Prototypo is an open-source online application that allows to control the design of a complete typeface using sliders, and refine spacing and outlines manually. Hobbyists and professionals alike can use twenty-plus parameters to create a wide range of fonts.
No matter how experienced you are at designing types, getting from the idea of a new design to a usable font is a tedious and repetitive process. Prototypo offers a new approach of type design that integrates historical, mathematical and visual rules of this discipline to automate repetitive tasks and let you focus on shape design.
We spent five months working full-time on creating a useful font prototyping tool. The application already allows to quickly experiment and play with glyph shapes, regardless of a user’s knowledge or experience in type design. Prototypo exports “a-Z” characters in .svg font files that can be converted online or in FontForge to .otf files, then refined using classical type design softwares before being used like any other font.
The primary goal of this Kickstarter campaign is to allow refining type designs right inside Prototypo and export ready-to-use font files. This implies adding the following features to the application:
- manual modification of glyph outline,
- manual modification of spacing and kerning,
- extended glyph set and alternates,
- independent variations of glyphs and serifs,
- export to auto-hinted binary font files (.otf, .eot, .woff).
The foundations of Prototypo are solid, and many of the above features are already in the pipes, we’ve illustrated below how they could work. We estimate it would take us five more months to get there.
What if there was a way to import your own fonts and add parametric serifs or turn them point by point into parametric typefaces?
The idea is to use a font as a base to create parametric glyphs: when imported, a glyph is translated into segments and points. The coordinates of the points can be replaced one by one with parameters. Then, parametric serifs and components can be used to integrate the glyph as a new character or alternate to an existing typeface. We already use an SVG based language to create glyphs in Prototypo but the syntax is very much in flux and there’s a long way to go before the code editor is seamlessly integrated into Prototypo.
What if creating a font perfectly fit for your website was easier than browsing through a webfont library?
We want to create browser extensions allowing to preview the fonts they are editing in Prototypo on any webpage, and then use exported fonts with a simple <link> to a CDN hosted font-face.
Prototypo is the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding project we ever worked on, but we clearly cannot continue without financial support. By backing this campaign, you allow members of the team to focus entirely on making Prototypo a revolutionary type design tool, and not worry about paying rents, food, transportation and other daily expenses.
We want Prototypo to be open-source, sustainable, affordable and easy to use. We believe the best way to meet these aims is to provide an online version of Prototypo (zero install, just log-in and create), starting at 9£ (~15$/12€) a year.
If this campaign is successful, here’s how we’re going to use the money:
- 15% (1800£) go to Kickstarter, Amazon, the HMRC (VAT) or are rejected payments,
- 10% (1200£) to rent reliable servers to host Prototypo for a year,
- 5% (600£) to help a young open-source project that will allow exporting binary font files and modifying preview text directly: OpenType.js,
- 70% (8400£) will be split in half between the two full-time members of the project (840£ or 1400$ or 1000€ per month, minus 20% taxes.
If we receive more than our initial goal, then, depending on the extra amount, we’re going to:
- save for unforeseen expenses and delays,
- hire friends to help us make Prototypo a revolutionary and reliable font creation tool,
- implement one of the two extra feature sets presented in the “beyond” section above,
- implement both of the extra feature sets.
We've detailed the stretch goals in the campaign update #1.
Yannick Mathey started Prototypo as a graphic design final-year project back in 2009. The original app was written in Processing and he learned programming along the way. Although this version had a lot of working features, the complexity of the code and the number of bugs had grown exponentially. YM decided not to publish his work and tried to restart from a cleaner base. When Louis-Rémi Babé discovered the first video last summer, he was very impressed. He tried to contact its author to get fresh news on the project, and good fortune smiled: the chances that YM bothered to answer to a complete stranger weren’t big, but he did. The chances that YM was still working on the project 4 years later were small, but he was. The chances that YM restarted the project using technologies familiar to LRB were tiny, but it was the case. The chances that the two of them happened to live in the same city were microscopic, yet they did. The chances that they unknowingly helped a common relation move home were infinitesimal, but guess what!
LRB had a decent experience developing web-applications so he proposed his help to make Prototypo real. The pair started working on a reboot of the application using modern technologies, building on the connected and interoperable nature of the web. Soon enough, a basic prototype was created. It was the proof that they could work together and that the copy could be built much faster than the original. They realized that this project required full-time commitment and that they were both willing to do it. To make it sustainable and involve as much people as early as possible, they decided to opt for the open-source and crowdfunding models. In October they were working full-time on developing Prototypo and spreading the word.
