I waxed ecstatic last week about a type-design program that had the courtesy to show beginners the ropes while they used it. Now comes Typography Insight, an even better (and at $1.99 in the iTunes App Store, much realer) iPad app that makes design literacy just about as fun and easy as it can possibly be without free ice cream thrown in.
It's more like an exquisite museum exhibit than a musty textbook.
Typography Insight, as its name implies, is a pure teaching tool -- you can't build your own fonts with it. But for many type-curious amateurs, that would be too intimidating anyway; this app is for the bookworms out there who are happy just to learn about the history of typefaces (the app has all the greats, from Baskerville and Garamond to Futura and Helvetica) and also recognize details like slab serifs, ascenders, and ligatures. The app covers everything: even measurements and typesetting best practices are offered up in simple, go-at-your-own-pace interactive lessons. In a truly ingenious touch, the app includes a feature where you can lay two letterforms over each other in semi-transparency to compare and contrast all the little details that make them different.
But before you think this all sounds like homework more than playful exploration, rest assured that Typography Insight falls squarely in the latter category. Its designer, Dong Yoon Park, has savvily maximized the interactive, tactile elements of the iPad and downplayed the borderline-anal technicalities of his subject to create an experience that's more like an exquisitely designed museum exhibit than a musty textbook. He's thought about user experience, interface design, and all the other goodies that make an app actually fun in very, very exhaustive detail. Park aimed his app at fellow typography students (he developed it as his thesis project at Parsons), but anyone who loves books, words, history, or fine art -- even in the slightest bit -- will find Typography Insight as intoxicating as Wikipedia and as fun as a video game.