyond any of that, I was impressed with the relationships he has with his food providers. Because sourcing the highest quality ingredients is the foundation for Jiro’s craft, he recognizes and trusts each provider as the expert in his particular field—tuna, rice, shrimp, etc. The relationship is symbiotic; each must excel or neither will succeed.

I think this mirrors the web designers’ relationship to type designers. I don’t think anyone can deny that for our work on the web to be any good at all, we must have quality typefaces. Without them we are powerless.

Over the past 5 years, the importance of this relationship has become increasingly apparent. Before web fonts took off, I never gave font selection much thought. I chose from my web safe options (Georgia, Verdana, Helvetica, etc.) and moved on. Now that we have thousands of options whose quality varies greatly, I realize just how important it is to support type designers, enabling the creation of more, high-quality fonts and therefore better websites. The type designer’s role is instrumental to the success of our work.

Fostering this relationship clearly starts with respect. In the same way that Jiro trusts experts to provide him with the best materials so we should appreciate and value those devoted to the creation of quality web fonts. The more I work with web fonts, the more I learn about how difficult it is to make great ones. Time spent on letterforms, tracking, kerning pairs, and rendering makes or breaks a font. If quality takes time it also takes money, and I am personally happy to pay a fair price for such an invaluable resource.

Every time we obtain a font without a license, or perhaps even gripe about a fair price, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. If we want great web fonts, we must support their creation. When web type designers succeed, so do we.

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23 Responses

Leave a comment or contact me via Twitter @TrentWalton

  • Andrew Fiorillo

    I agree with supporting type designers. I wish more of them let me serve their fish in my restaurant. This is changing for the better though.

  • Colin M. Ford

    Trent, thank you. This sort of sentiment means a lot to type designers. Most of the time spent working on a typeface is put into making sure the reader doesn’t even notice the work of the designer, so when someone using our typeface takes note of our hard work, it makes us feel really special.

    It is hard making typefaces for the web at present, mostly because the sand is constantly shifting under our feet. Believe us, we want see our fonts used on the web as much as you want to use it. It’s just that because type designers are a very detail-oriented lot—you mentioned our love for spacing and kerning above—we like to make sure every aspect of the font in the browser is the best it can be.

    Eventually we might get to a place where fonts on the web are just as easy to use (or easier) than they are in desktop publishing programs. But we’ll only get there with web designers and type designers working together.

  • Celine Nguyen

    Great article—it’s been wonderful to see the evolution of rich web typography in the past few years, and I feel that given the accessibility and volume of information on the web, typography will become even more important to pixelpushers.

    It’d be cool to see websites maybe commissioning custom typefaces from foundries, as newspapers do now, and have more creative partnerships instead of a distant type-maker/type-user relationship.

  • Trent

    @Andrew Fiorillo: Good point. I think the first step of that is building relationships and paying fair prices.

    @Colin M. Ford:

    Eventually we might get to a place where fonts on the web are just as easy to use (or easier) than they are in desktop publishing programs. But we’ll only get there with web designers and type designers working together.

    I definitely look forward to that day. And I’d be interested to see the evolution & process involved in getting a font ready for the web. Maybe take some screenshots along the way and post on it when you hit a release. It’d be good educational material for us web design folk.

    @Celine Nguyen:

    It’d be cool to see websites maybe commissioning custom typefaces from foundries, as newspapers do now, and have more creative partnerships instead of a distant type-maker/type-user relationship.

    Good golly! I love that line of thinking. I can’t think of it off hand, but I thought there was an online publication that did this recently.

  • dj

    @trent... a possible suggestion. After reading one of your posts (almost always a pleasant experience not the least of which is due to your careful craftsmanship of its type and appearance), if one is inclined to leave a comment about it there is no way to read what others have written first unless you scroll back up to the top. There is a “leave a comment” link at the end of the article, but no link to see if another has already said what you are thinking. Perhaps the “3 responses” (now 4) at the end should be a link?

  • Trent

    @dj: Thanks for the kind words. I think I follow you. So, if (instead of clicking the comment link) you scroll down just a little, won’t you see the comment thread start?

  • wawrick

    Trent, thanks for the great article. I strongly believe that great webfonts are the key to designing a good website and really apprechiate your thougts on the topic.
    I happily pay my Typekit subscription fee every month even though i’m not so sure that individual type creators get that much money out of it.

