When creative code meets type: Lorraine Li’s Font-Remix tool shows the potential of tech innovation
The tool, which lets you conjoin two separate fonts, shows the ways in which technology can diversify and expand the type design library.
- Olivia Hingley
- 11 October 2022
Today, typography appears to be the one area in which designers seem keen to get most inventive and experimental, challenging the boundaries of legibility and form. With the ever-expanding capabilities of technology, it’s no surprise that novel techniques in the online sphere are beginning to take these practices even further. Lorraine Li’s Font-Remix project is a brilliant example of this technical innovation in type design.
Primarily, Font-remix provides methods for arranging letterforms in browsers by performing boolean operations, a form of statistical function. Lorraine explains: “New fonts are generated at runtime from the vector paths of two existing fonts, and can be downloaded as an opentype file. Users can then customise their result by selecting two fonts from the dropdown or uploading from their computer, and choosing from different grids for combining the letterforms from the two fonts.” The resulting fonts show the beauty in collision and contrast, with two font’s artfully conjoined to create an entirely new set of glyphs.
Lorraine’s interests in experimentation with coding came before design. “I was never good with verbal communication, so I was fascinated by the idea that communication can happen visually, in a less linear manner,” she details. “Essentially because I get to structure the architecture of communication, what someone might need to know first.” It was this musing that pushed Lorraine to study at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where she started to explore “the possibilities that programming can bring to graphic design expressions”.
The ideas and topics that led to the Font-remix project were born from the findings of Lorraine’s explorations. “I was feeling that programming has been simultaneously mystified and under utilised in graphic design, perhaps with some causality between the two,” she says. “The fear of code has turned a lot of people away from digging deeper into what could be possible.” This pushed Lorraine to expand a web-based tool for ease of sharing and accessibility, and to create a cohesive portal that prevents the user from having to write a line of code. “I wanted to introduce the idea that the output can be a collaboration between me and the user; this could be an alternative mode to how designers interact with creative code,” Lorraine explains.
It was when digging even further into type design at RISD – and finding herself continually drawing anchor points in RoboFont – that Lorraine was reminded of the fact that manipulating data often leads to changes in the letterform. “Font editing softwares taught us one way of interacting with this data," she says, "but are there other options?” While making the final piece, perhaps one of the most important aspects to Lorraine was the “output”, as well as working out how to feed manipulated data back into a downloadable and useable font file with the correct metadata. “I wanted this project to fit comfortably in the graphic design world and act as proof that creative coding projects don't have to be elusive or impractical,” Lorraine says.
Despite still being in its early stages, the Font-Remix tool has been used in a number of projects. One of its outputs arose after Lorraine first shared the project online, after which she was contacted by Jonathan Maghen from Primary Foundry. Showing Lorraine a 1959 Grishman-Ryce Duo cover designed by Robert Brownjohn, the foundry hoped to use Font-Remix to create a font inspired by it. “Using Font-Remix as a production tool was a usage that I didn’t necessarily expect, which made it exciting to me,” Lorraine says. The font – which perfectly demonstrates the tool's ability to successfully fuse the classic and the contemporary – is now available on through Primary Foundry.
Initially, the Font-Remix project began simply as a form of research, ready to be built upon. But, having already been utilised in a number of projects, it's received positive feedback from other designer-coders. The tool has already proved its functionality and the exciting possibilities it allows for. Now, Lorraine has set herself on further exploring the potential for alternative designs tools, carving them a new role within the ever-more digitally focused design world. “As much as every graphic form has been created before, I do take pleasure in attempting to create things that feel new,” the designer concludes.
Lorraine Li: Interface (Copyright © Lorraine Li, 2022)
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.