For the love of God, Montserrat! February 10, 2017 9:15 AM   Subscribe

If you noticed a subtle font change on MetaFilter in the Modern theme in the last day or so, you're not hallucinating: one of the web fonts we use, Montserrat, got tweaked by its designer in a way that's affected us and a ton of other websites. Come inside for some details!

I was surprised and confused by a few inquiries and comments about the font on the front page yesterday because we haven't made any changes there; after the third apparent non-sequitur I went googling and found this github issue relating to Google's web font service.

Briefly: we use Montserrat for titles on the front page in the modern theme, and more specifically we use the "400" weight, which is—or rather has been—a fairly middling thickness type. We use it as a web font rather than one served locally on the server; at the time that Modern was put together, the reasoning was that Google's capacity to promptly and consistently serve up a font file, to those readers who don't already have a copy cached locally, exceeds our own. That's unlikely to change any time soon.

And Google didn't change how they serve the font. We still ask for Montserrat 400, they still give us Montserrat 400 the same way they always have.

But Montserrat 400 isn't Montserrat 400 anymore! The typeface was updated by the designer, and 400 is now a slightly thinner version of the typeface. They also provide a 500 weight, but in the new version that's a bit heavier than the old 400 we were using. At this point the current version of Montserrat doesn't have a where-we-were-before middle-ground style between the new 400 and 500.

It's been a bit of a surprise, and I don't have any idea whether it's something they will end up (a) reverting or (b) providing some sort of alternate weight or legacy workaround for. We could potentially revert to the older Montserrat ourselves and host it locally (and if you have an older version of Montserrat installed on your computer, or if your system is caching the previous one, you won't even see a difference). We could also just let it be.

And my initial inclination is to let it be; the difference is visible but still relatively subtle and I don't think it looks bad, so the simplest path in this particular case is probably to shake a fist in principle at the web font ecology but shrug about the actual outcome. I'll keep an eye on it and think about it.

But, so, yes: that is a thing that happened. The internet, everybody.
posted by cortex to Bugs at 9:15 AM (96 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

It looks nice. Bye
posted by superfluousm at 9:22 AM on February 10 [10 favorites]


I just figured this out myself minutes ago and was composing an email, after two days of comparing CSS and not finding any difference. Glad you figured this out as well.

I had a tab cached with the original and took some screenshots to compare the weights. Note that this affects the logos and "Tags" header as well.

FWIW, I like the old/original weight. I think it makes the titles stand out a little more against the body text on the main pages of each site.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:26 AM on February 10 [10 favorites]


in which the superiority of classic theme is again reaffirmed
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:28 AM on February 10 [77 favorites]


Ha, I was actually wondering this yesterday but then I thought it must be me, because if there had been an actual font change there'd be a big Metatalk about it.
I actually like it better. It's particularly noticeable on my phone for some reason.
posted by chococat at 9:29 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


classic4lyfe.
posted by jessamyn (retired) at 9:31 AM on February 10 [77 favorites]


#notitles
posted by lalex at 9:32 AM on February 10 [15 favorites]


Personally I prefer the old font, but not enough to wish on frimble and cortex the pain and annoyance of maintaining and hosting Metafilter's own version of the font.
posted by firechicago at 9:34 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


The font could change to comic sans overnight and I probably wouldn't notice.

Hi, I'm that guy.
posted by phunniemee at 9:39 AM on February 10 [11 favorites]


I like it.
posted by Miko at 9:43 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I didn't notice and now I can't un-notice it. This is like the dust on my ceiling fans all over again.

(except this doesn't really bother me)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:47 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


Such are the perils of not housing your own information - it can be changed without warning.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:51 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I noticed and liked it. Also, Montserrat finally has italics! I love that typeface.
posted by clearlydemon at 9:52 AM on February 10


I figured it was just me, because the site occasionally does this weird thing when I reload a page too quickly where it's all in a different font that I can't describe because I only know that it's not the usual font.
posted by Etrigan at 9:53 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


I noticed it but assumed it was something on my end or on my browser's end. Thanks for investigating!