  • Scott Lyttle

    Trent, I went to see this movie last night on your recommendation and it was exquisite! A true testament to a person with a passion for their craft. Thanks for the recommendation or I wouldn’t have even known it was on.

    For any other Sydney-siders wanting to go see the movie, it’s currently playing at Chauvel Cinema.

  • Trent

    @Scott Lyttle: Glad you enjoyed it! I just did a check and realized there isn’t anyplace to watch instant (Netflix, Amazon, etc) just yet. I’ll be keeping an eye out though because I want to see it again.

  • Josh

    I saw that movie last week and thought the same thing!

  • Joao

    Very nice post. Totally agree with that. I have a trully passion about typography.

    Also, about japanese food.

  • Matthew

    Great article Trent, and it’s true, when people are doing their job well (in pretty much any environment or situation) you don’t notice them.

    Jiro is available on Love Film (in the UK at least) - I’ve just added it to my list. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Matthew

  • Justin Avery

    Caught the film last night. Simply amazing.

    The web needs more people like Jiro to strive for perfection and lift the bar higher for those coming through.

  • Denis

    The point is right, if everyone gets everything for free, the quality of the work will suffer.

  • jone

    @Andrew Fiorillo: very Good! I link it;

  • GoodBytes

    I think the same is true not only for fonts but also for example when it comes to picking a CMS or design work in general. Some clients unfortunately prefer cheap fast food instead of great sushi. I tend to pick my clients carefully resulting in less, but more motivating business rather than settling for cheaper fish in the sushi.

    It’s funny to see read what many of us were probably thinking after watching that movie. I was writing up a draft about how Jiro runs his business and how motivating it is to see somebody like him run and talk about his business. Great article Trent!

  • André Luís

    Wholeheartedly and excitingly agree.

    These are all very important issues in which our attitudes and lightness of thought might hinder the industry. Very well put, Trent.
    One thing I’d like to share here, because it is related, is that websites selling webfonts (brokering for foundries or direct-from-the-foundry type of things), need to leverage their audience-size based on a different metric than pageviews.
    I recently was involved in the redesign of website with a potential audience around 100,000,000 pageviews a month, in which I pushed hard for the adoption of high quality typography across the page. While choosing typefaces, it became apparent that typing into the pageviews box: “100 000 000″ monthly pageviews, would get me quotes around $5,000-$15,000 a year fee for each font.
    I can perfectly agree that a property with a bigger audience should have an adjusted price, but I personally don’t think this shouldn’t be capped at a fair maximum amount.
    And this is where this issue touches yours. If we want all websites—including those with huge audiences—to be able to carry *high quality* typefaces, we need to drop the pageview metric down to the side of the road or at least cap it at a maximum that is fair for the foundry, the designer but also to the user. Especially when alternatives are a dime a dozen and Google Web Fonts API is free.
    Do you agree?

  • Greg Washington

    “...for our work on the web to be any good at all, we must have quality typefaces. Without them we are powerless.”

    That’s pretty definitive. I disagree. I don’t underestimate the value of good typography, but it alone doesn’t determine success or failure. Especially online. You are definitely NOT powerless without them. There’s just too many other factors, of almost equal or greater value, to consider.

    But yes. I’m all for supporting font designers 10000%.

    P.S. “Every time we obtain a font without a license, or perhaps even gripe about a fair price, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. If we want great web fonts, we must support their creation. When web type designers succeed, so do we.” <-- That applies to almost any pirated content.

  • Trent

    @André Luís: That’s tough stuff. I haven’t given it too much thought at the moment, but maybe that’s a place where licensing needs to adapt. Then again, I imagine for some organizations that could be money well spent.

    @Greg Washington:

    That’s pretty definitive. I disagree. I don’t underestimate the value of good typography, but it alone doesn’t determine success or failure. Especially online. You are definitely NOT powerless without them. There’s just too many other factors, of almost equal or greater value, to consider.

    Fair point. I agree that there are many factors, but to me type is one of the largest ones. Whether it’s a paid webfont or a really nice web safe font (like Georgia), I just recognize how crucial they are to my work.

  • Anselm Urban

    Nice article! Webdesigners should really pay more attention to fonts.

  • OnTheOtherHand

    On the other hand, the sushi chef actually served food, and not just cutting, or flipping, or storing, or pictures.

  • Hajduszoboszlo

    Caught the film last night. Simply amazing. It’s funny to see read what many of us were probably thinking after watching that movie.

  • Madalina

    Impressive film. Who puts passion in his work makes for life.

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