How free and open-source fonts are changing how we design

Admin User/May 12th, 2020
Branding & Design

Back in 2010, Google launched Google Fonts (its Google API & Google font directory), based on the initiative to open web design to the possibility of creating more engaging and varied rich text design projects; reducing the hassle for programmers to find workarounds.


Even if it only started with a few fonts in their catalog, one of the biggest advantages of Google Fonts was the open-source nature of the content. This allows users to not only use the fonts for their web designs, but it also gives them the opportunity to download and customise the fonts from the original files or use them in other projects.


These key benefits have made it possible for the platform to grow, and bring on board more type designers and foundries, adding their font families to the service. All this came together with an update to the system in 2016, that introduced a new catalog system, allowing for a more dynamic and easier way for people to explore various font families.



But the idea of offering free high-quality fonts to the public is not only the possession of Google. Platforms such as Open Foundry and  The League of Moveable Type (TLoMT) are projects centered on a community-based approach. They aim to improve on and grow designers’ current font catalogues, and help new designers learn how to create better fonts.


How does this affect design?


As we all know, free font sites have been a common thing for some years now. But probably most people who did download a font from these sites have noticed that most of them have huge problems; including letter spacing, lack of weights, or no optimisation for use on the web. This happens because anyone is allowed to upload their fonts, with no guidelines or best practices in mind. 


As for Google Fonts and TLoMT, one of the most important aspects of their service, when compared to other free font providers, is that all their fonts have been handpicked and curated. This means that all fonts available have been carefully designed and programmed to work as intended. By having a huge variety of well-constructed fonts, designers have more options to truly customise their projects, whether it’s for digital or print media.



One other major benefit of these services is that they allow for fast iteration, implementation and faster load times for web and mobile design. Since current web browsers allow code to enable custom @font-face rules in stylesheets, it’s now simpler and easier for programmers to access and change fonts when needed. Furthermore by having a wide variety of weights and fonts, designers now have more freedom than ever to create new and engaging designs without limitations.


What about foundries and type designers who sell their fonts?


Some foundries and type designers have issues against this model, and that’s understandable considering that making fonts is no easy task. But considering that some font family licenses go up to $1,000 USD, many brands and designers are not able to afford them, making it difficult to find a middle ground where both free and paid systems work. 


Nevertheless, it's easy to realise that this type of free service doesn't take away from the potential of paying clients. In fact it is possible that such free services can add a premium-feel to paid services, where brands wish to differentiate themselves from the crowd; kind of like walking through the city centre with a t-shirt design that nobody else has on show. Also, we need to take into account that even without free font platforms, many companies and designers still wouldn’t buy fonts; many would likely use pre-installed fonts for their brands.


So what comes next?


It’s hard to think that 10 years ago we didn't have access to such a large catalog of free high-quality fonts, in such an easy way to implement into our web designs. Having these tools at our disposal opens  the possibility to explore and create better and more user-friendly designs. At the same time, having an option for downloading and customising these fonts gives designers the power to create integrated branding projects across all media channels.


Considering the rapid speed in which democratisation of technology is becoming the normality, we’ll probably continue to see different areas of design continue to change and become more accessible, easier, and faster to use. All with an intended path towards allowing for faster development, and a more functional design.


This means that services such as Google Fonts, and other free open-source font platforms, will continue to grow and provide us with new ways to implement typography, across current and upcoming media formats.