It’s got to move

Some of the visionary thinking of Erik van Blokland

Erik van Blokland (who is talking at the Typographics conference – Make It Move,” Friday, June 12th) has been thinking about making type responsive since the 1980s.

“What happens to the type when the bounding box changes?” he asks. “For the workshop, I’ve set up some tools where people can draw these things; a little animation.”

With Just van Rossum (who is leading two coding workshops at Typographics) he designed a mutable Times New Random, the characters of which were rasterized differently each time it was printed. A related idea was used for Beowolf, first released by FontFont in 1992 and now included in MoMA’s Design Collection. Operating systems eventually crippled the functionality of the typeface, but after much effort the team managed to create many of the same effects with OpenType.

“It’s taken forever to get here,” says Erik.

“Really, 25 years. We had to wait for the arrival of good resolution on screens, fast processing and Javascript,” he says.

In the ’80s Erik and Just were nicknamed the Random Twins, or the Bezier Boys. They set up shop in The Hague in 1989 under the name Letterror. And they are now having the last laugh. Dutch theories, spearheaded by Gerrit Noordzij about how fonts can become aware of their usage and how design algorithms can adapt type on the fly, were over the head of most typographers 20 years ago. Erik is now putting these theories into practice.

He is focusing on animated lettering – what he calls “the drawing of words … letters that move”.

Responsive and animated shapes for Draw Vector Move workshop at Typographics 2015 from Erik van Blokland on Vimeo.

“The bottom line is that it’s type designers who know how to do this,” he says. “Because we know how to make these variations”.

“Shape is the first restraint,” Erik says, “because the geometry of the letterforms and the containers have to be resolved”.

“The second step is that we need to be able to animate the words. We can start getting the type to respond to the way you are reading”. This may be truly responsive typography.

“We start with animation, because movement triggers a very primitive part of the brain,” Erik says.

“There is a lot of software in our brain, and we have no idea how some of it works,” he says. “But we know that the brain instinctively responds to movement”.

“I think it needs to move”.

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