Hellenic in the Ubuntu font

Ubuntu 10.10 is just around the corner. In this version some preliminary signs of Ubuntu’s design efforts are slowly showing, although there’s still a vast amount of work to do. One of the ‘new’ things in 10.10 as far as the user experience is concerned is the new Ubuntu font.

I am very happy to see Hellenic supported from this early stage. As others have commented however, there are considerable problems with the typeface. The font has several controversial features, like the ‘short chi’ glyph and the weird gamma among others.

The short chi (χ) is not really a problem as far as I am concerned, although it is a departure from the norm. Most modern well-designed hellenic fonts have a chi with a descender. In ‘classical’ hellenic typography chi almost always has a descender; there are, however, a few good examples of contemporary designs with ‘short’ chi (Gotham Greek by Cannibal Fonts — one of the premier foundries in Greece — comes to mind) and I believe it’s acceptable in a modern, informal typeface.

Gamma (γ), on the other hand, as found in the ‘final’ version of the font included with the Ubuntu 10.10 RC, is poor and betrays the ignorance of the designers with respect to hellenic type; it reminded me of Myriad Pro; a beautiful roman typeface (recently popularised because its adoption by Apple as the company’s corporate font) that has been butchered in its hellenic version.

There are other, less important, issues with the hellenic glyphs in the font, but even those I mention above are enough to demonstrate the intricancies involved in designing hellenic fonts (esp. by people who don’t have a feel for the language).

Turning roman fonts, even excellent ones, to hellenic is a tough job, even for skilled professionals with many years of experience with the language, the alphabet and hellenic typography. Many of the good hellenic fonts have been designed by font designers outside of Greece and have been iteratively improved over the span of many years before they reached a level of comparable quality to their roman counterparts.

I appreciate the effort by Maag and Canonical and I really love the fact that the language is included as a first-class citizen in the new Ubuntu font.

I also think, however, that you need to get a better understanding of Hellenic typography as well as — seemingly — better advice, before the ‘Ubuntu’ font can claim that it is a well-designed hellenic font.

6 Responses to “Hellenic in the Ubuntu font”

  1. Nikos Kouremenos says:

    don’t they like MgOpen or whatever?
    I really hate all the ignorants personally I wouldn’t even call it Greek as it doesn’t meet the basic standards.

  2. cosmix says:

    Niko, it’s got nothing to do with whether they like MgOpen or not.

    There is a shortage of free hellenic fonts and I very much support *any* effort to fix this. I also appreciate the fact Shuttleworth et al. are paying people to design a free font.

    I welcome the new Ubuntu font and I certainly don’t ‘hate’ its designers because they are not exactly experienced with designing hellenic fonts. On the contrary I appreciate that they considered hellenic from the beginning and are willing to learn and improve on what they know.

    My criticism attempts to provide constructive feedback, not offend them: I’m trying to point out what’s bad with the font and in this way help its designers improve it.

    If you are happy with MgOpen, you can certainly use those fonts. I, on the other hand, would like to see more (good) free fonts that support hellenic out there.

  3. ΤΖΩΤΖΙΟΥ says:

    The Droid fonts (the ones created for Google) are ok and quite legible on screen. The FreeFont family (FreeSans, FreeSerif, FreeMono) are the closest to Helvetica, Times and Courier I know of, but they look better on paper than on screen; some of their glyphs also need a little size correction.
    I also definitely prefer the Liberation Sans to Arial; I’m not as sure about Liberation Serif. Liberation Mono is a great console font (as Droid Mono is too).
    Linux Libertine is not bad too, although I don’t use it a lot.
    I also like very much the Gentium font for texts (but I’ve got a strange taste :).
    All of the above with a free license. Not as bad as it seems.

  4. cosmix says:

    Tzotziou, I beg to differ; I’ve known and used all of the fonts you mentioned (there are many more free fonts with hellenic glyphs out there, e.g. those by the Greek Font Society). They have all been staples of the linux community (and beyond it) for several years.

    The problem is that they are just *not enough*, they all try to provide metric-compatible, similar in style alternatives to either the old (90s) Microsoft fonts or the classic Times/Helvetica/Courier bunch. When you compare the number of good free hellenic fonts to that of good free roman fonts out there, you can only despair. Of course, if you’re the typical person that doesn’t care about typography, wants to browse, email and code, then I guess you wouldn’t care about anything more than what you’ve already got.

    BTW, as a shameless plug, if you like Droid Mono, check out my slashed-zero and dotted-zero mods here. You may find them an improvement to the stock Droid Sans Mono, especially if you are coding.

  5. ΤΖΩΤΖΙΟΥ says:

    Definitely what you say is true.
    I *do* care about typography, however not as deeply as you do; my point was about more “typical” users and their needs.
    While we’re in the shameless plugging territory, you might want to take a look at this page: A font for video subtitles

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