Type Thursday
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Type Thursday

Trying to Work, a project by Michael Mckeever

Use Javascript Libraries for Typography on the Web

An Interview with Designer/Developer Michael Mckeever

Kara in discussion with Michelle about her lettering project at GoogleNYC

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Michael’s portfolio is the embodiment of his smart, restrained style

I’d probably consider myself more of a designer than a developer, although with each passing year, that gap seems to get smaller.

Ulrik: Talk to me a little bit about your approach. You are doing both design and development — what attracted you first? Where did you start?

Design is a bit different though. Yes, the tools and how we design changes, but ultimately it’s always been and always will be about problem solving.

I’d probably consider myself more of a designer than a developer, although with each passing year, that gap seems to get smaller. The majority of work I do currently is front-end development so you have to adapt to what you’re given. The development landscape these days is just so crazy. There is just so much to learn and such complexity to everything we do. I think that’s why I’ve always been hesitant to call myself a developer — because when you’re interacting with such smart and talented developers everyday, you can’t help but feel like a bit of an imposter. Design is a bit different though. Yes, the tools and how we design changes, but ultimately it’s always been and always will be about problem solving.

Trying to Work

Ulrik: Nice! Maybe that’s a good segue into talking a bit about your work. We found you via “Trying to Work”. Do you want to tell us how that project came about?

Web fonts can be a big killer when it comes to web performance. Thanks to the vast number of libraries and services we have access to today for great typography on the web we’re a bit like kids in a sweet shop.

It was frustrating to me because generally we all would assume that Starbucks would be a good place to work from/meet clients and drink shitty coffee, right? Fast, stable wifi is such a paramount for modern day working that I figured people might like to know these things before visiting.

Every font weight and typeface you add is another overhead so be strict and set limits. It forces you to get better at using typesetting, hierarchy and scale, if nothing else.

Ulrik: It’s interesting that you mention bad web speeds. Through your writing, I gather that you are pretty focused on performance on the web in general — all the way down to the decisions you make around type. Can you tell us a bit more about your approach here?

Performance of the Web and Typography

Michael: Yeah, I guess working out of coffee shops with terrible wifi has given me more of an appreciation for speed on the web. Performance is one of those things that may go unnoticed by the average client but is integral to the user experience overall. Web fonts can be a big killer when it comes to web performance. Thanks to the vast number of libraries and services we have access to today for great typography on the web we’re a bit like kids in a sweet shop.

Also, regardless of which javascript framework is the flavor of the month, its very interesting to see how far javascript has come in such a short time and, how far it will go. I predict this “age of javascript” is far from over.

The Age of JavaScript

Michael: Well, while we’re still talking about performance, I’m pretty excited about some of the performance techniques I talked about being brought into the browser natively. For instance, soon enough, we’ll not need JS libraries to swap in web fonts, we’ll be able to use the CSS property `font-display: swap;` which will simulate what I was talking about above — no javascript needed. It’s already supported in blink-based browsers so you can start using it right now.

Next Steps

Michael: I want to continue to expand Trying to Work, just because I think people will genuinely find it useful — which is a very gratifying feeling. It’s manually maintained by myself at the minute, I’d like to move away from that eventually and create something that is entirely user editable.

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Ulrik Hogrebe

Design Director at WeWork, former CD @ frog design and BBC News & The World Service. CIID alumni/faculty. Designs type, slowly.