Unfortunately, someone who drank the same Kool-Aid than Dave Crossland did when commissioning this atrocious default weight distribution on the very popular Montserrat font is risking making the same mistake with the Ubuntu fonts. I mean, they look absolutely stunning when used in the web, with the big font sizes provided by the Vanilla Framework. But slimmer regular fonts don’t cut it the same way when you use it in user interfaces, where sizes are smaller. Just compare Launchpad.net, before and after:
Both screenshots are from the same webpage, 100%, no zooming or trickery. I think you will appreciate that the second one is objectively harder to read and could cause you to squint. (And it is only the Regular weight that is now too thin; the new Bold renders excellently and it does look more refined than before. The new proportions of the Monospaced family are a life-changing improvement too!)
Yes, one can make the new Regular similar to the old static font’s by finessing the weight to, say, 450; it’s one of the benefits of the variable-font format, right? But it does require fiddling on the users’ part, just because somebody imposed a bad default on them. Besides, UI frameworks like GTK are. just. not. that. flexible, and the Tweaks app just won’t respect my choice of weight 500 and will still render the font in the now-thinner 400 across all GNOME applications.
So, my suggestion to the Canonical stakeholders who I trust will listen to this community member is: provide a “Display” family optimized for websites, logos, brochures, printed material and all those other touchpoints requiring big font sizes, and a “Text” family optimized for on-screen UI, similar to the one we’ve had since 2010 (this is what both Apple and Microsoft do with Segoe and SF, respectively). Back then you innovated typography for on-screen reading, at a time where other Linux vendors scoffed at design, seeing it as a waste of money; don’t forget the lessons you’ve learned about font rendering, hinting, gridfitting! (And before someone suggests to me: “Hey Adolfo, don’t whine, font hinting is dead; just get a HiDPI screen!”: No, my old laptop still works and they’re too expensive in the Global South and I’d rather repair it than contribute to a wasteful, polluting industry due to simplistic consumeristic arguments.)
Of course, by pointing this issue out I don’t mean to invalidate the ginormous work that Type Network did in modernizing the source code of this font family, and the bug fixes they have provided (such as adding anchors for diacritics, something so basic and yet Dalton Maag refused to provide — I can finally type a Guarani “G̃” in Ubuntu!!) and I know they had to do a bit of archaeology, looking for old bug reports and recovering fixes that never got released. Do know that I appreciate that! But I still strongly feel that this newly emaciated font won’t perform as good unless a slight weight adjustment is done, towards the thicker side (hinting can only do as much — unfortunately, an adjustment in the outlines is needed here).