1 Oct 2011 11 am eastern

A Better Franklin

I’VE TWEAKED the layout here with ITC Franklin Condensed from Webtype.

It’s funny. My daughter always asks what’s my favorite color, and I can never answer, ’cause I love them all. With color, it depends on context and it’s all about combination. But a favorite font? You bet I’ve got one. It’s Franklin Gothic, and especially Franklin Gothic Condensed. Has been for years.

For several years now I’ve used a licensed Franklin Gothic web font by someone other than Webtype here. It was good but not perfect.

Webtype’s Franklin Condensed is as close to perfect as web fonts can come in October, 2011. (And as they improve it, the look and feel here will improve as well.) The font is so good that it emboldened me to apply it to other parts of the page that formerly had to make do with Helvetica. See, for instance, my footer. It’s not a work of art, but it’s now much more pleasant to read in every environment I’ve tested.

I’m still conservative about web fonts (primarily because of bandwidth issues); this site’s body text is still set in Georgia, one of the world’s most beautiful screen fonts as we all agree. This morning, simply to break away from the herd, I tried replacing Georgia with Palatino, an engaging, readable, widely available font that comes with Windows 2000/XP (“Palatino Linotype”) and the Macintosh (“Palatino”). On its own, the Palatino was lovely. But it couldn’t stand up to the heavier elements of this site’s somewhat cartoonish look and feel. So back to Georgia I went.

The site is overdue for a redesign: the last redesign (e.g. the current look and feel) was a retro tribute to the site’s 1990s look. A new look is coming, but for the interim, I’m grateful to my friends at Webtype for their craftsmanship.

Filed under: Design, Web Design, Web Standards, webfonts, Websites, webtype, zeldman.com

12 Responses to “A Better Franklin”

  1. Joshua said on

    It’s lovely.

    On the subject of this design: I happen to dislike the little 16×16 icons for posting to Twitter, Tumblr, Digg, etc. Why does such a button for Twitter sit alongside a larger TweetMeme thing that does the same task? And why are the Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr icons slightly different in appearance to the (nicer, more useful) ones in the sidebar that link to your respective profile pages?

    That this upsets me is probably my own problem.

  2. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Thanks for the feedback, Joshua.

    The Tweetmeme widget is broken, has been broken for weeks, probably because of an API change at Twitter. It does tweet, but it no longer accurately captures data. That is, if a dozen people use it to post a tweet, the widget may say there have been “2″ tweets. If 100 people use it, the widget may still say there have been “2″ tweets. As a device to help one figure out readership, commenting, and traffic patterns, Tweetmeme may be permanently broken. (I hope not.)

    There’s another even more popular tweet thingie out there, but it is also broken just the same way at this time, which leads me to believe that Twitter changed its API without informing these businesses that live on it.

    To your larger point, I’m not thrilled with the aesthetically mixed widgetry I currently use here, but I provide it as a service to readers (and my content’s life) because stats and studies show that many readers will promote content to their favorite social network if a one-click button allows them to do so. In the absence of such button-ry, many readers don’t bother posting.

    There are many aesthetic overhauls to be done here as part of a major site design rethink. But for the moment, my main interest was in securing a better Franklin and really harnessing its power as a typeface … and I think (hope) I’ve begun to do that.

  3. Mark Denomme said on

    I feel th same way about FG; and it’s my go-to face when numbers are important part of th presentation…

  4. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    It’s Helvetica without the manscaping.

  5. Chris Hester said on

    Why not use Franklin for the main text as well? What does that look like? It looks great in the two lines above the comment text field (where it starts “XHTML”). Though it would need to be upped a size or two as there it is quite small. Try it.

  6. Tim Brown said on

    My, but Font Bureau makes great type. As a design Franklin Gothic feels hardworking, plain-spoken, and trustworthy — it may be your favorite, but it also suits your image (at least inasmuch as I perceive it). Nice pick!

    Plus, you couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate style of type for your cautious method of web font adoption. Franklin Gothic is of an era in which designers often mixed typefaces based on the sizes they possessed and the needs of a given publication. It is the blue jeans of typefaces.

  7. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Tim:

    Your comments about brand are wonderfully interesting and coincide with ideas we at Happy Cog recently came up with as a result of an ongoing brand exercise. Although you’re talking about my brand, and not Happy Cog’s, it’s interesting and reassuring to see us reaching similar conclusions.

    Do note that the site has used Franklin Gothic Condensed for two years; I’m just using a different type designer’s cut of it now, and the superiority of the cut has compelled me to use it a little deeper, and with more contrast, than before (e.g. bigger headlines, more use in subsections).

  8. Tim Brown said on

    That’s awesome, Jeffrey. I knew you had already been using some-Franklin-or-other … I just sorta forgot as I was phrasing my comment. Got so wrapped up in what I was writing!

    Re: your switch to Font Bureau’s ITC Franklin, it’d be interesting to hear more about why you prefer this version. As more web fonts become available, especially historic designs like Franklin that have spawned revivals and reinterpretations, it’ll be increasingly important to compare and contrast our options.

    Also, now that you’ve tried both self-hosted fonts and service-hosted fonts on your personal site, how do you feel about these models?

  9. Jeffrey Zeldman said on

    Re: your switch to Font Bureau’s ITC Franklin, it’d be interesting to hear more about why you prefer this version.

    For one thing, on the FontSpring version, the capital “N” always bothered me. Apparently it’s a tough letter to render in web space. David Berlow is the Steve Jobs of type, and Webtype’s version is as close to perfect as current technology allows.

    Plus there are so many weights and styles in the ITC Franklin family.

    Also, now that you’ve tried both self-hosted fonts and service-hosted fonts on your personal site, how do you feel about these models?

    I must admit, service-hosted is much easier to deal with.

  10. Stefan Seiz said on

    IMHO, your use of Franklin in the footer would deserve a little but more letter spacing. Unfortunately, most browsers don’t seem to support any useful fractional values to achieve what it’d need (e.g. 0.05 em; or 0.5pt). Typography on the web, still a long way to go.

  11. Hanan Cohen said on

    Your favorite color is Orange.

    It was and will always be.

    Orange!

  12. Bill said on

    Franklin Gothic puts me in the mood to play some You Don’t Know Jack! for some reason.

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