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How the Type-Expertise Universal Font Classification System Works


The patent-pending Universal Font Classification System (UFCS) has been conceived and architected to meet the needs of font designers, font vendors, applications developers, consumer operating system developers and, most importantly, font users themselves, ranging from visual communications professionals such as art directors and graphic designers, through to all those using text as a communications medium in their work. In fact, the system is unique in placing users at the heart of the process of font classification and everyday usage. This seems self-evident - who better than those actually creating documents, illustrations and other works employing text to provide assessments about whether a particular font is "elegant", while a different one is ideal for sales presentations, and yet another is appropriate for Scandinavian print ads for extreme sports wear.

Yet faced with the tens of thousands of existing fonts, and the continual flood of new releases, font users have traditionally had recourse only to old, fixed classification systems typically created by type associations, or the arbitrary, limited classifications given to fonts by developers or vendors. The key to the UFCS is that it frees font users from the shackles of old, unhelpful, rigid classification and definition systems, by enabling a new system that finally places each user at the center.

Typical UFCS Users: Some Examples

Font users can integrate the UFCS into their workflow in a variety of ways, as shown in the following examples.

The Professional Veteran Designer

This full-time, formally-trained professional designer has developed a familiarity with the history and appropriate usage of fonts and has built up a library of favorites over the years, relying on a handful of workhorse fonts for many of his designs. For him, the UFCS provides tools that help not only to categorize and manage his own collection of fonts, but quickly locate, preview, purchase and install new ones, using the system's database of all known commercially available fonts. When searching for new fonts, he can make use of just the professional-level categorizations provided by the font experts comprising Team-Expertise, thus choosing to screen out the larger number of categorizations provided by other UFCS users. He may, however, be interested in what fonts are being used for certain kinds of publications in a particular geographic area: for example, it might be useful for him to know that a particular, recently-released font from a relatively obscure foundry was being heavily used for cultural events in Berlin. While benefiting from this information, such a user may still choose to not let his own font categorizations and usage history be added to the globally available database. Users are always free to receive and send as much or as little font categorization data as they wish.

The Self-taught Designer

While formal design training has value, many choose to master design and publication tools first, and learn the subtleties of design as they go. Such designers are typically open to learning and when deciding on the appropriate font for a design project, they will draw on the global user base of the UFCS to quickly learn what standard font usages are appropriate for their document (while still choosing to filter out data supplied by other users they deem less grounded). They can then preview selected text within their document using fonts from within some or all of the chosen criteria, such as descriptive adjectives (classic, informal, edgy), type of document, native language of the designer or target audience, etc., with the option to locate the font stored locally or purchase and install the font without leaving their application. As with the professional designer, such users will find value in employing the functionality of the UFCS to manage their own font collections. Often active as members of design communities, these designers are also typically willing to share their categorizations and usage history with other users.

The Occasional Designer

The vast majority of documents are of course created by those for whom design forms but a modest part of their workday. Whether working as an independent or within a corporate structure, such individuals create a wide range of documents, with many of these, such as reports and presentations, being highly text-intensive. Others may be responsible for creating internal documents mixing text and graphics, or occasional sales and marketing-related documents for external use. Such users typically rely on the default fonts supplied with their operating system and applications, and lack the time and confidence to make choices and purchases that lie beyond this. Such users can benefit from the full range of data provided by the UFCS, ranging from the expert assessments of the Type-Expertise team, through those provided by professional and self-taught designers, down to occasional designers like themselves. They may lack the time, or have too small a collection, to organize and manage their own fonts with the UFCS, and for the same reasons, or because of corporate restrictions, may choose to not make their personal font usage data available to other users.

Specific Functioning of the UFCS Architecture

Having spoken of some general types of possible user of the Universal Font Classification System, we'll now explore some of the specifics of its patent-pending approach to font selection. The following is not an exhaustive explanation of every aspect of the system, but instead covers some of its fundamental principles, providing a primarily graphical, schematic explanation.

In a nutshell, the UFCS provides a method of classification that lets a user find and display the fonts matching his search criteria. If the fonts matching the search criteria are not available on the user's computer, the software will display them and indicate one or more points of optional purchase. The system tracks all searches, usages and purchases.

