Finally, A Type-Design Program That Teaches Beginners The Ropes

Yannick Mathey's Prototyp-0 lets you tweak the elements of typefaces on the fly, seeing how legibility changes.

Making beautiful typefaces out of Xeroxed body parts and ink droplets may look easy, but make no mistake: good typography is hard to do. And designing the typefaces themselves is even trickier: it's easy to tell when a letterform looks terrible or beautiful, but it's difficult to intuit exactly why. An application called Prototyp-0 could help beginning type designers and curious amateurs figure this out, by displaying all the technical design elements of a letterform as easy-to-mess-with sliders that change the attributes of the letter on the fly.

Top-shelf typographers like Hoefler & Frere-Jones would probably find Prototyp-0 clunky and limiting, but to lesser talents — or just someone with a lot of curiosity and potential — the app looks like a fantastic teaching tool. (Assuming it's not just a concept or vaporware — creator Yannick Mathey's site isn't too clear on that.) Want to know what screwing around with the ascenders does to legibility? How slabby can you make slab serifs before turning the letters to goop? Why does messing with the x-height make your letters look "bigger"? Find out for yourself: Prototyp-0 makes it as easy as twiddling dials on a radio, and the live feedback is as playful and engaging as a video game.

Mathey used the ever-amazing Processing programming language (a fave for designers) to power Prototyp-0's live interactions. You may not end up creating the next Bodoni with it, but fun tools like this out in the world may do something better: help create the next Giambattista Bodoni.

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  • Trevor Mill

    I've designed a fair few typefaces and to do it properly is a really time consuming experience. Anything that would make it easier is fine by me. The amount of testing involved to get it RIGHT not just OK was far more than most clients would pay for.

    Saying that a fun headline face could take a day or so.

    This program sounds good as type design is really daunting in it's old fontographer form.

  • Earl Kallemeyn

    This is the kind of software that makes a mature type designer nuts imagining that a finished design can be overworked by an amateur.
    On the other hand, as you graciously suggest, it could have some use to an amateur in the early stages of learning about type. To me, a main point about creating type with the computer as a tool, is that the creativity of a design is best originated by a human.