Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Font of Wisdom

If you have an even passing interest in exploring typography, it soon becomes apparent what a vast world of typefaces are out there. Serif and san serif, text and display, humanist and neoclassical, standard and pro! Even when such things had to be struck in metal and assembled by hand, it was an expansive landscape. Now with computers to streamline their production and the Internet to share them in countless ways, it’s less a landscape than a veritable universe of ascenders, apertures, and x-heights. Navigating between them in any meaningful way is usually more an exercise in happenstance than design.

But if you're carrying an iPad in your travels, you have access to a stalwart ally. FontBook, from the folks behind FontShop.com, features an immense, if not quite exhaustive, collection of typefaces. While the icon for the app is a disappointing effort, it belies a really imaginative and eye-catching layout. Every page is subdivided into neighborly blocks. The gridded layout is always captivating to navigate, with larger blocks indicating larger number of sub-items in that heading. At your command, the extensive catalog of fonts can organize themselves by name, foundry, year, or style. Once you've found the one you're looking for, you can add it to your favorites or click the handy link to purchase it from, where else, Fontshop.com.

While just wending your way here and there, seeing what typographic finds foster your fancy, is certainly a good a use of the program as any, I've found it immensely useful for finding specific typefaces. Narrow it down to a specific style and flick your way through the thumbnails. A sample “Rg” is displayed for every typeface, and it's amazing how useful that letter combination is for getting the essence of a font. FontBook has been an invaluable resource while designing the latest worker-placement game, The Manhattan Project, from Minion Games. It's themed after World War II propaganda posters, and the typography is an immense part of the spirit.

The app requires an internet connection to get all “620,000 typeface specimens,” though it contains half a gig of samples of the most popular faces for offline use. As of this writing, FontBook is available on the iPad App Store for $5.99

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