Put me down as preferring the older weight, but on the scale of hardships in my life right now this sits somewhere around breaking a nail at the beginning of the workday and not having clippers.
posted by muddgirl at 9:53 AM on February 10


This is why I set my browser to override all specified fonts with Courier New.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:58 AM on February 10 [6 favorites]


I figured it was just me, because the site occasionally does this weird thing when I reload a page too quickly where it's all in a different font that I can't describe because I only know that it's not the usual font.

That's an artifact of the dynamic font loading process, yeah; if your computer doesn't currently have a given web font loaded, it'll fall back on the next entry in the style sheet, which IIRC is just plain sans-serif for Modern and thus probably Helvetica or Arial, until the download completes.

Hosting the font file ourselves wouldn't help there, since it'd come down to the speed of google's servers vs. ours. Classic doesn't go the web font route and instead relies on the near universality of Verdana as a system font for its default type, so doesn't see that same phenomenon.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:58 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Solution: host the physical font file in the cloud! You maintain control of the asset while utilizing the delivery speed of an internet giant.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:00 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Is this font change what precipitated the site's recent decision to drop the hyphen between Meta and Filter? (I don't think I'll ever get used to not seeing Meta-Filter at the top of my screen...)
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:05 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Hmm, yes, this new font is nice but I have a fine vintage font in my cellar if you would like to come take a look
posted by Frobenius Twist at 10:07 AM on February 10 [12 favorites]


Is this font change what precipitated the site's recent decision to drop the hyphen between Meta and Filter? (I don't think I'll ever get used to not seeing Meta-Filter at the top of my screen...)

As far as I know there's never been a hyphen.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:10 AM on February 10 [9 favorites]


Is this font change what precipitated the site's recent decision to drop the hyphen between Meta and Filter? (I don't think I'll ever get used to not seeing Meta-Filter at the top of my screen...)


Are you trying to Berenstain Bear me here?
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:11 AM on February 10 [25 favorites]


Montserrat 400 for FPP titles is fine. I vote for bulking up the MetaFilter at the top to 500 though.
posted by Kabanos at 10:17 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]


As far as I know there's never been a hyphen.

Whaaa?!
(If I was the Monopoly man, my monocle would have just dropped to the floor from shock.)

posted by Atom Eyes at 10:25 AM on February 10


There seems something... incorrect about a type designer messing with their work after release. But with it being Google it doesn't surprise me.

(I only have a pseudoknowledge of typography, so please correct me if typefaces are in fact commonly updated after release!)
posted by mushhushshu at 10:28 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


mushhushshu: IMHO, you are entirely correct in both your assumption and your lack of surprise.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:34 AM on February 10 [3 favorites]


The font could change to comic sans overnight and I probably wouldn't notice.

You monster!
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:39 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


I noticed, but didn't say anything because 1) it looks lovely; 2) it's your site.
posted by kimberussell at 10:41 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


It's insane to me that a bunch of software engineers, who are well familiar with this problem, thought it was a good idea to make a public font repository mutable.
posted by invitapriore at 10:42 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


"As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchresi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me --"
"Luchresi cannot tell Montserrat from Comic Sans."
"And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own."
posted by moonmilk at 10:44 AM on February 10 [12 favorites]


sometimes when I've cleared my cache and load the site I have to do a double-take because it's reverted back to modern theme and I'm all WHAT THE HELL SITE IS THIS

classic it was, is and forever shall be amen
posted by bologna on wry at 10:45 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


...with white background, btw. none of this blue & green background, that's just ludicrous!
posted by bologna on wry at 10:46 AM on February 10


Modern theme, peh! Montserrat font, peh! Professional white background, peh!

A Mefite needs not these things!
posted by Atreides at 10:49 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]


MODERN DARK, FTW! (I didn't notice any font changes.)
posted by jillithd at 10:53 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


Speaking of fonts, did I break something with the n-umlaut in this story? The word "Spinal" (with the umlaut, above the fold) seems to be in a slightly larger or different font.
posted by Etrigan at 11:00 AM on February 10


It's insane to me that a bunch of software engineers, who are well familiar with this problem, thought it was a good idea to make a public font repository mutable.

I am assuming this is sarcasm and you are familiar with npm
posted by Gerald Bostock at 11:01 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


Speaking of fonts, did I break something with the n-umlaut in this story? The word "Spinal" (with the umlaut, above the fold) seems to be in a slightly larger or different font.

