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Our Palace – 10 FontStructive Years

News | | April 1st, 2018

FontStruct at 10

tm Fest-iv by thalamic. published today, on our 10th anniversary.

Dear FontStructors,

FontStruct is currently on tour in Granada, Spain. On a cool but bright spring morning, I’m sitting in a roof garden in the old Arab quarter, the Albayzín, staring at the magnificent medieval, hill-top palace of the Nasrid dynasty: the Alhambra.

About 700 years ago, the finest arab mathematicians and local craftspeople joined forces here and colluded to create the complex, honeycomb ceilings for the sultan’s private chambers. Selecting and arranging from a limited array of simple, geometric building-blocks the architects created a dizzying, recursive edifice, like a vast, heavenly city suspended over the visitor’s heads.

Alhambra Ceiling - Muqarnas

▲ Ceiling in the Palace of the Lions (the Alhambra)

Were these designers, perhaps, the first FontStructors? Did they love and curse their little prismatic “Muqurnas” shapes and their limitations just as we love and curse our bricks? Did they leap up and scream with joy when they discovered a hitherto unthought-of combination of forms? If you are a FontStructor who has visited the Alhambra yourself you may well feel empathy with its architects’ profound passion for geometry; their predilection for modular building techniques and their love of decorative scripts.

FontStruct is a little younger than the vaulted Nasrad ceilings – it was launched just ten years ago today, on April 1st 2008 – but in my eyes it constitutes a comparably magnificent monument to human ingenuity and modular design. Over the past decade, our craftspeople, over 1.5 million in number, and assembling from every corner of the earth, have steadily created what we can view today in our gallery: a glorious, rambling edifice of modular typefaces.

FontStruct at 10 - Muqurnas

▲ Ceiling in the Palace of the Lions (the Alhambra)

In total we now have almost 1.5 million fonts in our database, almost 50 thousand of which are shared and displayed in our gallery, and thoughts have been expended on over 37 million glyphs.

The ambitions and skills of our community are varied. The apprentice and the old-hand work side-by-side. For many thousands, FontStruct has provided an introduction to the world of active typography, and for many more it continues to be an important creative outlet. For some a pastime, for some a means to an end, for others still, an obsession bordering on addiction.

The palace of the Nasrid dynasty was a private place. An artificially-perfected oasis, the sultan and his family could sit here in peace, surrounded by abstract beauty and protected from the difficulties and tumult of everyday life and the real conflicts going on beyond its walls.

FontStruct provides a similar kind of calming seclusion: The empty white-tiled floor of the FontStructor’s grid and the collection of simple black shapes next to it, invites the designer to partake in a calm and meditative play with pure form. I’ve been touched over the years to hear stories from our users of how the site and its community have helped them – whether in terms of creative self-discovery, or simply as somewhere to go in times of trouble: somewhere where things and their edges and the relationships between them are simpler and clearer than in the world outside.

Let’s take a quick look back at how our palace was built, and review a small selection of FontStruct’s most popular typefaces from the past ten years.

2008: our astonishing first year

Within a few weeks of the first bricks being placed, FontStruct was everywhere: In the New York Times, Wired Magazine, and in every type-related blog and twitter feed on the planet. On the grid itself, there was a rapid and exponential raising of the creative bar. Each day, a new technique was discovered and the limits of the possible redefined.

2009: the community matures

In 2009, the community grew rapidly and individual styles and voices started to emerge. A series of interviews with outstanding FontStructors were conducted on the FontShop blog, the FontFeed. (We hope to add these interviews to this blog in the coming months). At the same time FontStructions started to appear beyond the palace walls, being put to use in their first real world applications.

In 2009, FontStruct was also selected for the prestigious CommArts Interactive Annual – a juried competition of the best digital work created in the year from the world’s largest creative magazine.

2010: FontStruct 2.0

In 2010 we made a significant upgrade to the FontStructor editor in the form of FontStruct 2.0 with a myriad of new features including brick stacking and composite bricks. The happy ritual of the FontStruct competition also took off in this year in the form of the wonderful “handmade” competition.

2011: Learning with FontStruct

In 2011 we started to realise more fully the impact that FontStruct was having on introductions to typography courses around the world and at all levels of education. Design students from The University of the West of England (UWE), for example, are regular visitors to the site, and dazzle us annually with their grid-defying contributions to the gallery. In 2011 we interviewed them for this blog.

2012: creative explosion

Every year brings a series of creative explosions on FontStruct, but 2012 is a particularily fizzing vintage with a number of stellar designers maturing and publishing some marvellous work, especially during our stencil competition.

