"Technology has made it possible to specify your own typographic material: not just letterforms but anything that you may want to put under a key stroke. Many designers still do not realize what this means. This is sad [...] because new procedures cannot come just from type designers."
Fred Smeijers, 1996
Ivrea was designed as a typeface that could be used as a drawing tool or game.
The project began as just a typeface, but my frustration with text editors led me to build a very simple one based in Processing.
Why? Because I started to realize that text editors make all typefaces look the same: dull and stacked from left to right. Everything looks like lines and rulers, like if we were still setting type in metal. Don't get me wrong, all those things are great for legibility, but if you want to use a typeface to draw, it simply doesn't work.
Why does it need a custom text editor?
The text editor allows me to rotate text as easily as it is to type, just one keystroke (comma to go up and period to go down). If you look at more advanced software like Illustrator, it takes over 5 clicks to do that, and I think that is why designers stop experimenting with composition.
The italic version of the editor also allows you to type into perspective. The editor also has an infinite canvas, so you can type and draw without worrying about resizing your letter-size document.
I learned how easy it is to break the conventions of typography by creating the software where typography lives.
Why on earth would you make a typeface that doesn't work?
Some file extensions are inherently good for some things, the OpenType format is particularly good for archiving simple graphic shapes (it can store 65,536 in one single font).
We just happen to call those shapes letters, but what would happen if we use them to store simple designs not meant to be read? You could draw or design like a notation system, (dance & music were a great inspiration of mine since they work through repetition).
I like to think of each glyph as a building block or brick that creates a drawing. Also I think it's pretty fun to play with...
Why does it have a keyboard?
After making the shapes for Ivrea I realized a QWERTY keyboard for this typeface made no sense. It was hard to memorize why a certain key became this other shape.
I started to think that by changing the typeface you could allegedly change the interface, the only thing preventing you is the keyboard.
We have a file extension that allows us to have over 65,000 glyphs in one font yet we rarely use more than a hundred. I think the keyboard has primed us to hit the same keys over and over again.
Why Ivrea and why Olivetti typewriters?
Ivrea is named after the town where Olivetti typewriters were made. I started to look at Olivetti typewriters during my research and I became amazed at how closely the relationship between industrial design and graphic design used to be forty years ago. It really makes sense if you think about it.
Also, those typewriters were used to make beautiful abstract art. I was really inspired by Sylvester Houédard who was a Benedictine monk who did "Typestracts", as he called them, with an old Olivetti Lettera 22. Just like with ASCII art, I was impressed by how much complexity can be derived from very simple shapes such as a dash and a colon.
The Latin version of the typeface is a revival of Olivetti Bulletin.
Although building the keyboard and playing with it has been really fun, I always thought about Ivrea and the keyboard as a metaphor. The ideal keyboard would almost be like a dj turntable for type.
What if you had a slider to increase type size? What if you could move type through space with a joystick? What would happen if you could remap the keyboard with a tablet and access all the glyphs of the typeface? What if you could give each glyph a certain behaviour?
I strongly believe that there are so many missed opportunities if we keep designing with traditional keyboards. They are clumsy and it is really hard to make "live" visuals. This keyboard has made me re-think how hardware can open up new ways for designing.
Electronic music was unconceivable before the synthesizer. In that way, I see the use of Ivrea heading towards making live visuals and installations rather than traditional static media. The keyboard excels at making posters and other types of printed media, however, it feels extremely unintuitive if we try to do something in real-time.
If you have any ideas or would be interested in helping or discussing, please reach out.
Ivrea was designed in the Spring of 2015 as part of my B.F.A. degree project at the Rhode Island School of Design. I would like to thank all of my friends for their thoughts and help to make this happen, specially to Paul Soulellis, my degree project advisor. Thank you also to all my other unofficial advisors: SofÍa Clausse, Mariana RodrÍguez, Polina Godz & Jordan Beard.