If you’ve come across variable fonts already, you might have seen that they can have different axes* like weight (WGHT), width (WDTH), and optical size (OPSZ). These are some of the more common ones and they represent a huge improvement for digital typography. But in fact a variable font can contain an almost infinite* amount of axes – so why not make our own?

For this workshop I want you to think through the short text Axis thinking by Brian Eno. Try to imagine another descriptive axis and then draw a character that responds to it.

To get started, here are a few axes he mentions in his text:

  • Masculine↔Feminine
  • Neat↔Shaggy
  • Natural↔Contrived
  • Rebel↔Conformist
  • Wild↔Civilized
  • Futuristic↔Nostalgic
  • Businesslike↔Bohemian
  • Dark↔Light

What other axes can we imagine?

  • Happy↔Sad?
  • Fast↔Slow?
  • Bourgeoise↔Proletarian?
  • Big↔Small?
  • Open↔Closed?
  • Compact↔Loose?
  • Round↔Square?
  • Dead↔Alive?
  • Modernist↔Postmodernist?
  • Corporate↔Hippie?
  • Cat↔Dog?

Think of your masters as keyframes in an animation

Start with one character and make two different versions. It doesn’t have to look like a recognizable letter in the alphabet, it can break completely with the norm if you want. A character, in this case, can also be a cat or a car or anything else.

It might be helpful to think of this more as an animation exercise than traditional type design. The masters can be seen as the first and last frame of an animation. The only difference is that with variable fonts all the points and handles (nodes) have to be in each frame (master). If you have a point or a set of handles in one master they have to be there in the other as well. Usually, it’s good to keep a similar position as well so that they don’t go flying all over the place to get where they are going.


*The plural of axis, more than one axis.
*The technical limit is 64000, however, Glyphs currently only supports six axes.

The brief (draft)