Name: Google Fonts + Korean
Team: Yang Jang curated the fonts, Guhong Min is Google Font’s Korean editor, and Hannah Son is the site’s English editor. E Roon Kang designed the mini-site, along with Wonyoung So.
Release Date: April, 2018
Back Story: Back in April, Google Fonts, that wonderfully open-sourced online collection of fonts that designers can embed on their own websites, announced that it now supports Korean fonts. No easy feat, as Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK) fonts contain characters that number in the thousands, resulting in rather large file sizes. Using machine learning, Google figured out a method for making the files manageable, thus giving users access to a small but growing collection of digital Korean typefaces, which include Black Hans Sans made by Seoul-based designer ZESSTYPE, Gothic A1 by foundry Hanyang I&C, Nanum Gothic by Sandoll, and more.
To celebrate the launch of the new endeavor, and to showcase the unique accessibility of the Korean fonts, Google commissioned E Roon Kang of NYC-based design studio Math Practice, to create a wild, morphing, thoroughly enjoyable mini-site. There, designers can get the embeds for the fonts, and can also look at the design details as if under a scroll-over magnifying glass. They can make the typefaces do the wave, blur, change form, and multiply. For no real reason, it seems—but it is pretty fun to click around on.
Why are Korean fonts challenging for use online? Because they contain so many characters. Like Chinese typefaces, the sheer number of characters poses a challenge for designing new type: whereas an individual designer or small studio can easily design a Latin face, which may contain 250 glyphs, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean fonts have glyphs that number in the thousands. All those glyphs make for a large file, which makes it hard to make available online, particularly in the way that Google Fonts does.
Here’s the breakdown of Korean fonts, as it’s explained on the Google Fonts + Korean mini-site: Hangul consists of 19 consonants, which are designed after the shape of the mouth, lips and tongue in forming the sounds those characters represent. It also consists of 21 vowels, made up of modified versions of three basic shapes: sky, earth, and human. These elements are called jamo, and they are grouped into syllabic blocks that make up the letters.
Since the visual balance of a jamo changes in relation to its surrounding jamo, Korean fonts that include every combination of jamo contain 17,388 glyphs. This makes Korean fonts cost-prohibitive and laborious to produce (for more on this, read Synoptic Office talk about creating a modern Chinese typeface). It also results in a file that’s too large to put online. Which meant that previously, Google Fonts couldn’t support Korean typefaces.
What are their distinguishing characteristics? The biggest is that these fonts are informed by machine learning. Google built an algorithm that scans Korean web pages and modeled which characters are most likely to appear together. They then used that data to form a “subset slicing strategy” that takes all 17,000+ glyphs and sorts them into 100 slices. When users view the font online, the browser will only load the font slices for that page, resulting in faster load times.
What should I use the Google Fonts + Korean site for? All the fonts in the Google Fonts Korean directory are free and open source, so visit the site the next time you need a Korean typeface. Or just go on there to play around. Since the fonts are open sourced, Roon had the ability to manipulate their path data (something that is typically prohibited for commercial fonts through the prohibited through the End User License Agreement). He and Seoul-based data designer Wonyoung So decided to show off the fonts and their accessibility by making them interactive: the typefaces undulate, move through 3D space, blur, change position, and switch from black to white and back again. Think Muriel Cooper’s pioneering “Information Landscapes” presentation, but monochromatic, Korean, and a bit more… 21st century.