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Interactive Annual 15:
experimental/virtual community

FontStruct

Launch Live Site

“An interesting experiment in adding a social layer to a useful utility for type designers.” —Jay Zasa

“The ability to effortlessly create fonts from geometric shapes through a grid brings out the typographer in all of us! It’s a practical way to solve our never-ending need for font creation.” —Amber Bezahler


Overview: While there are plenty of online editing applications, there are very few Web sites that allow users to actually create complex, visual content from scratch. This free font-building tool enables users to quickly and easily create fonts constructed from geometric shapes arranged on a grid—like tiles or bricks. An interactive Flash widget is used to preview the current state of a font design and can be embedded on other sites. At its core, however, FontStruct is a community site; in addition to the ability to share and download their constructions, users can also collaborate on, critique and discuss them through comments and private messaging.

  • • Design and development was done in Berlin, Germany, and client input and feedback came from San Francisco. There were two face-to-face meetings during development; remaining discussion took place via e-mail, Skype and Basecamp.
  • • There are over 130,000 user-created fonts in the FontStruct system (over 2,000,000 letters) and more than 5,000 of them are publicly-shared and available for download. To date about 240,000 fonts have been downloaded.
  • • The site’s received 1,100,000 visitors with over 6,500,000 page views since launching on April 1, 2008.

Comments by Rob Meek

Was the topic/subject of the project a new one for you? “I’ve made a number of typographical toys (such as the MEEK FM typographic synthesizer), both online and off, over the last nine years. With FontStruct I wanted to create something that was genuinely useful and accessible, rather than just a playful experiment.”

How did this project compare with others you’ve worked on in the past? “This was and is the best commercial project I’ve ever worked on. I met the perfect client in FontShop, whose needs coincided completely with what I wanted to do. It’s the dream of every developer and designer to be paid to realize their pet project.”

How did time constraints affect your final solution? “Only in a good way. We had a very generous but clear timeline that gave me plenty of time to do things well, but not enough time to get bogged-down in details. A few features that were originally discussed were not in the initial release, but many of them have since been added.”

How did your relationship with the client evolve over the course of the project? “I had already done a number of projects with FontShop and a degree of mutual trust had been established. Over the course of the project, FontShop provided very valuable and regular feed--back, but they were also extremely relaxed and gave me a lot of freedom.”

What was the response? “With very little marketing—just a couple of posts on typography blogs—the response was overwhelming. We had over 21,000 registrations and over 23,000 fonts created within the first 21 days. Initially we got a lot of coverage and traffic from typography and design blogs, later the word spread to more mainstream sites, and print media such as the New York Times. Our heaviest traffic came when we were slashdotted a month after launch in May 2008. Not only did we have many more users than expected, but the reviews and feedback were extremely positive.”

What would you do differently if you could start the project over? “Nothing.”

Credits

Rob Meek (Berlin, Germany), project design and development
FontShop International (San Francisco, CA), client