2013: year of the script

In 2013 FontStructors continued to defy and parody the stereotypes of grid-based modular design, for example in producing variously flowing and dynamic forms for the connected script competition.

2014: Going off Grid

2014 saw steady growth, and another fresh crop of imaginative triumphs. In May we introduced the “nudging” feature for the first time, allowing designers to push their bricks of the grid, a little, for the first time.

2015: Not just an online Font Editor

FontStruct is not just a free, easy-to-use, modular font editor that just happens to be online – it’s a growing online community with sophisticated sharing, discussion and messaging features. In 2015, and subsequent years, we put a lot of energy into updating our website – improving performance and reliability, and ensuring that the creativity can flourish unchecked.

2016: A new HTML5 editor

For some good reasons, Adobe Flash developed a bad reputation over its dying years, but in the early years of this century it allowed an astonishing creative revolution in terms of “rich media applications” such as FontStruct – giving developers and designers the tools to build things that more sensible HTML5 technology is only now capable of delivering to our browsers. However, in 2016 we were finally able to abandon the aging Flash technology, and we launched our future ready and plugin-free HTML5-based FontStructor.

2017 to the present: Onwards and Upwards

In 2018, FontStruct continues to go from strength to strength. This year sees support from a new principal sponsor in the form of Google Fonts, and the addition of the SIL Open Font License to our range of copyleft licensing options.

What next?

The history of the Alhambra teaches us an important final lesson. No matter how talented your architects and craftspeople, it takes many decades and centuries to build a palace.

Our stock of bricks is plentiful; our servers quietly humming like an army of happy bees on a summers day. The grid awaits you, clear and inviting. Our palace, your palace, is nowhere near completion.

Happy FontStructing!

Thanks

FontStruct was originally a FontShop project. They funded, nurtured and then launched this project exactly 10 years ago and generously supported us as a sponsor until the end of 2017. I’d like to thank not just the company, but also the individuals who founded and worked at FontShop over the years and advocated for FontStruct’s creation and ongoing development: Erik Spiekermann, Joan Spiekermann, Stephen Coles, Petra Weitz, Mike Schawel, Ivo Gabrowitsch, Yves Peters, Jürgen Siebert, Gustavo Ferriera and others too numerous to mention.

I’d also like thank again our current principal sponsors Google Fonts, and our current brick sponsors Creative Fabrica without whom, FontStruct would survive but would develop at a much slower pace.

Thanks too to Georg Seifert, the creator of Glyphs, who has also supported FontStruct quietly over the past few years.

Other Acknowledgments:

The text fragment in the samples is from the “Poem in the Hall of the Two Sisters”.


16 Comments

  1. Wataru Aiso

    FS Congratulations on the 10th anniversary!

    FS is the best!!!

    Wataru Aiso — April 1, 2018 #

  2. Poiqz

    a wonderful past 10 years, and hopefully another 10 great to follow!

    Poiqz — April 1, 2018 #

  3. elmoyenique

    Happy 10th anniversary to FS and all the fontstructors! Thanks a million to Rob Meek (the boss) and all the sponsors thru these ten years. I love FS, and I’m glad to meet all of you here in this charming community, past and present. This is a wonderful trip and the future is infront of us, compañeros!

    elmoyenique — April 2, 2018 #

  4. ETHproductions

    Congratulations! I can’t believe I’ve now been on FS for more than half of its lifetime. I’ve witnessed FS improve vastly in many different areas—from a makeover of the website to a complete redo of the FontStructor itself—and I’ve also been blown away by the amazing designs created by some of the best minds on FS. And to top it off, the community has been outstandingly welcoming and always ready to offer constructive criticism/advice. Here’s to another 10 years of continual improvements, incredible FontStructions, and an amazing community!

    ETHproductions — April 2, 2018 #

  5. Yautja

    When I joined FontStruct in 2011, I felt like a latecomer, having only then found this cool site that was already a few years old. Now I’ve been here for most of FontStruct’s existence, having seen the editor and the community evolve a lot. How time flies!

    Although my fontstructing activity has slowed down (as it seems to be the case with others), my love for fontstructing hasn’t decreased (as I hope to be the case with others).

    Thanks to Meek, sponsors, other FontStructors, and everyone else involved. ¡Viva FontStruct!

    Yautja — April 2, 2018 #

  6. Aeolien

    Dear FontStruct — °*( °._.°)*°  Congratulations °*(° ; ° )*° — 10 years young! You are doing and growing so very splendidly. I’ve been here, watching and enjoying your development since 2011. You have reached a wonderful age; 10 years allows looking into the future and appreciating the hard work done in the past to get where you are now. You know your strengths, can use them to make any past problems unimportant, remove things that are no longer required in your existence. Now you’re older you can imagine exciting things that might be interesting in your future, for those who will accompany your next 10 and many more years.