Recently a community manager and a product manager joined the team. Let’s introduce the four current members:
Yannick Mathey is specialist in nothing and curious about everything. It was during his last year of studies at ESAD Strasbourg that he discovered his passion for type design, a mix between two different but complementary educations: the classic type design and historical perspectives by Pierre Roesch and self-taught approach, more free but equally refined with Pierre Di Sciullo. His final year of studies gave him a year of "free time" to learn the basics of letters & code, and develop the alpha version of prototypo.
Louis-Rémi Babé's passion is to create websites and web-apps. He fell in love with JS in 2004 and has contributed patches and features to jQuery 1.X (if you have browsed the web in the past 9 years, you've used some code he wrote). He's an active mozillian since 2009 and was an intern at Mozilla Paris in 2011. He's helped starting a local JS meetup: LyonJS.
Vong Saravadi is a long-time friend of YM and has extensive experience in managing products and getting them into the hand of users. Moreover, he’s the bravest of all humans in the team: YM and LRB also experimented the wet climate of UK, but VS endured it and still lives in London. We believe this makes him really fit for his position.
MJ has been kind enough to accept the role of author on the blog and community manager for Prototypo. You have to excuse his English because he’s just a cat, and keyboards aren't really meant for paws. When he’s not tweeting, he enjoys chasing mouse cursors, chewing headphone cables, making a mess in YM's houseplants, causing LRB to sneeze, and sleeping on people's lap without their consent.
The team is growing and we hope this campaign will also be an opportunity to meet type designers, developers and friendly people willing to get involved. We’ll do our best to be as open and as inclusive as possible.
Pledging more than 5£ will get your name or nickname listed in the contributors file of the project on Github. If enough money is collected to fund the stretch goals, you will also have the opportunity to vote on your preferred one. We will determine their priority based on your feedback.
Choosing one of the pledges which include access to Prototypo on our servers will give you access to the beta after the end of the campaign. The beta will be updated regularly and should reach version 1.0 in September 2014. After one year, you will be offered to renew your subscription. Renewal will logically be more expensive than the preferential prices of this campaign, so you’d better subscribe for two years!
If your reward includes a shirt, you will be sent a specific survey at the end of the campaign: we will collect your shipping address, gender and size, as well as your three preferred designs. We will do our best to get everyone their favorite shirt, but if a design gets picked only ten times or so, it would be too expensive to print.
If the “browser extension + CDN hosted font family” stretch goal is reached, we will offer the possibility of increasing your pledge to access a cloud where you will be able to host your own fonts in a single click. See the Add-On section in our 1st update.
Note that since Prototypo is open-source, everyone get access to its source code and issue tracker, for free!
Prototypo is an application written using Web technologies: HTML, SVG, CSS and JS (our own + many libs). At the heart of the application there is Genèse: a relatively neutral typeface that was turned into a parametric typeface using code. Here’s a portion of the code used to create the glyph “i”.
We’re building our own language on top of SVG and JS. The syntax is still in its infancy, but the idea is that a glyph is made from a list of segments and components. Those are made of points whose coordinates are calculated using the parameters manipulated by the users and the drawing of Genèse as a reference. In the future, we might explore alternative ways of drawing glyphs, such as a skeleton based approach.
We want Prototypo to be an application that behaves and performs like any other application installed on your system. We’re building it to be “offline first”, which means that you shouldn’t need to be connected to Internet to use it. Unfortunately, it’s not yet possible to generate binary font-files (.otf and others) in a web browser. That’s another area where OpenType.js will prove useful, but to begin with, you will need to be connected to export your fonts. We will explore ways to make it possible to install Prototypo and use it in a separate window, instead of a browser tab. Finally, we’re doing our best to make the UI of Prototypo run smoothly while we push the boundaries of what is possible to do in a browser. Only the latest version of major browsers will be supported because we prefer spending time optimizing the application for the vast majority of our users rather than wasting time making it work in every possible browser. Prototypo will also provide basic functionalities in recent iPads and tablets.
Risks and challenges
We've already spent a significant time working on Prototypo and thinking what we needed to do before shipping 1.0. We know modern browsers and even tablets are fast enough to run it smoothly. We have already solved the most complex algorithmic problems that dealt with glyph composition, manipulation and rendering.
The biggest technical challenge we will have to tackle will be to generate professional grade binary font files, first on a server, and then in the browser. It's a difficult task, so we will rely on proven existing solutions, and external skilled developers: we will use fontforge on the server and partner with the developer of OpenType.js to do it in the browser.
Having spent 5 months working on Prototypo with little to no income, we're used to operate on a tight budget. We know too well that money has to be spent wisely and spared in case more time is needed to finish Prototypo 1.0Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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