'crap cartoon font' (Part 1)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/08/12 01:01 -04:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2007/08/11/4317850.aspx

This is one of many posts that was written around the time that TypeCon2007 was going on, and edited later.... 

No, this is not a post about Comic Sans MS, though I'm sure some of the contributors to and fans of http://www.bancomicsans.com/ might think the title applies to that font, too! :-)

One of the really amazing things about TypeCon was getting a chance to hear thoughts on typography from people like Mamoun Sakkal and his daughter Aida Sakkal, and from people like Robert Bringhurst -- all three of whom shared various thoughts about Arabic typography in particular.

Their thoughts in their presentations actually helped me be able to better describe my opinions about the way Arabic is "supported" in fonts like Tahoma.

My first hints here were when a colleague of mine who originally hails from Iran had little nice to say about the Arabic script as displayed by Tahoma. It was maybe okay for the Arabic language (which he did not really use), but he really wanted "that crap cartoon version of Arabic" kept away from his beloved Farsi!

I must admit that the term "crap cartoon version of Arabic" has stuck with me with all of these years, and really says quite a bit about what was really done to Arabic to try and stick it alongside other scripts in a font that tries to cover many script subranges.

I personally wouldn't go so far as to make quite the same value judgment, but I understand why he did, especially in a user interface font like Tahoma that is given the requirement of working even at small sizes.

In the modern world where technologies like Uniscribe are always able to find some font choice, megafonts or even any font that covers more than one script have naught but a single, solitary benefit -- the opportunity for the font author to make sure that the multiple scripts work well together.

Many of the examples of fine Arabic typography in Robert's talk made me kind of jealous, especially when contrasted against some of his examples of what not to do actually looked disturbingly like many of our solutions at Microsoft that are used in UI fonts that include Arabic script.

I was actually hanging out for a bit with Aida, telling her about some of my frustrations in this area for Arabic, as well as some of the scripts that are even more challenging to combine with Latin like Tibetan which we predictably are also not so good at).

In the end, all three of them showed various examples that I think come much closer to what really looks better here (though looking at the sizes for all three they might need to be a little bigger for UI fonts, something that seems in the realm of possibility).

One difference that made this possible, which Robert actually talked about directly, was having a bit more space between lines so that in the case where ascenders or descenders were needed, the spacing between lines would not change randomly on different lines or force the Arabic text to be shaped strangely or "cartoon-like."

This choice does come with a cost, however -- in the case of occasional Arabic text included in mostly Latin text, that space may look extraneous. So while it really may represent a superior solution for mostly Arabic text, the mostly not Arabic text case might need some tweaking. :-)

I'll try to put together some good examples of the different choices, because having a dilettante like myself go on about these things despite not having all of the right terminology has got to be annoying to people who actually do work with fonts for a living. So I'll try to bring in some samples at some point....


This post brought to you by ك (U+0643, a.k.a. ARABIC LETTER KAF)

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referenced by

2010/10/14 Where'd that font go? Was it ever in there?

2008/12/03 Want to hear about a cool new typographic convention? Khmer, and I'll tell you about it...

2008/05/18 The song[ and the answer] remains the same

2008/04/04 Fight the Future? (#1 of ??), aka The inappropriate nature of getting the Feh out of Uighur

2008/02/06 The utility of a feature like font fallback in Uniscribe can often be somewhat obviated by its design flaw

2007/08/16 'crap cartoon font' (Part 2)

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