Infographics Become Easy As Pie, With This Disruptive Font

FF Chartwell is an astonishingly clever hack of font technology, which allows you to build stunning graphs without spreadsheets.

This is part of a series highlighting notable entries in our Innovation By Design Awards. Finalists will be announced in September.–Ed.


Excel is my worst enemy, as I’m a firm believer that spreadsheets should be a punishment mandated only by the federal and state government tax code. And that’s a shame, because you can make some robust graphs in Excel.

FF Chartwell is like a graphing tool for the rest of us. There are no cells to highlight or windows for values. Instead, you simply type the values you want in a graph, separated by plus signs. Then, as easily as you would swap a font, you can highlight the numbers and instantly transform them into several different, sharp-looking graphs.

“If you want to get picky, FF Chartwell’s not really a typeface in the traditional sense,” explains creator Travis Kochel. “However, everything exists within a font file. Each possible chart shape exists as a separate glyph. When the OpenType features are activated, the numbers [are] automatically swapped out with the corresponding shapes. Much in the same manner as a ligature.”

Ligatures are not traditional characters. They’re actually cheats that prevent glyphs (letters) from crashing into one another and mucking up the text (they’ve actually been around since the advent of written language, but have only been popularized again more recently on digital platforms). So where an “f” and an “l” would naturally intersect, a properly spaced single unit “fl” may take its place, and none of us are any the wiser. Kochel illustrates the principle well on his blog. And the only way Chartwell was possible was by exploiting these ligatures.

So if a bar replaces the number 55, know that a bar of that exact length was pre-rendered by Kochel long ago–it’s hiding within the files of your computer, along with a bar for 54 and 56. Because of ligatures, these complex graphical symbols can be swapped in just as easily as any letter is typed on your screen. You type 54+55+56 and you get three bars (or wedges, rings, radar chirps or lines) of corresponding bulk. And making graphs–even those that get extremely abstract–really does become as simple as typing.

FF Chartwell is available as a full pack for $125, or broken into individual fonts for $25 apiece. A web font version should be available soon.


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.