Any font geeks here? I'm curious to hear any reactions to this.
In the past, platforms licensed fonts for different scripts piecemeal (a script can cover a number of languages—English, Icelandic, and Dutch are just three of the dozens of languages that rely on Latin script). So they’d buy one for Latin scripts like Spanish and French, another for Arabic scripts, and yet another for Japanese and Chinese. “You’d get this mishmash of fonts,” Jung says. “That was always the complaint we got—fonts just don’t look good when you mix languages.” But developing a typeface for 800 languages that feels cohesive yet respectful of each language’s cultural heritage created inherent tension. And making those fonts “unmistakably Google” is nearly impossible. The Tibetan script, for example, draws heavily from a calligraphic tradition, while English is more linear and geometric. The Arabic typeface is emphasized in left to right strokes, while French’s letters carry their weight in their vertical stems. Some fonts, like Runic, are so obscure that typographers at Monotype built the font from scratch using stone engravings for inspiration.
The goal was to create a family of fonts that appear at least distantly related. “We wanted to make it so when people changed their language settings it didn’t look like they were using a completely different platform,” Matteson says. He designed Noto to be modern but friendly, with open counters, soft terminals, and strokes rooted in 5th century calligraphy. He avoided making Noto too austere, mostly because the shapes wouldn’t translate as nicely to other languages. “It’s not easy to interpret fancy calligraphic languages like Tibetan into a Futura typeface model, which is all circles and straight lines,” he says.
You’ll see some common shapes echoed throughout fonts within the Noto family. Every font has a similar weight, providing some semblance of continuity. And although not all languages rest at the same baseline and capline (letters in Asian languages tend to stand taller than those in Latin languages), they align to an imaginary line that bisects the Latin alphabet. These finely tuned details are what makes Noto’s ambition so impressive. It’s not the first time most of these languages are getting a typeface, but it is the first time they’ve been bound together by a cohesive visual language.