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.