Huh, that's interesting. I see weird variances in things like extended characters now and then in various fonts, so I don't know that there's much to say other than "hey the n-with-umlaut in that weight looks a bit off". I've have been learning recently a wee bit about font filetypes and glyph management and shit, juuuuust enough to know that man there's a lot of weird hacky shit in there sometimes, so who knows.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:20 AM on February 10


Clearly we need Montserrat 450. That's just math.
posted by maryr at 11:22 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


A Mefite needs not these things!

Weight's a thing for cattle and fontplay. Now guard yourself for true!
posted by infinitewindow at 11:29 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]


I was all, hey! that's not the right name!!!!

[writes snarky comment]

Oh, it's a font.

[deletes snarky comment]
posted by JanetLand at 11:34 AM on February 10


Montserrat 360 is nice.
posted by Kabanos at 11:53 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]


I am assuming this is sarcasm and you are familiar with npm

That's my point! We've seen how this goes!
posted by invitapriore at 12:03 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Favorited because the title makes me so, so happy.
posted by beandip at 12:14 PM on February 10 [6 favorites]


It's more noticeable on my phone than on my Mac but it looks good. It's "fresh".
posted by GuyZero at 12:18 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


I noticed this and didn't like it, but thought it was too picky for a contact form message! Since the number of comments typeface under the post text hasn't changed it's jarring to me!
posted by ellieBOA at 12:20 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


It's more noticeable on my phone than on my Mac but it looks good. It's "fresh".

*sniffs phone*

You sure about that?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:24 PM on February 10


mushhushshu: "There seems something... incorrect about a type designer messing with their work after release."

Fun fact, Montserrat was designed by George Lucas

Next week it will be redesigned again
posted by caution live frogs at 1:14 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


I heard George sold it off to Disney, and the new version is loaded up with CGI recreations of Dove's Type.
posted by jenkinsEar at 1:26 PM on February 10


You people really notice specific fonts on websites? (Or is this something one would need a graphical broswer to know the answer?)
posted by eotvos at 1:51 PM on February 10


I've been to see the Black Madonna at Montserrat, it was pretty cool.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 2:29 PM on February 10


Verdana were good enough fer my grandpappy and it's good enough fer me.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:29 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


Verdana were good enough fer my grandpappy and it's good enough fer me.

Helvetica or death.
posted by Fizz at 2:39 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


Helvetica or death.

"That's a pretty easy question. Anyone could answer that."
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:49 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


You people really notice specific fonts on websites? (Or is this something one would need a graphical broswer to know the answer?)

The change is somewhat less noticeable in lynx, true.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:53 PM on February 10 [12 favorites]


ASCII no questions, I'll tell you font-size
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:00 PM on February 10 [13 favorites]


I noticed. I like it better! But I might be weird. (Well, I'm definitely weird... but, you know.)
posted by cellar door at 3:23 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


ARGH. I noticed this immediately and — while it's not the end of the world — we've lost a wee bit of legibility here. I can't figure out why the typographer would do this, but the new letterspacing is terrible.

If we stick with Montserrat 400 may I please kindly suggest that the tracking and/or kerning be let out a bit? It would really help for accessibility issues at the very least.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:34 PM on February 10 [3 favorites]


I first got into fonts almost 40 years ago, when I used rub-on lettering to put the titles and headers onto otherwise typewritten and photocopied newsletters, and I fell in love with Bookman with it's 'swash' variations doing cool things to the letters K, S, Y and especially W, Eurostile (the seemingly official block sans serif of sci-fi) and that totally '70s stylish Peignot (permanently linked to Mary Tyler Moore and The Movie of the Week) and have never lost the love for them. My font favorites list hasn't changed much since the 1980s, only dropping Cooper Black when it became 'The Garfield Font', and later Kabel when it became "The O RLY Font". I proudly remain an old font fuddy-duddy.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:27 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


Oh, good, I thought my computer was just being messed up for days. I don't prefer the thinner weight against the (apparently) thicker body text....buuuut....it could just be that change is hard.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:11 PM on February 10


I'm confused about the supposed hyphen. I'm a Classic kind of fella, so I've only seen Modern a couple of times. This surely cannot be true! Screenshots or it never happened!
posted by hippybear at 5:14 PM on February 10


Can't tell; don't care.

