Type Design in the Digital Age

In 2015 global typography constitutes a digital ecosystem with greater “typodiversity” of greater quality than ever before. This profusion was doubtless unleashed by the spread of desktop publishing (DTP) and accelerated by the advent of the Internet. It has never before been this easy to create, produce, commercialize and share fonts designed for traditional media or for contemporary reading and writing devices such as laptops, smartphones, e-readers, tablets and so on. So the question is: what’s the use of a new font in these times of overabundance

Every designer who undertakes to create something new – a new glass, chair or BATEAU, for example – is part tightrope walker and part surveyor, walking that thin line between styles past and future, looking one way while welcoming and actuating what is about to emerge from the other. All of history, especially that of typography, is an inexhaustible trove of potentialities: we are free to revisit and reinvent the classics, of which we have gained far more in-depth knowledge over the past few decades (e.g. Garamont, Caslon, Didot, Bodoni et al.); to rediscover, redeploy and revive typefaces whose success was fleeting at best, despite their aesthetic or functional value; to combine, to fuse, what are sometimes divergent influences, to continually produce novel and marvelous hybrids. This is what Infini does, proving that it is still conceivable to revive and draw on the underlying power of the present suspended in each letter, in each style of handwriting, inscription or typography.

While it is still possible to sketch out and design a new typeface with traditional tools, this creative process is no longer simply a matter of pen and paper, but of electricity, light and bytes as well. The horizontal workspace of the designer’s desk now has a vertical component as well: the computer screen. Henceforth the designer has to master a digital system of software, applications and programs, as well as using Bézier curves (named for mechanical engineer Pierre Bézier (1910–1999), who initially used them to design automobile parts on the computer), placing control points, defining contours, arranging pixels; writing, emending and perfecting programming languages, scripts and algorithms; creating outline fonts in various formats, OpenType being currently the most widespread thanks in part to its capacity to package a great many glyphs.

Nowadays a single person can handle all these complementary tasks or collaborate with professionals entrusted with putting the finishing touches on the new typeface. Whatever the modus operandi, the designer will strive to gain a good understanding of the expectations of future users – other graphic designers, artistic directors, readers –, anticipating the greatest possible number of situations in which their creation might be used, in order to optimize its legibility, flexibility, even malleability.

A typeface conceived for magazine captions, for instance, can be surprisingly jarring when blown up to compose headlines, which, leaping off the page, provide food for thought, inspiration and invention. The development of Infini stretched over a period of eight months, between the initial sketches and gradual refining of its shapes to its completion. Although Sandrine Nugue designed every single character (some in several versions before she was thoroughly satisfied), she entrusted two fellow type designers with the task of integrating them and making sure they work smoothly within the fonts. Laurent Bourcellier worked on their kerning, i.e. adjusting the visible space between two characters in every possible combination. As each Infini font is in OpenType format, Mathieu Réguer took pains to make sure they would work on various platforms (Macintosh, Windows) and that their repertory of over 700 glyphs – lowercase, capitals, numerals, punctuation marks, diacritics, mathematical signs, ligatures and pictograms–  could be used flexibly and precisely. He also adapted Infini to WOFF (Web Open Font Format) to facilitate its use on websites.

Infini is intended to be shareware, downloadable free of charge thanks to the initiative of the Centre national des arts plastiques. The main object of this exceptional initiative is to raise public awareness of contemporary type design and to valorize a profession that is currently seeing a robust resurgence.
New foundries have sprung up in recent years in France, and a new generation of designers is becoming permanently established, all pursuing their passion, sustained by the sale of licenses to use their digital fonts.

Now that Infini is poised to make its debut on the typographic scene, let us imagine where it may go from here. One likely development would be the creation of additional varieties, some leaner and narrower, some wider and stouter, or its application to alphabets related to the Roman alphabet, such as Greek and Cyrillic. And who knows how other, non-Roman alphabets – Hebrew, Tifinagh, alphasyllabic Thai –might look were they to adopt Infini’s incised aesthetic paradigm.

Lastly, Infini opens up an original field of exploration based on an ancient language that was wrongly written off as outworn, revitalizing it, restoring it to yield a surprising modernity, as though each line, each phrase, aspired to make another voice heard in the polyphonic symphony of typography.