    Keep on being as great as you can be :) Stay as lively, supportive, creative and  improve your powers as you have shown these past 10 years. We’ll be encouraging and appreciating you all the way.

    Happy Birthday FontStruct, and many many more.

    Thank You Meek for your ‘our’ FontStruct, and also my Thank You to FontStruct sponsors and supporters who allow FontStruct to keep on growing.

    Aeolien — April 2, 2018 #

  7. SymbioticDesign

    Congratulations on your 10th Anniversay, Fontstruct.  I wish you many more anniversaries with your continued success!  -Doug

    SymbioticDesign — April 2, 2018 #

  8. nightpegasus

    10 years online, thousands of fonts in many styles, over a million users even design professionals, FS functions that keep improving and expanding: let’s all celebrate our luck! Congratulations FontStruct and thank you Meek for this fabulous tool and user group!

    nightpegasus — April 3, 2018 #

  9. four

    Happy Birthday Fontstruct, you are amazing!

    four — April 6, 2018 #

  10. architaraz

    Just amazing!

    architaraz — April 11, 2018 #

  11. dpla

    ♫appy birth♪ay! I’ll try promoting your service during 10 more years :-)

    dpla — April 11, 2018 #

  12. dpla

    If we compare, FontStruct is losing all his great members, and the kids now rule the place.

    dpla — April 12, 2018 #

  13. Cookielord

    All of the great people are just grown up, mature kids :)

    Cookielord — April 12, 2018 #

  14. meek

    @dpla Yes there have been some strange goings on in the past few days, which I think are best laid to rest. It’s annoying having to clean up the live feed of offensive language though.

    Anyway, don’t worry! The great majority of our great members are still very much here, if, in some cases, less frequently and less visibly. Don’t forget that over 90% of activity on FontStruct is in private.

    We do have a lot of younger users on FontStruct, and people who have grown up with the tool. We welcome all our younger FontStructors, and maybe, in some cases, we can help them grow – whether by engaging with them or ignoring them.

    meek — April 12, 2018 #

  15. dpla

    Very kind and reassuring of yours, meek!

    <

    1. MODERATION. Now I can assess more the situation pertaining to the youngest members. (That is: no moderation staff except yourself*, no ignore list in the PM system, no age or skills in the profile, and no prerequisite before logging in and contacting anyone, which is courageous and generous with all the time you offer on a daily basis).

    2. DURATION. I needed to read all your tweets this afternoon, since 2009, to be less subjective here: the stability and the new features are always better; your sponsors multiply; the durable vector technologies follow; many students need FontStruct; you live in a city that helps your mental activities.

    3. REPUTATION. Besides, I opened all your links there: many still work and are of interest (MetaFlop’s Modulator being an example of what the Fontstructor could borrow in the future, with your very creative mind). Also, I checked all the links on your personal site again, even on Git Hub and via Google Search (everything is clean, even laudatory, although most are old pages from your big bang, so I suggest a new campaign). Bottom line, we are very lucky to have a full-fledged professional to feed our passion. Your continuous effort is even stronger than ours, as firefly members. You remind me of the gifted researcher “Ken” Perlin, who shares his multiple talents without counting.

    4. NO CONCLUSION. Yes, we still need the examples of our good old masters (of whom I can only remember of a dozen of famous names), be they active, ‘offline’ or ‘retired’.

    * Looking forward to being able to comment again, at least on my own and forthcoming work, please.

    dpla — April 12, 2018 #

  16. Aeolien

    Yes, many long-serving members seem to take a back seat on FS for family, work or health reasons.  Many things change over 10 years ………

    Or maybe members opt to be less ‘visible’ to avoid their creativity being criticised by non-creatives?

    After all, FS members publish their fonts to inspire, and downloadable fonts are provided in the spirit of mutuality and for use without obtaining financial rewards for the time, effort, thought and work that was necessary.

    There are no failsafe filters to discourage people not interested in politeness. We need to wait until those less able members either gain maturity or stop leaving their traces.

    Yes, at times it can get upsetting to see how some members express themselves and approach others. It’s puzzling that some people know how to insult and agress yet can’t follow an obvious request to ‘tone it down’.

    Thankfully we also see very many new and young members joining who are a delight to read and be with.

    Those of us who like FontStructing will in any case always be here to work and share and enjoy what FS represents.

    With that in mind: happy and fruitful further 10+ years of FontStructing, everybody :)

    Aeolien — April 13, 2018 #

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