AR/VR Tidbits from TYPO Labs 2018

While at last year’s TYPO Labs Variable Fonts were introduced as the great innovation, this year another big topic was treated in several talks. The Augmented and Virtual Reality environment is becoming more notable for many programmers and designers requiring special attention when it comes to text and type.

– –
by Jan Vincent Dufke

All talks on AR/VR or Extended Reality (XR) as Type Designer, Typographer and Creative Director Ksenya Samarskaya put it, agreed that the AR/VR experience and the requirements it places on fonts are one of the main upcoming challenges against the limits of font technology. This article sums up some of the main take aways. 

TYPO Labs 2018

TYPO Labs 2018 – Laura Hernández, Photo: Norman Posselt

Laura Hernández, industrial and VR/AR designer based in Barcelona, pointed out the tremendous difference between a 360°-Video and VR. A Virtual Reality applicaton needs an immersive concept and not just something to look at. To achieve immersion all the details must behave as expected to make the user feel as being part of the environment.

New media and new languages require a new model of typography. We have to explore. We are free to explore and have no boundaries.

– Laura Hernandez, Virtual Type-Ality

One main issue while creating seemingly unlimited experiences is according to Vivek Vadakkuppattu, Product Managing Director at Monotype, the device fragmentation. A great number of of XR-devices are currently available, all of which differ in resolution and performance. Designing an experience that works well, both on a 200$ and on a 2000$ device puts a big challenge on AR/VR projects.

TYPO Labs 2018

TYPO Labs 2018, Vivek Vadakkuppattu, Photo: Norman Posselt

As the main criteria texts need to follow in AR/VR environments Vivek defined:

  • Quality of text in general and legibility
  • Challenges with text localization
  • Resource burden
  • Unpredictable environment (AR)

He considered a high quality font rendering as an important prerequisite that fonts need to fulfill for text immersion.

Laura predicted that the user’s behaviour will change as technology develops. Today most VR-glasses are still running on cables, wireless devices will make people for example walk around. Vivek introduced WebXR as a browser based platform allowing an application run on several devices. In Vivek’s talk we also found out that many XR-applications are avoiding the use of typography just because it is too hard to handle in an immersive environment. To avoid motion sickness and headache the text has to be highly legible. While referring to legibility Ksenya also explains the challenges for typographers to work with text in XR.

What happens when type moves closer? Does the text move with the user? What is behind the letters?

– Ksenya Samarskaya: Type in the Expanded Field

According to Ksenyas standpoint there can not be 2D type in a 3D environment, type should have a dimensional presence. But it should not only be the typographer who decides about the dimension of the letters. She also demands new typedesign-software to draw 3D letterforms.

Ksenya Samarskaya: Type in the Expanded Field-Norman Posselt

TYPO Labs 2018 – Ksenya Samarskaya, Photo: Norman Posselt

Beside XR these dimensional typeface can also be used in holograms, signage or 3D-printing. Laura pointed out the relation between size and distance when designing text for XR. An immersive medium in which the user is able to move requires a whole new attention to movement and font sizes.

At the end of her talk Laura left us with the question on how an XR experience can profit from Variable Fonts and whether Variable Fonts might solve the problem of device fragmentation.

Marianna Paszkowska and Bob Taylor from Monotype Font Engeneering and Technologies, offered an idea on how at least Variable Fonts could work in an VR-environment. One of their demos took place in an environment with various signage featuring width/weight compensation as we were moving around the text.

TYPO Labs 2018

TYPO Labs 2018 – Marianna Paszkowska, Photo: Norman Posselt

Though the demo gave a rather rough idea on how an immersive experience with Variable Fonts might look like we got the point on legibility and movement. The VR-demo was built using the Unity engine with a font plug in developed by Monotype. The free beta-version allows the use of various fonts in XR-applications.

As a product manager Vivek also monitors possible and already existing markets for XR-software using typography. Beside branding or advertisement purposes the technology can be exceptionally useful in a training environment. Efficiency can be increased up to 25% while the risk of injury or damage to persons or property is minimized. Vivek was positive that XR will soon be our natural way to engage with digital information such as desktop computers and smartphones are now.

– –


Ksenya Samarskaya: Type in the Expanded Field (video: 37 min)

Laura Hernández: Virtual Type-Ality (video: 22 min)

Vivek Vadakkuppattu: Creating AR/VR Experiences with Text (video: 42 min)

WebXR on GitHub exploring the expansion of WebVR for AR/MR capabilities

⇢ Monotype’s AR/VR Solution (in beta) free for testing in Unity