TYPO Labs: Typographic Wonderland

Marianna Paszkowska, font developer at Monotype presented a playful Variable Fonts project that she had been working on together with quite a large team from the company. What at the first glance looked as “only” a fun project on Variable Fonts could also be seen as an approach to answer the question about how many choices should be actually given to the end user of design.

By Verena Gerlach


Starting with introducing a little analogue music box (with a little crank and a cylinder), Marianna gave an overview over interactive designs from a not type related field.

The audience got the “warning” to now get confronted with images that had nothing to do with type. She explained the importance of thinking outside the box, and it was very refreshing to learn about intelligent textiles, or dynamic bags, that are reacting to their environment. Following the idea of the products reaction on for example the weather, she concluded the little excuse with the great interactive type design project Twin by Letteror.
Marianna shared her opinion on the permanent choice overload of the current users. From her point of view, the users / readers of e-readers should not even be allowed to choose a typeface for their devices. The designer should not push his or her responsibility over to them, and I can just strongly agree on this.

TYPO Labs 2017

Marianna Paszkowska raising questions: Should users of ereaders be allowed to choose their devices fonts? Photo: Norman Posselt


Less is more

The audience got taken to a short trip through the history of optical sizes in typography. From the punch cutters, via photo type to the present tense technology. Now the only technique of adjustments on optical sizes of type that is left from all these “innovations“ is the hinting.


FF Clifford Variable Fonts

FF Clifford, originally designed for different optical sizes by Akira Kobayashi was the starting point for a Variable Fonts project by Monotype. First, the masters had to been prepared for interpolation, without loosing each master’s distinguish characteristic.
Interpolating the different masters, a way had to be found to deal with some letter shapes, that are quite different from each other within the different optical sizes or masters. When blending over a certain point, the character variants of the ampersand for example get replaced (not interpolated).
Now, the typeface is ready to react on the different reading sizes. The team by Marianna, Inka Strotmann, Bern Volmer, Johannes Abendroth, and Andreas Frohloff was now working with a face tracking /recognition application. They used the inbuild camera of their devices to calculate the reader’s distance to the screen. Now, the text could adjust the optical size of the to be read text by using the different variants of the new FF Clifford Variable Font.
Marianna showed very funny pictures of the team’s faces, actually reacting on the responsive text and vice versa.

The conclusion: Unfortunately, the text is not very readable anymore, when it keeps moving, changing the letters shapes or hyphenation. It is just destructing. Also, it is very uncomfortable to sit frozen infront of a device.
Marianna came up with more ideas: Voice recognition for interacting texts, or even texts that reacts on the mood of the writer to be used in angry emails for example.

TYPO Labs 2017

Outside the box thinking and learning about intelligent textiles, or dynamic bags, that are reacting to their environment, photo: Norman Posselt


If you would like to try out this really nice type project yourself, there is just a little step to this enjoyment:

You will need a browser that supports variations to display this website properly. For best results, use macOS Sierra as your OS and Safari Technology Preview or WebKit Nightly as your browser.

→ FontShop.com Microsite on Variable Web Fonts

Back to the little music box. Marianna explained, that this is actually a very early example for hardware (the box with the crank) and installable software (the cylinder). What can be seen as an underestimated toy, actually can lead to something really great.