The Unicode character set has 143,000 characters in total: letters, numbers and glyphs. Among the latter there are thousands of useful little symbols and icons – there are over 200 arrows, for example. Crazy. But many designers come unstuck trying to find just the right symbol when designing a typeset or interface, and this is just the niche Philipp Kühn has targeted.
The designer and developer has created Glyphfinder, an app that allows you to search the whole glyph library in myriad ways. Type in colours, categories, descriptions, lookalikes, or anything visual about the glyph you can recall, including other symbols that feature in the glyph, and the app will find them.
“We all use Unicode on a daily basis,” Kühn tells us, “and on macOS and Windows there are little helper tools to find the things you need, an emoji or — with a little bit of luck and the right search terms — some other things, but they don’t work well if you want more. The macOS character search finds less than 100 of the arrows, that’s not even half of what’s available. Other things can only be found with the exact name. Did you know that there is a single character for those three dots? It’s called ellipsis. Good luck finding it without knowing its name.”
So Kühn and his team at digital design agency überdosis first set out to find an app or tool that found lookalike glyphs, which does exist but they weren’t “fun to use,” he says, and only found a few hundred characters. For the Glyphfinder app, the agency has tagged 34,306 characters manually, and added as many search terms as possible – an index that the team are constantly updating. Type –> to find arrows, for example, three dots to find all ellipses, 1/ to find ½ and other fractions, or terms like “red blue green” to find 🌈, as well as bar charts 📊, a lollipop 🍭 and the rainbow flag 🏳️🌈.
For designers, it’s like “having the biggest icon set of all time,” says Kühn, who partially created the app for his own personal use. “We look up characters regularly during development. There are so many helpful tiny things, like a ⊗ to make a decent delete button. For essays or blog posts it’s nice to improve the micro typography — I’m totally in love with those long em dashes for example. Even for Tweets, I use Glyphfinder to find the right emojis. Emojis are essential, aren’t they?”
The app is out now and being updated regularly. There’s also a public feedback board where users can submit suggestions. Überdosis also previously released Mouseless, an app to look up and learn keyboard shortcuts; Scrumpy, a project management tool; and Skara, a wiki knowledge platform for businesses.