What really bugs me is that Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug doesn't check his memail immediately.
posted by lollusc at 5:30 PM on February 10 [2 favorites]


Hah, I knew something changed. But then I looked on MeTa, and no mention of any change. And I went on archive.com to look at an old page, and it looked exactly like it this new changed font. So I decided I was imagining things. Thanks for splaining it.
posted by beagle at 6:59 PM on February 10


On the TV show The Middle there is a recurring storyline about the youngest child being the founder and president of his school's Font Club. I thought it was just fiction, but it sounds as if some Mefites here would love to join.
posted by a fish out of water at 7:31 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


You people really notice specific fonts on websites?

You don't know any typography people, do you?
posted by thelonius at 7:43 PM on February 10 [4 favorites]


oneswellfoop, glad to see you're living your life Optima-lly.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:19 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]


Tangentially, anyone know if Google sets/accesses cookies via fonts.google and thus has another way to track? I block all the Google I can, often including fonts.
posted by sylvanshine at 8:30 PM on February 10


Not being my field, I find this odd too, and hard to wrap my head around. It seems like "not changing" is sort of inherent to fontness.
posted by bongo_x at 10:20 PM on February 10


So this is some sort of Monserrat cabal,eh?
posted by Jon Mitchell at 1:54 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Helvetica or death.


Akzidenz-Grotesk or GTFO.
posted by mushhushshu at 2:00 AM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Speaking of fonts, did I break something with the n-umlaut in this story? The word "Spinal" (with the umlaut, above the fold) seems to be in a slightly larger or different font.

At least in Chrome, the "Spin" bit is in a different font than "al", and that's even clearer if you change the font to one with serifs -- the "Spin" remains in a sans serif. The reason is probably that there's no separate character code for n-umlaut in Unicode (it's pretty much only used to spell Spinal Tap), so the browser has to put it together from a plain "n" and a combining "¨", and doesn't trust random fonts to have the correct metrics for that to work.

It's insane to me that a bunch of software engineers, who are well familiar with this problem, thought it was a good idea to make a public font repository mutable.

Fonts are software, and just like any other software they can have broken features (e.g. missing characters) and rendering bugs. This is especially common for the less visible (i.e. non-English) parts. So bugfixes aren't uncommon, and in this case the designer appears to have considered the incomplete set of weights in the original version a bug.
posted by effbot at 3:41 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Looking at Non-steroidal...(etc)'s before/after video, the new version seems just a touch more legible on my iPhone, so that would be a plus if I used the modern theme.

Unsurprising move by Google, though. I use Google docs through Chrome 1/2 the day at work & am always trying to figure out where they moved what, now.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:08 AM on February 11


Unsurprising move by Google, though.

It's a kickstarter-funded open source font by Julieta Ulanovsky, a designer from Buenos Aires (see link in my previous comment). Google is hosting the font on their font servers, but that's about it.
posted by effbot at 5:29 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


so you guys got one of those George Lucas fonts, then?
posted by indubitable at 5:38 AM on February 11 [1 favorite]



It's a kickstarter-funded open source font by Julieta Ulanovsky


Oops, sorry for the mis-reading. It seemed Google-like in that they have grown a reputation for moving/changing/cancelling things without notice, to the detriment of their users. Derail at this point, so apologies.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:17 AM on February 11


don't want

to make

that Montserrat mistake
posted by Sys Rq at 8:51 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


We had a thread about The Cask of Amontillado this fall with lots of good comments (also pbo is a bad man), and komara and lucidium did a little nerding out about the masonry in the story.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:46 AM on February 11 [4 favorites]


Oh, that's where the title comes from. So let's see, the font is named after a neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, not a person; the first part of the name is "Mont" and not "Mon"; and the name is Catalan and not French. Enough category errors to give me a slight headache.
posted by effbot at 10:27 AM on February 11


...and only now do I realize that I've had uBlock Origin blocking webfonts all this time and that Metafilter wasn't actually using a web-safe font.
posted by ragtag at 10:39 AM on February 11 [2 favorites]


Oh, that's where the title comes from. So let's see, the font is named after a neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, not a person; the first part of the name is "Mont" and not "Mon"; and the name is Catalan and not French. Enough category errors to give me a slight headache.

There's also this line:

Martinique, that Monserrat mystique...