The larger goal of the system is to provide all available information about all known fonts in a single, searchable database, which users can make use of to find, preview, purchase and install the desired fonts for their document creation needs. The illustration below indicates the nature of the data that is associated with each font, divided into three sections that define its identity and personality. The first is hard data, such as the name of the font designer, its position within traditional classification systems, its visual representation, etc It should be emphasized that the UFCS does not exclude existing classifications, but instead incorporates all of them.

The second section is dedicated to the descriptive adjectives given to the font by Team-Expertise members, in a variety of languages. A subscription to the Type-Expertise service allows users to receive font database updates from the Type-Expertise Web site. As new fonts are made available on the market, Team-Expertise qualifies these fonts with multi-language adjectives and other criteria, and these are added to the central font database. The updated information is sent automatically to subscribers and is integrated transparently with their local Type-Expertise font database. Such updates ensure that users have access to newly-released, qualified fonts from within the Type-Expertise database.

The third section is devoted to data supplied by individual users, including descriptive adjectives, type of document for which the font was used, language employed, geographical location, etc. Users may choose to keep this data locally for their own use, or allow some or all of it to be uploaded and added to the central database, available to all. User-created adjectives are first reviewed by Team-Expertise members before being added to the central database. The addition of user-generated, global font specification and usage data to the central database allows users to display and choose fonts based on non-local criteria. For example, an American designer who needs to design a poster for the German market is able to display a search and selection from a German font user who used similar adjectives, synonyms or criteria in his search for a font for a particular type of document (e.g., the body text for the annual report of a German semiconductor company). More specifically, an American graphic designer in the USA may describe a font as "elegant" while a German graphic designer describes the same font as "formal".

The next illustration shows the search process, during which the user can query both his local, personal database, and the complete, global database on the Type-Expertise server.

The illustration below provides a more detailed view of the font database on the user's local system.

The next illustration provides a broad sense of how the various elements of the Type- Expertise UFCS interconnect. Type-Expertise software on the user's computer provides the mechanism by which searches can be made, fonts previewed and purchased, adjectives and other qualifications added and user preferences modified. A local font database, which connects to the Internet-driven global database, provides access to the entire font dataset and also permits the user to have his own adjectives and other classifications uploaded periodically and added to the master database.

Optional plugins and addons provide the ability to preview selected text in the fonts matching the search criteria within market-leading document creation, design and illustration applications. Type-Expertise plugins monitor font search and suggestions, selection, usage, domain of application, project name, date of search, etc; and store this data locally for future retrieval. The plugin functions as a bridge between design and publishing applications, and the Type-Expertise search engine, and local and remote font databases. Fonts matching search criteria not currently installed on the user's system can be directly purchased, downloaded and installed. If no fonts matching the current search criteria are found, the system then displays font suggestions that match the criteria as closely as possible.

The multilingual and multicultural aspects of the UFCS are one of its unique, defining elements, a response to the fact that font usage does not take place in a vacuum, but rather arises from a historical and cultural grounding. The Type-Expertise Team is composed of experienced, international designers who review new fonts released to the global market, associate them with descriptive adjectives and integrate them into the font database. The team works with international linguists, who elaborate and enrich the database with adjectives, synonyms and groups of words linked to the adjectives. The UFCS uses a multi-language database of synonyms, which the user has the option of displaying during the process of searching for fonts. The core languages integrated into the database are English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Russian and Arabic.

The next illustration indicates the relationship of the multilingual aspects of the system. A user can choose to match his descriptive font adjectives to those in a foreign language. This lets him perform a font search from the perspective of another culture or to design documents that are targeted to a specific foreign audience. Another option is to display the font searches and font choices made by users from a different country, language or culture, using adjectives similar to his. For example, a user enters an adjective and then chooses the country with which to associate his search. The system displays the font(s) matching the search and also a list of synonyms close to his initial adjective for which fonts exist in the chosen language. He can click on one of the displayed synonyms to view the fonts associated with these or begin a new search.

This concludes the tour of the core aspects of the Type-Expertise Universal Font Classification System. The system is constantly being refined at this stage, so we're very much interested in your comments. We're excited about the potential of such a system to fundamentally change the way fonts are specified, for a wide variety of documents.

    — The Type-Expertise Team

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