Web Fonts &
Typography News

Issue #41 • 10 April, 2020

Another week of this strange new normal. Hard to imagine it’s been a month now here in Rhode Island of this level of isolation. I feel fortunate that our house has been healthy and peaceful. That is in fact a big part of the inspiration for this week’s issue. Maintaining rituals has been a big part of my own self-care: morning dog walks, time on the bike (albeit solo), morning coffee, writing this newsletter.

Since 2 of the last 3 weeks had over 50% open rates (average is around 34%) it seems some of you appreciate it as well. I’ve gotten some really wonderful emails lately (thank you John, Vince, Brian, Trent, Matt, Nancy, Scott, and Michelle!) including a fair amount of interest in the idea of one or more online workshops. So on that note, I’ll press on.

Online workshops: interested?

Given the interest so far, I’ve been thinking more about offering online workshops in using variable fonts, working with the Google Fonts API to get them, and other bits and bobs about dynamic typography like what I write about here. If you’d be interested in participating in one, send me an email and let me know. Pricing will be based on the length of the workshop, but figuring likely not more than $100, with a discount for students or other extenuating circumstances. Basically as long as the platform cost is covered I want to make this as accessible as possible.



Replies go straight to my inbox—let me know what you want to learn!

Today’s Tip

Swiss inspiration & morning rituals observed

This week’s issue took a bit of a meander. I started thinking I might make another Google Fonts API tutorial. But part way through that I got another email from International Poster Gallery celebrating the work of Swiss designer Herbert Leupin. One in particular caught my eye: Tribune De Lausanne, 1955—one of his most popular works. It beautifully captures the message that one should start their day with coffee and Le Tribune.

Herbert Leupin poster for the Tribune from 1955
One of Leupin’s most sought-after works

The way the text is set inside the coffee pot grabbed me, and I started to think about masking and clipping again. I created a silhouette of the coffee pot outline and saved it as a PNG with transparency so I could play with the ’shape-outside’ property. That ended up not working like I’d hoped as it doesn’t scale the same in different browsers. So I used it to make a polygon shape as an outline and assigned it to a custom property. Since the same syntax is used for both shape-outside and clip-path, this is a perfect use case.

Adding a figure element with an empty DIV inside, I used that as a placeholder for the next part of the experiment. I set the coffee pot as a background and assigned a width and height roughly the same aspect ratio in viewport width units (so it would scale with the window). The empty DIV has the clip-path applied to it, and the Javascript takes the text content of the whole container and ‘pours’ it into the container. Then some styles to make the text size bigger, reduce the opacity, reduce the letter-spacing and line height, and set it to allow word-breaking wherever necessary. Completely and totally illegible, but that’s just fine: it works beautifully as a texture fill over the silhouette in the background.

Then I started to think that all of this seemed just a bit odd given it was typesetting the first chapter of Moby Dick.

Showing the CSS polygon shape outlining the pot
The layout was coming together, but was still fighting with the content itself

In the image above you can see the polygon points highlighted in the Firefox developer tools. They made easy work of making the complex outline. Then I just copied the code into the custom property value and applied it to both the shape-outside and clip-path. This give us the text wrap and the text container.

:root {
  --coffeepot-polygon: polygon(48.14% 12.00%, 29.27% 18.21%, 29.47% 20.94%, 53.72% 25.02%, 30.48% 25.44%, 26.63% 42.54%, 19.47% 27.61%, 14.68% 26.59%, 7.85% 30.26%, 12.36% 34.33%, 14.72% 38.75%, 15.79% 44.32%, 16.78% 51.65%, 16.81% 59.44%, 19.01% 65.11%, 22.23% 66.6%, 21.17% 88.32%, 166px 94.95%, 76.07% 95.21%, 77.25% 77.44%, 80.76% 73.85%, 80.15% 69.36%, 89% 55.31%, 93.08% 45.82%, 93.98% 37.76%, 90.89% 32.05%, 85.62% 26.85%, 78.41% 27.24%, 72.83% 25.69%, 64.4% 18.07%, 60.77% 14.75%, 62.03% 10.24%, 59% 30px, 49.58% 5.45%);

.pot {
  shape-margin: 1rem;
  shape-outside: var(--coffeepot-polygon);
.pot .contents {
  clip-path: var(--coffeepot-polygon);

So I wrote a short bit about Ellen, me, the dogs, and our coffee routine. Seems like I’ve diverted more than a little from my first notions, but ultimately we’ve ended up with a lot of those elements anyway. Work Sans (variable) is coming from the Google Fonts API, we’ve got some fun experiments with images and shape-outside and clip paths, and a bit of JavaScript to pour the text into the coffeepot, mix it all together and make a bit of texture out of it.

The final design with text wrapping around the coffee pot
Now the layout and the content complement each other

While I admit this week’s experiment was maybe a bit more personal, I do think it still ‘fits the mission’—we have a simple pairing of a heading and copy, given an interesting layout that makes use of modern CSS techniques inspired by classic graphic design. The effect is still readable, accessible, scalable, and easy to maintain. I hope you’ll give some of these techniques a try!

Since the text in the demo is too long for alt text, I've included it here as well.


First, coffee

Our first date was Sunday morning coffee at the Starbucks on Thayer Street. It wasn’t the coffee that sparked the magic per se, but sitting, lingering over a cup, over laughter, over a story—16 years later that magic is still strong. Over time our coffee beans have changed—we’ve been getting them from Borealis now for a while—but the morning routine largely hasn’t. I'm up around 5:15 or 5:30, shower and get ready. Grind the beans, set up the coffee maker, turn on the timer, wake up the pups. They’re older now, so it takes some bribery. Our walk usually goes from 6 to 7:15 or so. It’s a little longer now that Tristan has slowed down a bit. Coffee brews while I’m walking, ready by the time I get back. Feed Tristan and Tillie, and then pour two cups (one black, one with almond milk). We have a collection of diner mugs from places we’ve been or just like, and I always try and pick a matching set. Upstairs, give Ellen her cup, and sit while she finishes getting ready. First, coffee


Web Type News

Does your organization need a boost?

If your brand voice needs some volume, or your team could use a hand improving font performance—maybe you could use a Type Audit. I work with you and your team to identify how well your site’s voice aligns with your brand, and can show you how to improve how quickly it gets on screen on any size device. Read more about Type Audits and let’s talk!

Upcoming Events

  • [Event postponed until September] Headed to Cape Town, South Africa for Pixel Up! in May to give a talk and a workshop on editorial design with variable fonts
  • I’ll be returning to the An Event Apart stage in Boston at the end of June
  • More events and workshop details coming soon!
If the typeface in this message has Georgia on your mind, you're not seeing the web fonts :( I'm hoping that you're seeing it set in the lovely Roslindale (Display Condensed and Text) designed by the amazing David Jonathan Ross for his You should check it out!
Copyright © 2020 Jason Pamental, All rights reserved.

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