Forms, Methods and Tools Friday, June 8th, 2018

Building a Foundation of Flexible Typography

Karl Engebretson, Lecturer, University of Minnesota, College of Design

OpenType Variable fonts provide new access to typographic flexibility. New skills needed for teaching undergrad type design lessons—Request for Collaborators

Typography is on the cusp of a monumental shift in digital application. The recent release of OpenType Variable (OTvar) functionality to digital typefaces is opening new avenues of typographic flexibility and interactivity that has never been experienced before. It is imperative that the next generation of designers knows how to harness this exquisite functionality early and build on it as a foundational skill throughout their career.

Students, or instructors, commonly discover an appreciation for typography through their background in visual design training. Many undergraduate graphic design programs involve some font or letter design projects in their curriculum. However, the development of OTvar fonts requires some additional comprehension of complex themes such as interpolation, font formats, and the associated coding requirements. This paper collects and summarizes the current background knowledge necessary to teach typeface design to upper level undergraduate students. The example collaborative project of building an OTvar typeface is broken into the specific stages of: proper vector construction of letterforms; interpolation of letterforms; establishing OTvar functionality; and applying OTvar fonts in a simple, digital format (html/css or drawbot, e.g.). Proposed timelines and collateral for lessons are included.

OTvar is a relatively new technology and those less familiar with code, such as this author, need help distilling its complexity into an approachable and malleable concept. This paper is really a request for collaborators in the development of this leading-edge project. The lessons and lectures require coding coaching, technical assessment, and educational experience to assess if this new adaptive approach to typography can be simplified and taught parallel to students first font projects. The primary goal is to determine if the basic technical aptitude necessary for OTvar implementation is achievable for undergraduate students in a six-week course project.