Self-Hosted vs. Subscription-Based Fonts

After tweeting my blog post on why I am moving off Adobe Fonts, a designer friend asked me to share the pros and cons of self-hosted vs. subscription-based fonts. Since I started off using subscription services and made the transition to self-host on all my sites, which include this blog, my portfolio, Professional Web Typography, and Vietnamese Typography, I would like share my experience.

When web fonts first took off, subscription-based method seemed like an easier and a more convenience choice. I just needed to add one line of markup to my site and a third-party hosting took care of the rest. Services like Google Fonts and Adobe Fonts have done a great job of optimizing their font files, keeping them up-to-date, and making sure they work on different browsers. Furthermore, they separated their fonts into different subsets to keep the file size small. For instance, I don’t need to load subsets with Vietnamese diacritics if my site only used English. In Adobe Fonts, I can choose specific OpenType features. The more features I use, the larger the file size. The biggest advantage of using a subscription service is that I have instant access to thousands of fonts, although only a handful with Vietnamese support.

The disadvantage of using a subscription service is the dependency. Google, so far, is reliable, but no one knows how it is going change in the future, giving Google’s history of abandoning projects. Since Google Fonts only hosts open-source fonts, I have the choice to host them myself, which I will be doing for Vietnamese Typography in the near future. As for Adobe Fonts, they have already discontinued Typekit standalone plans. I can sign up for InCopy, which is $4.99 a month, but what is the point of getting something that I am not going to use? I already have all Adobe programs through my work; therefore, I don’t need additional copies for myself. I just want to keep my Adobe Fonts account separate. What if Adobe decided to sunset InCopy or raise the price in the future? I would be screwed again. I featured many typefaces from Adobe Fonts on Vietnamese Typography and all of them will break if the subscription changed. I have no plan of taking Vietnamese Typography offline; therefore, I need to make sure all fonts will continue to work decades from now. That is one of the main reasons I decided to host the fonts on my site.

Self-hosting method takes a bit more work, especially in the early days of web fonts. Browsers didn’t render fonts consistently. CSS font support was not reliable. In recent years, browsers are getting better and CSS has font display property to control how fonts are rendered; therefore, hosting fonts on my own site is getting easier and more reliable. The only disadvantage is that I have to write a bit more CSS and keep the font files up-to-date.

With self-hosting method, I am limited to the fonts that I have. Whereas subscription gives me far more choices. Then again, I am fine with working with a handful of typefaces than thousands to browse through. It comes down to renting versus licensing. I prefer the licensing model.

Moving Off Adobe Fonts

For the longevity of Vietnamese Typography, I have decided to move away from subscription-based service and host all fonts locally. As of today, my book website is no longer depending on Adobe Fonts. I have removed all fonts that have been served via Typekit, especially in the “Type Recommendations” section.

I am reaching out directly to the source to allow me to host the font files (WOFF2) on my site. Many thanks to the following type designers and foundries for providing me with copies of their web fonts: Darden Studio, Kilotype, Huerta Tipográfica, David Jonathan Ross, and Juanjo López.

While updating the site, I also went through and copyedited all the pages. This is what I love about using the web as a platform. I can continue to update and improve without having to reprint everything. My next step is to move off Google Fonts as well. I would like to keep this book online as long as I can. If I need to pass it off, I would like all fonts to continue to work. Moving off Adobe forced me to abandon some quality typefaces, but it is better for the long run. Jeremy Keith has been my inspiration for keeping an archive of my projects on my own site and not relying on a third party.

I will continue to acquire Vietnamese fonts when I have the resource. If you have Vietnamese-supported typefaces and would like to feature on my site, please get in touch.

A Subconscious Designer

I want to write about design, but I don’t know where to begin. I have been a designer for 20 years and received an MA in graphic design; therefore, I am conscious about design. If I were to start now, I don’t think I would even get into design.

Like most kids who started college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I went to La Salle University and major in communications because my cousin thought I was skillful at broadcasting, which I had never done anything with it before. It turned out communications had to do with writing and public speaking. I was terrible at both. Within the first semester of my freshman year, I knew I didn’t want to major in communications. I quickly switched to digital arts and multimedia design, which I also knew nothing about, but I didn’t have to speak in front of the class.

One of my first classes in my new major was learning Photoshop and I was hooked. In class, I just opened up Photoshop and played. Occasional my professor dropped by and said, “That looks cool.” I had no prior training in design and I can’t draw. I did not understand anything about design. The first webpage I made filled with blinking text, animated gifs, and colorful Comic Sans on black background. When I showed it an art history professor, she shook her head in disbelief. My design was driven by the software programs I had learned instead of the other way around, but I was not alone. The digital art and multimedia design program was brand new; therefore, many of the students including me did not have any design background.

The art history professor had to stop us from using the computers. She required us to buy sketch book, color papers, and glue. I still remember cutting out circles and squares from a piece of black paper and glued them into our sketch book. I did not understand the purpose of the exercise and thought it was a waste of time. I had no clue about composition, color, and design theory. Typography was not even taught in the program. I was not even aware of typography because we can only use a handful of system fonts for the web.

In retrospect, I would cringe at the design I did back then. If I were conscious of how terrible I was, however, I probably could not have become a designer. I came into design from a subconscious view. I thought I was good at it and I did not know how bad I was. I was like those aspiring singers who thought they are good at singing but they sound terrible. Then they would eventually sing better if they keep doing it.

