Text for Proofing Fonts

9th June 2020 PERMALINK • 1 min read

Jonathan Hoefler, on the problem with panoramas when proofing fonts:

In years past, our proofs were full of pangrammatic foxes and lynxes and the rest, which made for some very merry reading. But invariably, I’d find myself staring down a lowercase J — and if I questioned the amount of space assigned to its left side, I’d set off in search of some confirmation in the proof. Each time, I’d be reminded that while pangrams delivered all kinds of jocks and japes and jutes and judges, even our prodigious list featured not a single word with a J in the middle. I also started to notice that Xs had an unusually strong affinity for Ys in pangrams, because pangrams make a sport of concision. Words like foxy and oxygen deliver real bang for your buck if you’re out to craft a compact sentence, but to the typeface designer noticing that the pair XY looks consistently wrong, none of these words will reveal which letter is at fault. I’d find myself rewriting the pangrams, popping in an occasional ‘doxology’ to see if the X was balanced between round letters, or ‘dynamo’ to review the Y between flat ones.

It’s an interesting problem, and one I can’t say I’ve ever thought about. But it makes sense that when proofing a font, you’d want to be able to capture a high majority of scenarios, not just a few good looking panoramas that probably aren’t similar to what a real sentence would look like.

However, Jonathan has come up with a proof that tackles things such as the spacing between different types of letters, how each letter looks at the start of a word, what double letters look like, and most likely more things that I won’t understand. Font proofing is certainly nothing I’ve considered before, but I always find it intriguing to see how people identify problems, and especially how they come up with a better solution.