Genericons

An Automattic 20% project of mine just graduated. Genericons is an icon font with emphasis on blogging. It’s GPL, so you can bundle it with WordPress themes. What makes Genericons special is that, like its inspiration: Githubs Octicons, the font was designed with a precise pixel grid in mind. That means if the icons are shown at appropriate font sizes (in this case, 16px, 32px, and similar multiples), the icons will render perfectly crisply. Thanks to Sheri and Takashi for contributions.

Twenty Thirteen

“Gobsmacked”, is probably the most descriptive word I can find to describe my state of mind when I was invited to design the new WordPress bundled Twenty Thirteen theme (also check out the demo site!). The pitch for the theme was to emphasize the blog, and encourage users to use post formats, an area of attention for WordPress 3.6 with which the theme will ship. I’m frankly quite proud of the end result, and I really hope you’ll find it fun and fresh. Special thanks to Matt, Lance and Konstantin for making this possible. It’s been quite a ride, we’re not done yet, and I’ll have more to say. I think it’s also time I started using post formats on this blog.

Font Smoothing

If you’re really into icon fonts, which I have recently become, you may have noticed a tiny storm brewing in the suburbs of the internet. It’s about CSS-specified font smoothing. Quite a nichy topic, one you can live a perfectly good life without ever knowing all about. You may in fact sleep better by not reading on.

Still here? Alright, here’s the deal. WebKit — born of Safari, engine of Chrome — allows webdevelopers to specify how the edges of fonts are smoothed. The modern default font smoothing method is called subpixel antialiasing. It smoothes font edges using quite impressive means, and in nearly all cases it drastically improves the rendering of letters. If you look at the text in a magnifying glass, though, you’ll notice a nearly imperceptible blue haze on the left side of each letter, and a red haze on the right side. WebKit provides a means for webdevelopers to pick which type of font smoothing is applied: subpixel-antialiasing, antialiasing, or none. Handy. Right?

The controversy is the fact that a number of people — smart people — feel that this CSS property is damaging to the readability of text on the web. There are very long articles on the topic. In fact quite recently a Google employee removed the CSS property from Chrome, citing the notion that the browser should render text according to the operating system. There’s just one problem: icon fonts.

Icon fonts are custom-made webfonts that contain no letters, only icons. The purpose is to have fast access to a bunch of icons in a very lightweight and easy way in your webdesigns. Other benefits include the fact that the icons are infinitely scalable because they’re vector graphics, and you can easily apply any color, drop-shadow or even a gradient to each icon using plain CSS. Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it?

The only downside is that an icon font is still technically a font, so the computer thinks each icon is actually a letter, and by default will try to subpixel antialias it. While subpixel antialiasing does wonders to letters, it’ll fuzzy up your icons and make them look blurry. Which is why the -webkit-font-smoothing property was so welcome. Here’s an icon font without and with subpixel antialiasing:

As you can imagine, I’m strongly in favor of not only keeping the font-smoothing property, but in fact expanding it beyond WebKit to both Firefox and Internet Explorer. Icon fonts won’t be a truly viable webdesign technique until every icon looks great on all the platforms.

“But SVG is the future of vector graphics on the web, surely you know that!” — Yes I do. But pragmatically speaking, that future is not here yet. SVG support is still lacklustre, especially when used as CSS backgrounds. More importantly, you can’t easily change the color of an SVG icon using CSS only, or apply a drop-shadow. Yes, drop-shadows are on the road map for SVG, but the way it’ll happen is not pretty. Icon fonts, on the other hand, provide a real-world solution today, which is both flexible and infinitely scalable. So next time you see someone bad-mouthing -webkit-font-smoothing, pat them on the head and mention icon fonts. The more you know.

Lucasfilm

By now you may have heard that Disney bought Lucasfilm. Incidentally that means they get Star Wars, Indiana Jones and Howard the Duck. It also means they get Lucasarts, the game studio that brought us Monkey Island, X-Wing, Day of the Tentacle and all the other wonderful games from your youth. Oh, and they’re making Star Wars Episode 7, due 2015.

Absorbing the initial brunt of the shock that Lucas would ever sell the darling cow he’s been milking for all these years, this may not all be bad. Sure, Disney’s track record for big franchises is spotty, recently with John Carter, but it may still be a good home for Lucasfilm. After all, the Star Wars movies went downhill by the middle of Episode 6 anyway, so by the time Episode 7 comes, no matter how bad it’ll be, there’s no telling if it would’ve been better off headed by George Lucas himself.

To me, what happens to Star Wars is not the thing I care about the most in todays news. I’ve always thought that what came out of Star Wars other than the movies, was more interesting. Perhaps you didn’t enjoy Episode 1, but it’s hard to fault the music. It’s also possible you cringed your feet in Episode 2, but there’s a good chance you played a Lucasarts Star Wars game and enjoyed it a fair bit. In fact, the stories in the expanded Star Wars universe have always fascinated me more than the movies themselves. How do you build a lightsaber again? Oh, and did I mention the wonderful Ralph McQuarrie and Doug Chiang art?

There’s also Indiana Jones, probably my favorite thing to come out of Lucasfilm. Heck, I even enjoyed the fourth one, and I was certainly looking forward to 5. Unfortunately, that may not be in the cards anymore:

While the Indiana Jones franchise wasn’t mentioned much, Disney did say that though it now owns the rights, there might not be any new films because of potential hurdles with Indiana Jones distributor Paramount.

Even worse news for Lucasarts fans:

Disney CEO Robert Iger briefly discussed Disney’s plans for game development using the intellectual properties acquired in the acquisition, saying, “We’re likely to focus more on social and mobile than we are on console. We’ll look opportunistically at console, most likely in licensing rather than publishing, but we think that given the nature of these characters and how well known they are, and the storytelling, that they lend themselves quite nicely, as they’ve already demonstrated to the other platforms.”

It’s impossible to tell whether George Lucas, had he kept the family business, would’ve seen the light and restored Lucasarts to its former glory, in fact it’s probably unlikely. But there were plans for Indy 5, which I would’ve very much loved to see. So if you’re fans of either of those, it seems todays news wasn’t a new hope.