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Developing fonts

Windows Glyph Processing:

We have seen in this article how glyph processing extends the capabilities of fonts and text layout applications, and we have seen practical demonstrations of why this technology is needed to process the world's many complex writing systems and the languages that use them. We've also seen, for example in the use of localized glyph forms for Serbian, how this technology can respond to the typographical preferences of particular user communities even as it provides a universal text processing solution using the Unicode Standard for character encoding. Not least, we have seen how glyph processing can enable rich typographic features that can be applied to text without font switching, custom encodings or other primitive solutions that threaten the semantic integrity of the text.

Many people will look at these capabilities and identify complex script support as an obvious priority; after all, such support is necessary to allow users of these scripts to communicate at a basic level. Text processing for complex scripts is glyph processing, and the challenges of implementing OpenType Layout features simply cannot be avoided. It seems likely then, that application developers looking to prioritize resource allocation for implementing glyph processing support are likely to view correct Arabic shaping as much more important than, for example, adding smallcaps support for the Latin script.

It is indeed difficult to overestimate the importance of Arabic shaping, but it is easy to underestimate the importance of Latin smallcaps. It is easy to think of typography as simply making text look nice, and so to treat many elements of typography as frills: luxuries that applications can get around to supporting when they have dealt with all the more important things.

I want to conclude this article by suggesting why support for sophisticated typography belongs among the important things, and not relegated to a frill. The role of typography is not to prettify text, but to articulate it. That it does so in an aesthetic way—utilizing all the art it can draw from its own heritage, the heritage of manuscript tradition, and individual creative vision—should not disguise the expressive and organizational relationship of typography to text. A typographic culture, such as the one in which you engage as you read this article, is a system of visual indicators that helps readers navigate text and helps writers express their ideas.

In the 550 years since Gutenberg developed metal type casting at Mainz, the printed Latin script has developed a particularly rich typographic culture, using romans, italics, bold type, smallcaps, ligatures, swash forms, etc., to organize and articulate the texts of hundreds of languages around the world. Other scripts have developed equally complex and adaptive systems, some more complex and sophisticated, while others are only just beginning their typographic journey. Typography is part of how the human race expresses itself, individually and collectively. Sadly, whenever support for a particular aspect of a typographic culture is limited, texts are inevitably rendered less expressive of the ideas they contain than they might be. As if we were forced to speak in a monotone, we cannot fully articulate what we need to say.

Software developers, of course, have to prioritize, to allocate resources carefully, and they need to ship a product in a marketplace that will not wait for them to do everything they might like to do. The Windows glyph processing model provides such developers with a powerful set of helper functions and system components to provide users with rich, expressive typographical controls. The OpenType format provides font developers with ways to add considerable typographic intelligence to their fonts: intelligence that, with proper application support, can help users articulate their ideas with the full register of their typographic voices.

introduction | overview | detail | conclusion

Last updated 7 November 2000.

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