Tim Brown organized

Closeup of a redbud tree in bloom.

🌷 May 3rd. Bright and breezy. Bears and bees have woken up, with warm sun over the past few days. Sparrows, woodpeckers making their morning noise. New growth abounds.

Fri, 3 May 2024

Smart typography tools

Tue, 9 Apr 2024

As I mentioned in a recent interview, inventing typographic intelligence technologies is what I do at work. So I thought I’d elaborate: Imagine spell check for design, with advice about choosing fonts, setting line spacing, rearranging text, and more. I’m guiding a small team as we decide what to check for, how to make changes, and how manual/automatic the controls should be.

The hard part is, well, all of it. Design decisions are interrelated, and there are no correct answers (despite what snobs may say). Landing an acceptable user experience is tough. And the deafening roar of “AI” makes it challenging to focus.

But although it’s difficult, creating smart typography tools is worth doing because human beings need to take better care of one another. Better tools can help designers scale their empathy and show the business value of being more considerate.

Good typography means many different things to many different people. While there is no “correct”, there are contexts, conventions, and cultures. By designing from many different flexible, multiscriptual, accessible points of view simultaneously, we can craft compositions that respectfully respond to fit individual readers. Practically speaking, this is unreasonably complicated. But with assistance it becomes possible.

If a computer is a bicycle for our minds, then typography is a bicycle for our words, helping them to reach further and have a greater impact. Smart typography tools will let us go up a few gears, providing sensitive, high-level controls to manage low-level details. The algorithms that power these controls can be fine-tuned by experienced users, and can provide targeted domain-learning materials to help everyone stay sharp.

Typography is way too hard these days. While doing a good job should require some effort and investment, it often feels like we waste our energy and money poking through nests of angry features, trying out fluffy apps that claim to save us time, or setting up (and maintaining) elaborate systems that aren’t much fun. There must be a better way to apply our skills and knowledge.

Flexible, digital creations could match and, over time, even transcend the design quality of history’s finest printed works if we exercise care, honor diversity, and elevate the baseline functions of our design tools. Typography can show us the way.

Time with my family

Wed, 3 Apr 2024

Now in my mid-forties, I increasingly appreciate time spent with my spouse, children, siblings, and parents. Nothing nourishes and uplifts me more, comforts me more in uncertainty, or provides me with more clarity and energy to focus on projects in life and work than spending time with my family. It is a great privilege and a blessing that these relationships are positive.

Dedicated self-reflection led me to prioritize family time, and systems are now in place to preserve the likelihood of my spending time in this way.

Eileen and I meet daily to plan our days and support one another. In focused moments, I listen to each of my daughters talk about what they’re doing or excited about, and sometimes I take them on “truck dates” where we go somewhere nearby with a snack and talk for a little while.

I chat with each of my parents at regular times each week. I tried this with my brothers, but our combined schedules make it too unpredictable. Instead, we message occasionally and annually we hang out for a weekend, doing the stuff we used to do as kids.

It’s hard to capture how special these times are to me, and how deeply satisfying it is to have invested my life in these ways. I have tried, in Oliver Burkeman’s words, to treat each experience “with the reverence we’d show if it were the final instance of it” … and to also recognize that it is “incomprehensibly miraculous to have been granted any time at all”. Quotes from Four Thousand Weeks.

Adding a couple more sites to the blogroll:

Ethan Marcotte coined the term Responsive Web Design and, more importantly, continues to teach people that it’s more than a technique — it’s an ethos. I enjoy following Ethan’s personal site because his industry awareness is off the charts, he’s deeply thoughtful about both practical and generational challenges, and he is above all encouraging.

Tyler Sticka is part of Cloud Four, a web agency I have admired for years because of their innovation in responsive design techniques and focus on inclusive experiences. Tyler keeps a journal on his delightful personal site that also includes his Cloud Four posts, so it’s a nice way to keep track of what he shares. Super sharp.

Wed, 27 Mar 2024

🌲 January 25th. Rain and warm temperatures melted the blanket of snow from our yard. Some of my stress has melted away too, after a solid workout this morning, breakfast with Eileen and our 6yo (who flipped a pancake piece to the dog), and lunch with my friend and colleague Ivan Bettger.

Work-wise, we’re nearing the end of a six-week scope of effort. Achieving our goals was at risk because a key task became complex, but my teammate Jason shared news today that everything had fallen into place just in time. I’m looking forward to sharing with the broader team our gains on the two tracks as planned. Plus, we enlisted two additional helpers and found out we’ll be hiring to grow the team.

Oh, and another work project sped up considerably this week. A whole team of talented designers got busy using a tool we prototyped last year. What they’re cranking out looks great, and they gave us valuable feedback to improve the tool.

My mind has been mostly on this work recently. It’s a critical moment, transitioning two disruptive concepts that we’ve prototyped into standard projects that move through the usual process. I feel proud that when Adobe finally hired a prototyper to work with me 1:1, we started producing concepts that became high priorities for the company.

Thu, 25 Jan 2024

Bertrand Russell, How to Grow Old:

An individual human existence should be like a river: small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will not be unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.

My goodness, this is beautiful.

Fri, 12 Jan 2024

The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. — Watterson

You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. — Jobs

To do great work, the right strategy is not to plan too much. — Graham

Stories forthcoming.

About

Hello, I’m Tim Brown. I’m a designer and toolmaker with 15 years of product leadership experience.

My special interest is typography, a fancy word that means using fonts. I’m Head of Typography at Adobe, where I work on design tools and help people stay sharp.

I live and work in New York State’s Hudson Valley with my wife and college sweetheart Eileen, our three daughters, and our dogs.

Please feel welcome to email and connect on social.

Featured

Flexible Typesetting Flexible Typesetting is a book about how to make websites and apps look great at different screen sizes.

Practicing Typography Basics Practicing Typography Basics is a short, free video series for both beginners and pros. Meditation for designers.

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This website was designed by me (Tim Brown) in CodePen and Visual Studio Code. It’s typeset in Fern by David Jonathan Ross, with Mallory by Tobias Frere-Jones and Source Code Pro by Paul Hunt.

Generated by 11ty, managed on GitHub, hosted on Netlify, registered with Hover, and measured with Fathom.

My friend Chris Silverman illustrated the header graphic. Yes, it’s a BOTW reference!