...aaaand I just earwormed myself.

Dammit, did that ever backfire.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 12:33 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


, the new version seems just a touch more legible on my iPhone,

I was thinking this morning that the change is a lot more noticeable on my iPhone, and not in a good way---the thinness of the title fonts clashes badly with the weight of the body text font for me.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:19 PM on February 11


I was thinking this morning that the change is a lot more noticeable on my iPhone, and not in a good way---the thinness of the title fonts clashes badly with the weight of the body text font for me.

I had the same reaction on my retina iMac: especially that the relative lightness of the titles sits badly with the weight of [bold] links in posts (so it’s more obvious on the blue than on Ask or MetaTalk where there aren’t so many links). The visual hierarchy doesn’t seem right; the titles are a bit bigger but also a bit lighter.

I held off commenting because I didn’t want to make a fuss, and I expect I’ll get used to it, but fwiw I don’t like it.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 1:33 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I always felt the font as used was too heavy anyway. I approve of this update. Good typographer! Gooooood typographer. Yes you are.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:31 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


in which the superiority of classic theme is again reaffirmed

You misspelled "plain theme." HTH.
posted by dersins at 9:25 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


What's the point then of a distributed font system such as Google fonts if the damn font can change?
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 11:28 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


As an occasional reminder that Google is completely fucking terrible and to be avoided at all costs.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:28 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I really like it. It just looks cleaner and friendlier. Also, FWIW, it's easier for me to read and I'm rocking a -10 nearsightedness prescription mixed with a newer but also alarming farsightedness prescription to create the kind of glasses that make people say Damn! You're really blind!

(I know! Would you not think they would cancel each other out and produce decent eyesight? Where are those silver linings of aging?)
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:57 PM on February 12


didn't notice, because I have my browser set to display everything in papyrus.
posted by dazed_one at 9:42 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I noticed it and thought it looked nice.

Hey font nerds, my boat where I live features in a documentary about Helvetica (at about 8:44). I am the most Helvetica. After I bought it I sanded the name right off and redid it in comic sans. It's much more 'fun' now.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 9:57 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


Oh thank God, I thought something in my brain broke.
(That's still a possibility, but at least this is not evidence of that)
posted by TwoWordReview at 1:34 PM on February 13


Thank you, thank you, thank you for confirming something changed. I was like "wtf, why does this look different? Is it different? I think it's different. But ... is it different?!"

FYI, I liked the old 400 weight better, but can live if this is the new normal.
posted by juliebug at 2:15 AM on February 14


<tinfoilhat>
I hate 3rd party fonts on the web. I block them the same as I block advertising beacons and tracking cookies.

At some point, these font providers are going to wake up and realise they've become analytics and user behaviour datasets. When they serve a few font files, they've also identified which users have been served them, what sites they are looking at to get that font, what time of day and what dates they're requested that font, and they can cross-reference that with information about the other sites that user has been provided with assets from the same online foundry.

(Sure, embedded fonts served from the same domain as the page is served from won't have this issue, but will have a few performance hits).

Back to the privacy point - there's no opt-out and no privacy information presented to a user about these things. I know this happens everywhere, and on many fronts - and in all likelihood, right now, there's no intended malice behind any of it - but some genius at Adobe will figure out they can squeeze a little more revenue from data they've been harvesting, and suddenly a little more privacy is chipped away. The font-face: has eyes.

Block away, people! Your three generic font classes in multiple weights will set you free!
</tinfoilhat>
posted by davemee at 1:34 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


At some point, these font providers are going to wake up and realise they've become analytics and user behaviour datasets.

I think that's the point?
posted by dersins at 9:42 PM on February 18


Yikes! Now it's doing this for me!
posted by aubilenon at 11:57 AM on February 21


whaaaaat
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:03 PM on February 21


Oh it's because I'm an idiot and installed Montserrat Black locally to see if it did anything, but it didn't actually change anything until I rebooted or restarted chrome or something, which was like a week later, which was long enough for me to forget that I did it. Never mind!
posted by aubilenon at 12:17 PM on February 21


*wipes sweat from brow*
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:26 PM on February 21


The thousand injuries of @font-face I had borne as best I could. (I noticed the change in weight and don't really like it, but meh.)
posted by fedward at 12:53 PM on February 21


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