A well designed and engineered font that speaks for the values of a brand is a vital part of any re-branding initiative. Dalton Maag is used to designing bespoke font families for international clients, but creating a new font for the Ubuntu Project posed some unique challenges.
Ubuntu is an Open Source software project that produces a free operating system. The leader of the Ubuntu Project, Canonical, believes that everyone has the right to a fast, safe and, perhaps most controversially, free computing experience. With this in mind, we knew we had to produce a beautifully designed font that would embody their core values in type. It would be free to use and download, cover a huge range of language systems, and would have input from the entire Ubuntu community, worldwide. It was an exciting prospect.
It was essential that the values that were at the centre of the Ubuntu Project were embodied within the font design. The design process had to be completely transparent with a flow of information in both directions. The entire community needed to be able to add to this process and we had to be prepared for their input.
The initial concepts were designed using a small number of glyphs, but enough to be able to create test copy, and get a good idea of what the finished design would look and feel like. It was from here that the final visual expression of the design was decided upon and refined according to the comments of all parties involved.
The new font family would become part of the Ubuntu branding, as well as being used on screen, and potentially printed out in document form. It had to be a true all-rounder. It was decided that a humanist sans serif font would best embody the desired attributes of clarity, lightness and simplicity, and the clean lines would help with readability on the screen. The unique design features would be translated across all the character sets to ensure that the design was a complete and consistent family.
We aimed to produce as large a character set as possible, starting with five different script systems: Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew and Arabic. These cover the language systems of approximately four billion people, over half the world’s population, meeting Ubuntu’s criterion of accessibility. The three core scripts (Latin, Greek and Cyrillic) were produced in thirteen font styles making this an extremely flexible font. The font would be used by people from all walks of life, so it had to be versatile.
As this was a humanist sans serif design, the natural conclusion was that Italics are true forms rather than simply a digital slanting of the uprights. In a true italic font some characters have different shapes, for example the a, e, f and g. This is an important design feature that adds textural difference to its upright counterparts. It creates subtle emphasis in the text but still feels entirely natural and elegant to the reader.
We felt ready to take the design to the wider Ubuntu community. This brought out a variety of perspectives and some unexpected debates. It gave the community the feeling of true ownership of the font, and, from our point of view, the breadth of comment and enthusiasm for the design process was very welcome.
The final design is a beautiful example of our work. It gives shape to the Open Source philosophy of Ubuntu, whilst remaining functional and aesthetically pleasing.