Talking about Web Type with Jason Pamental

Rifling through my research files, I came across this great interview with Jason Pamental on working with web type in Drupal 7. Hope you enjoy!

Dani: Talk to me about web type. How do you find that web type plays into this whole Design for Drupal thing?

Jason: very easily, actually. One of the things that led me to go back to working on my own, which now is over a year and a half ago, was being stuck in too technical a role in this agency I was working at in Providence, and not being able to deal with the design and strategy side of things as much as I enjoyed. I think that’s honestly what I’m better at. And that coincided with Typekit being launched, and I had been following what was going on with that, and ended up getting a subscription to it and playing around with it. I’d always really loved type, but never really was taught a whole lot about it. And this was one of my first real chances to play around with it, so I got into it right away.

At first, I just dropped a line or two of Javascript in my theme file and was fine, but then I had this idea that I’d never made a module before, but there really ought to be a Typekit module. Turns out this guy had sort of started one, but had left it sitting in a state that was really, really rough. I saw that as my opportunity, so I picked it apart, I rebuilt the whole thing and figured out the things that were and weren’t going to work, like automatically setting it to load the https script if it’s on a secured page, and adding an external Javascript call — this was for Drupal 6 at the time, so Drupal was a bit finicky about that. So again, there was this sense of figuring out how Drupal worked in order to get this stuff in there in the right way, and it really wasn’t all that hard.

So the module got much better; it was much more flexible and easy to use, and Typekit was a great service to work with and had a lot of really neat stuff. That was my first real effort at doing any amount of community work to make that thing better. But it sort of made me think about both the use and the shortcomings as well; so I started researching that a lot more — how to use web fonts better. How to deal with the things that might not go right. With all the performance enhancements in the service, I started using it more and more, even for body type. It was just this really liberating thing to be able to design with all of these fonts and not have to ever look at Arial on a web page again.

Dani: you really don’t like Arial, do you?

Jason: you know, it’s nicer than having to pick on Helvetica all the time.

Dani: That’s true.

Jason: but I have to say, there are a few that are really just no better. We have a project at SchoolYard currently that specifies Univers for the body type; it’s a utility font. That’s the thing that really underscores this web font thing: these fonts are there, and they’re used, because they have no impact. They’re easy to use in any scenario because they don’t lend anything to the design.

Dani: I also think that one of the things people look for is something that is universal, I guess. It’s a readability issue.

Jason: well, sure, but there’s a ton of great fonts out there that are extremely readable.

Dani: I agree.

Jason: and yes, I understand that the Helveticas of the world have their place, but when presented with the option to do something different after 15 or 18 years of having to do everything in Arial or Helvetica, it’s time to do something different. And what I enjoy about that is that it shifts the entire tone of the design when everything is different instead of just headers or accents being different; and that’s what makes web design a lot more fun again.

And then extending that to mobile devices and other platforms, and still being able to bring that consistency, makes it even better. So then extending it further into the Drupal world, there’s Scott Reynen with the @font-your-face module[1], which actually blends all the different services together. So then you can use one font from Typekit, one font from Google, and all these different services together without then having to do anything in your theme if you don’t want to.

There’s some interesting possibilities there. I was just having a conversation with him last night about it, and it’s headed in a really good direction. Hopefully we’ll be able to see some really need stuff soon.

For more with Jason Pamental, check out my interview with him in Design and Prototyping for Drupal, available at O'Reilly's website. He'll also be interviewed in the upcoming Drupal for Designers book, which is available for pre-order.

[1] http://drupal.org/project/fontyourface

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