As SXSW 2006 came to a close, I was having lunch with friends at the Moonshine Grill and ranting about typography, as I am wont to do. I was complaining about how there are so many wonderful typefaces, but no decent way to find them. Sites like Flickr had already revolutionized the way we shared and discovered photography; why isn’t anyone taking advantage of the web for the sake of type? “I should do that,” I murmured. My friends offered up a shared response: “Well, do it.”
Today, I’m very pleased to announce the launch of a new site I put together with the generous help of friends called Typedia. At its simplest, Typedia is a shared encyclopedia of typefaces. Think of it as All Music or IMDb for type, but created and curated by everyone.
I can’t count how many times I’ve labored over looking for just the right typeface—from the right era, in the right style, or with just the right aesthetic qualities. This is often a frustrating process of hopping between sites and books with different criteria for organization, and most times, only involves the typefaces that a company sells. Typedia can be agnostic and unburdened to catalog typefaces from any library.
Because typefaces aren’t just pretty letters alone, but pieces of art that have distinct criteria, a more specialized tool is needed. The site is a wiki with structure, a “swiki” if you will. We’re dealing with similar subjects and shared parameters, so we can organize the form of that content, as opposed to a freeform essay-style site like Wikipedia. This allows us to basically make all the meta data into clickable tags.
Every time you attribute a designer or foundry to a typeface, a separate page is made for them as well. Typedia hopes to not only inspire people to learn more about the art of type design, but also to discover the underpinnings of it as well, like the type designers and the rich history itself.
The Long Road
The making of the site has been very much a labor of love, and I hope others see the same potential in it that I do. If nothing else, it fulfills my desire to work on stuff that matters and to learn more about type—something I have a very deep love for.
Though it has been in development for a couple years, many times we would have to put it aside for weeks and months while individuals pecked away at client work or start from scratch when we realized our system wasn’t as good as it could be. Sometimes people dropped out completely, and we had to find others to take over their roles. This has been a effort like I’ve never taken part in before and owes everything to the passionate people involved. Those very kind and talented folks are:
- Design: Me, Khoi Vinh, John Langdon (logo), Dan Cederholm (icons)
- Front-end code: Dan Mall, Dan Rubin
- Back-end code: Mark Huot, Brian Warren, Ryan Masuga, Ethan Marcotte, Aaron Gustafson, and Shaun Inman
- Information architecture: Liz Danzico
- Classification and Logic: Mark Simonson, Stephen Coles, Kristin Dooley
A site like Typedia is only as good as its members. So we made it dead simple to contribute. Creating an account is quick, and adding a listing for a typeface only has one required field, the name. Fill in any other information you know, and others will (we hope) help by filling in what you don’t. The site also has a neat feature called “Good Deeds” that highlights only what’s missing from listings so people can go in and fill in the missing pieces.
Behind the Curtain
Type classification has long been a contentious topic. No classification scheme works for all typefaces, so Typedia doesn’t aim to have it right from the start. But the most important thing is that this is a start, a work in progress. It’s not perfect, and there will likely be some discussion about how it can evolve. Organization is just one piece of this very big typographic pie, and we’re always open to discussing how to continue improving it.
After trying to build a custom backend couple of times, we realized we were wasting time rebuilding common site functionality and ended up using ExpressionEngine instead, albeit a seriously customized installation of it.
For now, we’re using Flash for type specimen display. It’s not unlike sIFR, though much more custom-tailored for our needs. We realize Flash isn’t the ideal way to display type, but after trying and evaluating all the solutions we could think of, Flash won out due to copyright concerns, consistent rendering, and flexibility. We hope to grow into a better solution someday.
The site is, and will always be, a work in progress. Some areas are still a bit rough, but we didn’t want to wait any longer to launch. We’ll continue tightening and improving things in the coming weeks, if anything seems wildly amiss, drop us a note.
Lastly, I just want to thank everyone who offered advice, helped test, or offered support over the years. I hope Typedia grows to be something great, but I consider it a success already to have come this far.
Please take a few minutes to poke around, read the story behind the Typedia logo (designed by the ridiculously talented John Langdon, who you may know best for his ambigram work in Dan Brown’s novel Angels & Demons), follow Typedia on Twitter, and take a shot at adding some typefaces.