The entry into design is low, but continuous learning is required to get better. My fifteen-year-old nephew Eric Trần is a good example. He started by using whatever tools available to him. He created his website using Wix and continued to hone his design skills. I don’t even know what tools he uses for photography and what typefaces he has access to, but his designs look much better than mine when I first starting out.

Like everything else, you just need to start somewhere. Don’t worry if your design isn’t good. You’ll get better eventually. Just don’t be too conscious about it.

How Can I Tell Her?

Through Facebook I reconnected with an old friend. She and I were in the Upward Bound program together. We were not close, but good friends since we spent several summers together.

Through her timeline I have learned that she had went back to Vietnam and opened a restaurant. I admired her adventurous career. When I looked at the logo of the restaurant, I immediately recognized the London Underground’s mark. The colors of the line and circle remained the same; just the text changed to the name of her restaurant. The logo is already incorporated into a huge neon light in front of the restaurant as well as all over the menu and marketing materials.

I did not want to tell her that’s a rip-off; therefore, I sent her a message carefully worded that her logo looks just like the London Underground’s. Her response was, “That is what we were striving for.” From what I knew of her back in the days, I do think that her response was honest and it came from a genuine place, but taking someone’s work is unacceptable.

Hire Me

I did some tweaking on my professional website. It still has the bold text, but I turned the background to black on the homepage for a stronger effect. I also switched up the body text to Exchange by Tobias Frere-Jones. To promote freelance work, I included this paragraph:

Together we will create an experience that is focused on your audience and tailored to your brand. Even with a limited budget, your online presence does not deserve to be templated. So skip pre-made site builders like Squarespace or Wix and get a custom design. Take a look around. If you like what you see, let’s talk.

With a full-job in place, I wanted to take on small projects that would give me some creative freedom. It’s a shamed that so many smaller websites are powered by site builders like Squarespace and Wix. They all look pretty much the same. Let’s change that and bring back the good, unique designs.

Let It Snow

If you’re reading this in an RSS reader, visit the homepage, which featured a holiday message and snow. The falling snow is courtesy of CSSnowflakes. I love this simple, fun animation to add some spirit for the holidays.

Portfolio Site Redesigned

In an effort to remove my sites off Typekit, I redesigned my professional site using Bild and Roslindale, designed by David Jonathan Ross. These two typefaces came from Font of the Month Club.

The redesign is obviously typography driven. I just wanted to make it huge. Huger than Huge. Bild is quite a striking typeface. I am not in the market for a new job. Scalia Law School still treats me well. Therefore, I don’t have to play safe and follow any convention. Just do it for the fun of it.

I hope you enjoy it.

RIP, Typekit

Adobe has pulled the plug on standalone Typekit plans; therefore, Typekit subscribers are screwed. I am forced to subscribe to Adobe products to use Adobe Fonts. I already have my Adobe products through the law school, but I want to keep Adobe Fonts separately for my own projects.

It would be ridiculous and wasteful to have two subscriptions of Adobe products, but if I don’t go with an Adobe plan next year, all my sites that are using Typekit will have no custom fonts.

The “Type Recommendation” on Vietnamese Typography will be heavily affected. To keep this resource forever, I will have to pay a monthly fee of at least $120 a year for Adobe XD or take down that section completely. My other option is to get rid of all the typefaces that are served through Adobe Fonts.

In the future, I will only recommend typefaces that I have a copy of the font files. If you are a type designer and would like to showcase on Vietnamese Typography, please contact me.

Jelle De Laender has also written about his concern.

Catching Up With Gutenberg

I am glad that the release of WordPress 5.0 has been pushed back. After testing out Gutenberg, the new, controversial editor, I can see why Matt Mullenweg is pushing hard to get it into core. Gutenberg will define WordPress as a powerful CMS and no longer just a blogging platform. It gives users more flexibility to create richer experience.

I can also see why it is alienating many designers and developers. For this blog, which I have intended to keep simple from the start, I won’t be using Gutenberg. I have no photos, no video, no audio, and no gallery. It is just simply text. I do put up large hero images once in a while, but they do not go into the database. I want the complete control of the text. My theme still just have 3 files. I don’t see the need to use Gutenberg, but I will see if I can develop a theme from scratch like I always had in the past decade just for this site.

I played with the new Twenty Nineteen. It looks impressive, but the theme has tons of files. I might be wasting my time developing a theme from scratch. I just have to roll with what already developed and just customize it for my needs. Once WordPress 5.0 is out and Twenty Nineteen is officially released, I’ll use it to develop a theme for Scalia Law School. It will be beneficial for the school sites than my own personal site.

Gutenberg isn’t solid yet, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. It is understandable that people don’t like new changes, but they will get around to it.

George Mason Homepage Redesigned

George Mason relaunched its homepage two days ago. According to the Office of Communications and Marketing, “The new design is based on data analysis of visitor traffic on the homepage over the past three years and is intended to make the page more user-friendly for all visitors.”

The visual has not changed too much, but I do notice the big four action buttons: visit, apply, jobs, and give. A couple of years ago, our dean showed off our website to the president and the president immediately pointed out the action buttons we have on the Scalia Law website: visit, request information, and apply now. It makes me wonder if the president requested those buttons based on what he liked on our site.

Maybe it is just a coincidence, but I am glad they made that change. This is what the previous design of the GMU homepage looked like and this is the new homepage redesign.