Beat That! Karan Kumar has turned his childhood love of Hot Wheels into a typeface
The vibrant Chicane typeface is rooted in the designer's love of world building, colour fonts and interactive designs.
- Olivia Hingley
- 4 April 2023
“I was always obsessed with Hot Wheels as a child,” begins the designer Karan Kumar. “But more specifically, the different types of accessories that you could get to build a custom race track.” It’s this fascination with ‘buildability’, unique design spaces, cars and the race-track experience that has now informed Karan’s playful yet intricate typeface, Chicane. Including loop-de-loops, ramps and bridges, and allowing its users to control construction, the designer has created a linguistic component that mimics the “ultimate track building experience”, destined to fulfil the design dreams of any childhood Hot Wheels lover.
Growing up in the South of India, Karan completed an undergraduate illustration degree at the Srishti Minipal Institute of Art, Design and Technology. After graduating Karan found himself at a media and events agency where he stumbled upon graphic design. “I learned everything on the job. I never let go of my dexterity with illustration, I simply dipped my hands into graphic design to write a new chapter in my creative career.” In 2019, Karan launched a YouTube channel called Follow, where he hosted interviews with Indian designers engaging conversations surrounding industry practice, money and their individual goals, ambitions and dreams. Soon, these explorations led Karan to an MFA in graphic design at RISD.
Karan explains that he’s always had something of a “knack” for world building, something that was only enhanced by a typography class he took while studying at RISD, taught by Kelsey Elder. Throughout the course, Karan began to “dig deeper into the corners of traditional type design software”, asking questions like “What are the affordances of this medium?” and “How far can I stretch this canvas to fit the best of both illustration and type design?”. Resulting from these explorations, Karan decided that he wanted to create a typeface that could be “more than static”, a fact which his love of Hot Wheels aligned with perfectly. “I reached out to Kelsey with loose sketches, and for over a year and a half, he kept up with my obsession with perfecting this typeface,” Karan says. “I have created so many different iterations of Chicane over the past year that it's astonishing to see its transitions.”
The typeface is made instantly bold by its bright colour, one that reflects the classic orange track associated with Hot Wheels. Such use of colour was aided by Karan’s reaching out to the Dutch designer Arthur Reinders Folmer to discuss his Typearture of Colour Fonts. “It was so inspiring,” Karan details. “I think it's important to reach out to others who are also interested in world building using colour fonts.”
The race track also provided the first glyph for Karan, after which he created glyphs that would then connect with one another, exactly as the toys themselves do. “The uppercase features letters constructed using the racetracks, while the lowercase features unique elements for the track builder,” Karan explains. “Surprising ligatures, contextual alternates and various ramps, bridges and tracks allow for an intuitive experience of control in construction.” But perhaps the most intuitive aspect of the typeface is its ability to ‘fill in the gaps’ – quite literally. To add such dimensions Karan had to carry out extensive research on typing patterns, which then translated into auto-swapping features within the typeface. “This means that whenever there was a break in the racetrack, the typeface would automatically swap the two open ends with caps to close the track,” Karan says. “You could close your eyes and mash the keyboard for hours, and the typeface would automatically create seamless racetracks.” To add a little child-like fun to the overall look, Karan also added some illustrated everyday household items to be used as obstacles, like house plants, cats and stationary.
Though not yet released, Karan has created a number of corresponding extras to enhance the user experience. Extending beyond its 2D form, on its dedicated website you can interact with 3D models of the letters and operate a car to drive inside the typeface – “it’s incredibly entertaining,” Karan adds. Karan has also turned the type into letters that can be used in AR allowing people to run inside the typeface. “I can’t predict how the typeface will be used once it’s released, but I guess that’s the magic of creating tools for other creatives,” Karan finishes. So if you’re looking to add some childhood nostalgia to your next project, look no further.
GalleryKaran Kumar: Chicane (Copyright © Karan Kumar, 2023)
Karan Kumar: Chicane (Copyright © Karan Kumar, 2023)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.