Back Story: The Q project is something of an unusual type system to say the least. Whereas most of our Type Tuesday featured fonts come as full, downloadable typefaces, Q is a kit of parts. As Typotheque puts it, Q is a “type system that enables users to create a nearly infinite number of variations.” Essentially, it’s a set of variable fonts that can be used for animation. It’s inspired by the idea of play, and in particular, children’s games such as Lego or Meccano “that allow creating something that never existed before,” as the font’s designer, Peter Bil’ak, puts it.
The seed of the idea for Q came a while back, in 2015, when the designer was asked to propose a new logo for The Met. The sketches he made ended up not being used, but went on to inform some of the designs for the Q project. “I knew I wanted to take it further and create some sort of type system,” says Bil’ak. “I had been sketching a lot, and after variable fonts technology was introduced in 2016, I started exploring how I could bring elements of time, for animation, to the project. I didn’t want to make it about technology, but about the space that can be explored.”
Why’s it called Q? The name was decided in step Bil’ak’s usual naming system, which is inspired by the “Opus number” in musical compositions, wherein each piece is assigned a number based on the chronological order with which they were created. Since 1995, Bil’ak has similarly been naming his typefaces alphabetically, so that Eureka (1995) was followed by Fedra (2001), Greta (2007), History (2008), Irma (2009), Julien (2010), Karloff (2012), Lava (2013), and so forth. His last typeface was named Ping (2019), so “the next one should logically start with a ‘Q’,” he says. “After studying dictionaries, and making long lists of names, I finally used our working code name, which was as open as the idea of the project.”
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Take a deep breath—it’s a complicated one. Q consists of six uppercase base fonts plus 35 attachments that can be added as individual layers (Q Base and Serifs). It also comes with a variable font with a motion axis (Q Mechanic), as well as three levels of basic shapes that can be combined into new forms (Q Shapes). The base fonts and the attachments are available as sets of fonts which share vertical and horizontal metrics so that they can be combined and layered. Once color comes into the equation, Bil’ak says “a nearly infinite number of variations” are possible. The base layers can also be combined to produce layering effects.
Q Mechanic is a separate font that combines two bases, Q Normal and Q Dots. Using OpenType’s Discretionary Ligatures feature in an unusual way, the font replaces single glyphs with multiple substitutions to break the letters into pieces.
When you purchase the typeface, you also get physical drafting stencils for learning to draw the basic shapes that make up the Latin alphabet, along with online interfaces that help to create modular type constructions using the letterforms.
What might it be used it for? The Q system was designed to allow for people to create experimental, playful pieces with results that were unintended. “Q is designed like an open-ended system that doesn’t make any assumption of the desirable outcome,” says Bil’ak. “That’s why I compared it to Lego, or other games.” As such, the system comes with a free online interface so users can generate their own PDF designs.
Books might be a good bet, though: Brazilian designer Tereza Bettinardi was asked by the Typotheque team to design some sample covers for a series of books of her choice, which look ace. Her work also suggests that Q might be a great choice for applications like record covers, posters, or pretty much anything in which the type does most of the talking in a layout.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? “Q is designed for expression, not legibility,” says Bil’ak, so when a design calls for some level of text-based functionality it would be wise to opt for a subtle, unobtrusive font. The designer suggests Typotheque’s aptly titled Neutral.