Poly Mono is a “game font” made of shapes that creates Karel Martens-inspired prints

From Otherwhere Collective, Poly Mono expands the realm of font-making, raising new possibilities for our keyboards.

Can a font be a font if it doesn’t actually include any letters from the alphabet? The designer and creative director Andrew Bellamy thinks so. Through his multidisciplinary creative project, Otherwhere Collective, Andrew has created Poly Mono, an inventive, “mega-ligature” font. In use, Poly Mono can create a variety of shapes in different colours and rotations to create logos, prints and more. Or, it can simply be a tool for play and experimentation that pushes users to think about how we can use existing tools to create something entirely new.

The project’s foundations actually lie in another font, Prixel Mono, and it also has two seemingly disparate influences – 8-bit games and the Dutch graphic designer, Karel Martens. Andrew developed Prixel Mono with Brandon Gamm for Prixel Press, Brandon’s modular printmaking system for making illustrations and patterns. The font was created to be a digital version of each shape, including an alphabet too that would be used in the production of the printing pieces, alongside the physical kit. It was then while playing around with the physical kit, that ideas started to spark for Andrew, he says: “I started to get some simple compositions going with some overprint that felt like mini, and very humble, Karel Martens prints.”

When starting to develop Poly Mono, Andrew thought it could be more streamlined than Prixel Mono, which had four orientations of different shapes assigned to their own key. Instead, for Poly Mono, Andrew decided that each shape was assigned its own key, with every orientation housed within that key which allowed for more shapes, compositions, and an overprint effect. This is how the font became what Andrew describes as a “mega-ligature”, rather than typical three ligatures on a glyph, there’s eight (including the default) in the same character, creating 214 in total: “a mega amount of connections, and mega amount of iterations per glyph,” says Andrew.

Andrew thought it could be fun to have some movement added when the shapes are typed, a small bounce for example. This led him to think of motion used in Super Mario Bros, when Mario hits the block from below, until it runs out of money and freezes. “Initially bringing this vision to life felt very complicated, like it would require a standalone custom coded app, but the constraint was it had to be done within the font file,” says Andrew. “This forced some thought and in the end the ligature solution was beautifully simple and effective.” Andrew even created a Karel Martens “8-bit hero” that mimics the motion of Mario. Moreover, unlike Prixel Mono, Andrew wanted Poly Mono to be a colour font, to reference the inks used in analogue printmaking, and to create satisfying colour overlaps too. “So the original digital font was made to inform the prints, and now the prints are informing the digital font again,” says Andrew.

As might be expected with such innovation, there were some hurdles, but for Andrew, this is all part of the fun. “The challenges were the most fun parts as they led to new discoveries,” he says. “Without hurdles you’re just going through the motions.” One such challenge occurred when Andrew realised that if you wanted to type two of the same shapes next to each other, you had to cycle through all over again to repeat. So, to remedy this, Andrew came up with a freeze button to stop the iteration you wanted before using the same key again. To do this, a blank glyph with zero width was added to the full stop key. “Assigning this to the period key is cute because people intuitively understand it to mean ‘stop’.”

So how does Andrew think Poly Mono could be used? Alongside its potential to create mid-century, simple, geometric logo marks, for prints, patterns or decoration, Andrew thinks it holds interesting possibilities for brands. While many brands seek to be recognised for one colour, for Andrew, the executions on Poly Mono’s website prove how impactful multiple colours can be when used consistently. But Andrew also hopes Poly Mono proves a tool for further thought and experimentation. “Rather than inventing something new, it questions how we can use what exists in new and unexpected ways.”

GalleryOtherwhere Collective: OC Poly Mono (Copyright © Otherwhere Collective, 2023)

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Otherwhere Collective: OC Poly Mono (Copyright © Otherwhere Collective, 2023)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

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.

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