H&FJ: A Review

When it comes to this site’s design, I maintain what some define as extreme pedantry. This can lead to adverse effects on the mental health of both myself and the designers I work with. Everything you see here has been (and is) thoroughly examined: From the important readability aspects like font-sizes, contrast, and column widths, and down to the chromatics, the icons used, and the padding between sidebar items. We’re talking about pixel resolutions here.

I had previously used Typekit and Google Fonts and was pretty satisfied with both. Today, the two fonts you see here are provided by Hoefler & Frere-Jones, known better by their initials: H&FJ.

I am uninterested by the recent controversy surrounding the oft-lauded company. From a consumer-standpoint, I could care less who stands behind their website at typography.com.

This my review of H&FJ, the service.

Good: The Fonts

Fonts should not only pass the visual-pleasure test. They must first be readable and legible. If none of H&FJ’s fonts matches your taste, that’s OK, there are other alternatives.

It’s hard to ignore their professionalism, though. H&FJ’s fonts are designed with admirable thoughtfulness, and I have nothing but good things to say about their quality.

And that’s about it, really. To say I was impressed when I first saw Whitney on kottke.org would be an understatement. The choices made by my friend Daniel Post for this site — Ideal Sans for body text and Mercury for headings — seemed too artistic at first, but grew on me pretty quickly.

Bad: Well…

With a $99/year subscription, H&FJ limits you to 250,000 pageviews a month and five fonts. For comparison, Typekit’s mid-tier plan goes for $49/year, gets you 500,000 monthly pageviews, and full library access to thousands of fonts.

These aren’t the only areas where H&FJ are more limiting than Typekit, but that’s not my main gripe. The former will probably say that they are of distinct quality, and that I might as well go with Google’s fonts if economy is all I’m after. “We’re superior”, I imagine the discerning designers at Typography.com claiming. And they might be right.

What isn’t so clear is that the $99/year package isn’t only limited to 5 fonts, but that your choices are irreversible. Once you select a font, there’s no going back.

From H&FJ’s “What’s Included” section: (emphasis mine)

When you become a Cloud.typography subscriber, you’ll get your first five webfont packages free, which you can pick at any time. Once added, fonts can’t be removed from your library: they’re yours to use with your Cloud.typography subscription forever.

So the fonts are yours “forever” — that is — as long as you’re paying $99/year. This made me go to my dictionary and look up some definitions.

The clause above, by the way, is absent from Typography.com’s pricing page.

It doesn’t stop there: Fonts can be a heavy tax on page load times. In my case, Ideal Sans and Mercury are about 474 kBs — 71% of the average page size on this site. Nobody is forcing me to use them, but I couldn’t have known their size before adding them to my library. The (main) problem is that you have no way of knowing how many Kilobytes a font weighs before adding it to your collection.

Yes, the one you can’t delete fonts from.

The cherry on top is H&FJ’s support: It took them around 30 hours to reply to my first e-mail. I didn’t think their answers were satisfactory so I inquired for more details on January 31. At the time of publishing these lines, February 8, I am yet to receive a response to my follow-up. This was an issue that concerned hangups and speed, mind you, but with clients like Barack Obama, Walt Disney, and Nike — I guess HR is busy taking care of other Very Important Pers…Stuff.

Bottom Line

Do I like H&FJ’s fonts? Absolutely.

Will I recommend H&FJ to colleagues? Probably not.

H&FJ’s fonts may be the finest out there, but I am less than impressed with their service. With Google’s ever expanding free library and Typekit’s superior service, it’s hard to find a font worth taking these hits for.

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