Brownstone Blog

Monthly Archives: July 2011

WOFF! The future of web typography.

In the digital era with its emphasis on banners, pop-ups, flash animation and viral videos it’s easy to forget the power of the written word and the creative bang that can still be gleaned from the use of typography.

There are literally thousands of fonts out there with more being created every year. But using typefaces and more importantly, WORDS effectively to get your message across is more than just using a great typeface. And despite the fact we are all increasingly bombarded with visual images both static and moving – while a picture is worth a thousand words let us never forget that it took words to say that.  Without an intriguing or engaging headline or positioning statement and pertinent and punchy copy your visuals no matter how well crafted can end up as verbiage without the write (pun intended) stuff to drive your message home.

But don’t take our word (sorry, pun unintended), for it. This fabulous video makes the point in both visuals and words:

Of course, what designers and advertisers are mainly concerned about nowadays are web fonts. We’ve finally reached the stage where the world of web fonts and the art of web typography is exploding due to the fact we have reached a point where using real fonts on the web is a viable option. Web designers now have a greater control over how content is displayed and for the end user this translates into a richer web experience. For advertisers, this also means that branding and corporate design guidelines can be easily adhered to resulting in no dilution of messaging no matter the medium.

Of course, nowadays it’s not sufficient for fonts to just look good on the desktop, as more and more web usage shifts to smartphones. So, having readable, legible and properly spaced typography on mobile devices is rapidly becoming critical for both web and app design. Already companies like Monotype and Typekit are working to make sure that fonts display at their best on a number of different screen types and sizes.

For designers, Web Open Font Format, or WOFF, is the revolution that is fast is becoming the de facto standardized format for using fonts on the web. Backed by Mozilla, Opera and Microsoft, WOFF allows TrueType, OpenType or Open Font Format fonts to be embedded into web pages. Right now, WOFF support is built into Firefox 3.6 and above, Google Chrome version 5 and above, Internet Explorer 9, and will be supported in upcoming versions of Safari.

Jason Santa Maria and his Friends of Mighty built Lost World’s Fairs as a way to showcase IE 9 and its support of WOFF. This fantastic piece of typographic web art really shows just how great type can be made to look on the web.

While creating this project, the Friends of Mighty realised they needed a better way to control individual letters and words to offer proper spacing and better kerning for complex typographical designs.

Thus, Lettering.js was born. Lettering.js is a JavaScript plug in that allows developers and designers to better control individual letters without having tons of messy mark up.

As Dan Rubin recently remarked on Twitter, Lettering.js may just end up having a bigger impact on typography on the web than anyone is expecting.

Want to experiment even if you’re not a designer? Then point your browser to

Wordle is a toy that allows you to create word clouds from passages you type into the site – allowing you to experiment with different fonts, layouts and colour schemes to produce typographical works of art – and you don’t need to be a designer to do it. It’s very, very cool – try it and see!

Words work. In the era of digital communications and with an increased emphasis on the visual it’s easy to forget how well, and how effective they can be.


The Social Network – How to Make Friends and Influence People

As if your social media manager or agency doesn’t already have enough to do with maintaining your Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Twitter feed and blog, a new contender enters the social media ring – namely Google +. Which leads to the questions – 1: How does Google+ differ from the other social media offerings and 2: When does the social media landscape get to saturation point?

Google + offers its users the ability to create circles primarily from people they know via their contacts in Gmail accounts.  ‘Real life’ sharing is the positioning Google have chosen to differentiate Google + from other social networking sites – in other words, sharing your ‘stuff’ only with people you know – at least in theory. ‘Google have clearly decided to exploit the fears many people have in relation to social networking,’ Dave Jabbie states. ‘On sites such as Facebook or MySpace anyone can pretend to be anybody they like. Building your social networking around people you already know and communicate with allays many of those fears.’

For parents of children itching to have a social media presence, this may be one way of allaying those fears. ‘With its emphasis on creating your social network around existing contacts and sharing individual likes and dislikes when it comes to movies, music, etc, Google + is clearly positioned more for individual use rather than companies,’ Jabbie states. ‘One glance at their landing page just confirms that. ‘Circles’ is all about connections and Google+ emphasises off the bat that you can share things with your buddies ‘and almost nothing with your boss’ to quote directly from their page. There’s ‘Hangouts’ for chatting with friends and ‘Sparks’ – ‘A feed  of only the things you’re really into’. ‘This is social networking for the individual and not for the body corporate,’ Jabbie confirms.

Advertisers need to cherry-pick their social media formats carefully. ‘Of course it comes down to relevance. For some companies and organisations a social media presence is not only unnecessary and irrelevant but would detract from their position and even result in a loss of credibility.’ Advertisers often need guidance on this from their agencies who have their client’s overall positioning and messaging at the forefront of any social media strategy and can advise on the appropriateness of a social media site or overall campaign. For those active in social media, there is the need for constant reassessment of their strategy. ‘It’s all about being aware of the prevailing zeitgeist,’ says Jabbie. ‘Marketing and advertising campaigns are usually adaptive strategies that react and evolve according to social and consumer drivers. The same goes for a digital and social media campaign. Advertisers and their agencies need to remain aware of what is driving their customers. When we look back a few years ago, there was the moment when a significant number of MySpace users all deserted the networking site in favour of Facebook. Advertisers who continued to maintain emphasis on their MySpace pages would have been left out in the cold if they failed to realise the significance of the move. And that’s not to say it can’t happen again. While Facebook at present remains the social network du jour, you can’t rule our a mass migration to another site in the future – whether an expanded Google + or even one which has yet to grace the social media landscape. Keeping your finger on the digital pulse and knowing how to react is the key to maintaining contact with your customers.’

Facebook is presently the major platform for Zynga – the on-line game developer that has made farmers and Mafia hit-men out of millions of on-line users. ‘In my mind there is no coincidence that Zynga has floated a $1 billion IPO at the same time Google + is rolled out,’ says Jabbie. Zynga must be looking at Google + as a key to its expansion. While a Google + social media presence may not be appropriate for companies, depending on its take-up, it will most probably be forming part of a digital strategy in the future for both agencies and their clients.

‘Everything Google does is very cleverly thought out and geared towards revenue generation,’ says Dave. ‘With agencies and advertisers now understanding the benefits of advertising directly to ‘tribes’ Google + appears to come with a built-in way to target those tribes via their Circles and Hangouts.’

So when does the social media landscape become saturated? ‘I don’t foresee that occurring for a long time yet,’ predicts Jabbie. ‘I think what we will see is the popularity of the established players rising and falling according to the preferences of their users.’ New players will continue to appear – and also disappear. ‘Agencies need to gauge not just the popularity but also the longevity of networking sites before committing large chunks of their digital budgets to newcomers,’ Dave advises. ‘Facebook is an established player and Google will have done their research. If Apple launched something similar as an evolution of iCloud, then I’d say they would mount a major challenge. As for any other players wading in – my advice is to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude.’