In search of the perfect form for each of a font’s thousands of characters, typeface designers sometimes encounter questions that have more than one answer. Perhaps a flowery capital Q captures a font’s elegance, but one with a shorter tail is more practical when there’s no room for flourish. Perhaps a smart and serious typeface suddenly becomes cool and playful, with a subtle alteration to its lowercase a. H&Co loves making typefaces that offer different voices, and ones that anticipate and solve problems, which is why we’ve long furnished our desktop fonts with alternate characters that offer designers stylistic and functional options. Starting today, Cloud.typography users can achieve this same sophistication on the web, fine-tuning webfonts using a powerful OpenType feature called stylistic sets. Uniquely, we’ve implemented this feature so that it works not only in cutting-edge browsers, but in all browsers that support webfonts, so that your typographic preferences can be a fundamental and consistent part of the way you work with type.
At its simplest, a stylistic set replaces one character with an alternate form, such as the optional “single-storey” lowercase a available in Gotham, above. Activating this option affects not only the letter itself, but all of its related forms, including the à accent seen here. Usefully, Cloud.typography automatically makes this same change across all of a family’s styles, a welcome bit of housekeeping in a sixteen-style family like Gotham:
These adjustments are known as stylistic sets because they allow related transformations to be grouped together and controlled by a single switch. The “curly commas” option in the Whitney typeface affects not only the comma, but the semicolon, and both the open and closed forms of the single quotes, double quotes, and baseline quotes. The ability to manage complex adjustments with a single checkbox makes it easy to ensure consistency across your typography: not everyone would guess that turning on Whitney’s flat-sided M would change not only the capital and small cap forms, but also the symbols for trademark (™) and servicemark (℠).
Each of our type families has different stylistic sets, inspired by the natural properties of the design. There are versatile typefaces such as Surveyor in which common characters like f and g can be dramatically reshaped, straightforward headline faces like Tungsten Rounded that let you fine-tune details as esoteric as the percent sign, and exuberant display faces such as Landmark that include five different mechanisms for managing accents. Our Stylistic Sets FAQ details the things that await you in the H&Co library, a few highlights of which appear below. On behalf of our type designers who devise these characters, and the Cloud.typography team who brought this work to the web, I look forward to seeing what you build with these new tools! —JH