Type Selection Systems

The Type-Expertise Universal Font Classification System

Historical Background

The font market is constituted of hundreds of font developers, ranging from individuals to large corporations. Each font has been designed to express a certain mood, feeling or meaning. The "personality" of a font is the key to enhancing the ability of a document to convey its message. No one would choose Comic Sans for an annual report or Helvetica for a poster for a Baroque music festival - the personality of the font would contradict the intent of the document. The more appropriate the font choice, the better the message is understood. This is a fundamental aspect of all document creation, in any language. It's puzzling, then, that the font market does not integrate the two fundamental communications parameters: form and function.

Traditional classification systems attempt to make it easier to find the right font. However, the existing font classification systems date from 1921 (Classification Thibaudeaux) annd 1952 (Classification Vox) and are completely obsolete, due to being designed in a closed, non-expandable manner that cannot integrate modern fonts. Worse, each font creator and vendor often have their own way of categorizing their font collections. Huge lists, hybrid names, alphabetical orders and so forth have contributed to create a "typographic jungle" in which every font user inevitably becomes lost. This jungle intensified with the advent of the personal computer era, when the communication industry shifted from paper to screen and the font industry responded by digitizing its products, creating a flood of typographic riches. How to make sense of it all? How to find that needle in the typographic haystack - quickly? It's no wonder that so many document creators in the office environment still rely on Times and Arial or Helvetica. Even many professional designers limit themselves to a handful of tried and true fonts. A variety of approaches have been tried over the years to help users quickly find the right fonts for their documents. But the jungle keeps expanding!

The font design profession itself has changed radically in the last 20 years, with powerful font creation tools migrating to personal computers. The result has been an explosion in the number of available fonts, which has grown from 10,000 to approximately 50,000. This has been fueled by the visual communication industry, which is an enormous font consumer, with a resulting trickle-down effect to mid-level designers, the office community and, finally, the general user. The font market is fundamentally very similar to the traditional consumer market, with users constantly searching for desirable new fonts among the stream of new releases.

The Typographic Breakdown: Five Core Domains

Type-Expertise has identified five core domains in the current breakdown of choosing and purchasing fonts: the user, the font designer, the font vendor, the application developer and the operating system developer. In each of these domains, the patent-pending Type-Expertise system can add value by making the selection, purchase and installation of the right font take place more effectively.

The User

Font characters, like information and knowledge, have an organic nature that mutates and changes under the influence of history, culture, social phenomena and trends. To attempt to classify font characters in a traditional way today would be like stopping time and taking a picture of a market in a continuous state of motion. Font users simply have no need for a closed, rigid classification system that's imposed on them. Instead, they need to know where to find the appropriate fonts to communicate effectively, see them, buy them, install them and complete their document quickly. The days are over when document creators have the luxury to spend hours flipping through fat font catalogs or wandering from one Web site to the next, hoping to strike typographic gold.

The Font Designer

Font designers typically sell their fonts via their own Web sites, which users rarely visit, and often also make them available for sale via one of the few large online vendors, at which point their designs disappear amongst the hundreds or thousands already available.

The Font Vendor

Font vendors may sell just the work of independent designers, or they may also mix them with those of their own creation. Either way, they are faced with the dilemma of how to make it easy for their customers to quickly find, purchase and install the desired font. While various attempts have been made to solve this, neither the traditional printed listings nor vendor Web sites have greatly reduced the hurdles facing users.

The Application Developer

Whether someone is creating a document in a graphic design, office or personal environment, the selection of fonts takes place within a software application, such as a page layout, word processing, presentation or other application. Such applications, in any operating system environment, differ wildly in the degree to which they facilitate font selection for the user. The degree to which they currently fail to meet user needs is demonstrated by the proliferation of third-party font utilities, which provide a variety of methods for previewing and selecting fonts. Clearly, it's in the interests of application developers to help their users find and use fonts as effectively as possible, although little progress has so far been made in such a fundamental aspect of document creation.

The Operating System Developer

The concerns of those creating consumer operating systems are similar to those of application developers. However, operating system developers take the responsibility for providing a pervasive environment for their customers that goes far beyond that of an individual application. While emphasis has been placed on improving the graphical display of fonts, again, little has changed in terms of how operating systems help users find, purchase and install fonts, a core element of all documents. Rather, operating system users are left to twist in the typographic wind, fumbling about with different applications and utilities, and wandering from one Web site to another. No wonder most users simply never venture beyond what came with their operating system or applications, or at best stick to a few tried and true additional fonts they managed to find and install.

The Type-Expertise Universal Font Classification System

The patent-pending Type-Expertise Universal Font Classification system has been conceived to meet the needs not only of font users, but also font designers and vendors who require a better way to help their customers choose and purchase fonts, as well as application and operating system developers, who have an inherent need to help their users communicate more effectively.

The system will fundamentally change how fonts are chosen and purchased, based on a dynamic database that is both universal and multicultural. This database will be enriched over time and through usage by the users themselves, through their knowledge, their design practices and their experience.

The concept of this classification is inversed. It is the users that will structure, mold and give it its value, not the traditional font authorities: font designers, vendors and organizations. This new classification is unique because it is comprehensive, adaptable, correctable, expandable, generally accessible, yet infinitely refined. A font choice made by the user is based on the emotions, the experience and the intuition of the individual. This choice is expressed in words via qualifications, designations and adjectives. These values are the heart of the classification system - the resulting database is its unique and invaluable strength. All those participants who use fonts thereby become a classification in themselves. The system thus doesn't embody a single classification, but instead potentially millions of classifications.

Such a font database is far more than simply a platform that enables font sales. It is a global, inter-connected network of information that constantly enriches itself from the changing knowledge and font practices of every participating font user.

Over time, the database will contain these millions of new, user-supplied font classifications. Qualifications, designations, adjectives by type of application, context, by type of document for which the font is used, by location, by language, by who created the font, by date and more, all linked to the corresponding font. Fonts then cease to be isolated, formal elements of the process of document construction - instead they become part of the larger world of human experience, thereby enriching the documents for which they are chosen.

It has been said that, as humans, we live in language. By extension, the fonts we choose for our documents are a fundamental aspect of that process of communication. The Type-Expertise Universal Font Classification System is the most ambitous expression to date of that fundamental truth.

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