Out of Berlin, a city known for great design and shitty winter weather, comes Buchstabengewitter (letter storm), a generative typography project that transforms three-dimensional linear structures into all the letters of the alphabet. Developed by designer and programmer Ingo Italic the dynamic type display is only the latest experiment out of Letters Are My Friends, a research laboratory he runs together with Bärbel Bold. A place where, as the laser-cut sign outside says, “type meets new technology”.
“I’ve always had a passion for animated typography,” Ingo tells CAN in an email. “There are a lot of fantastic examples for type in motion. Fortunately for today’s designers, modern creative coding tools allow us to animate type in amazing ways.” Each letter of Buchstabengewitter is animated in the visual programming language vvvv (Ingo worked at MESO during his studies of computer science) and can be morphed into any other glyph. That way whole words can geometrically blend into each other. “I wanted to come up with a generative, dynamic alphabet that is more expressive than the conventional animated typefaces. A system that allows flexible morphing and easy modification,” the designer says. And flexible it is: Buchstabengewitter can incorporate any existing typeface. “For reasons of readability I chose Arial and Helvetica as a start.” So far, the generative incarnations of these timeless fonts (one of which once famously described as the “jeans of typefaces”) have only been used around the house – on posters and in video trailers for the collaborative type’n’tech space that is currently at the heart Ingo’s and Bärbel’s activities.
Nestled in between two of Berlin’s most vibrant neighbourhoods, Neukölln and Kreuzberg, Letters Are My Friends has been a busy place for research, exhibitions, shows, collaborations and conversations ever since it opened in June 2011. On 75 sqm (studio and showroom) Ingo and Bärbel produce, present and celebrate custom lettering, type in motion, sculptural typography, laser cut studies, 3D printed alphabets and generative typefaces like Buchstabengewitter. “It started with the idea of a record store for typography – and how wonderful it would be to have a place where you can dig in crates, visually explore and discover typefaces, be surprised and inspired,” says Bärbel. A few months into operation Letters Are My Friends has turned out to be so much more. “It’s not so much about typography as a product but as a starting point for our design explorations. We’re interested in experiencing letter relationships and embracing technology as a medium has allowed us to make all kinds of interesting connections.”
Unsurprisingly, the space quickly became a hub for fellow artists and related experiments. As part of the event series “Type & Sound” Letters Are My Friends recently exhibited Meek.FM, a custom built typographic synthesizer by Frank Müller and Rob Meek that generates shapes and sounds from pre-installed typeface vectors at the twist of a knob. Still on display is Roland Lösslein’s interactive sampling installation Digging in the Crates (previously featured here at CAN). Other things you might encounter: Bärbel’s take on a letter mobile called MOONS, wall-mounted iPads running LetterMPress and the first batches of laser-cut letter magnets, a new collaboration with lasern and various type designers (order your own kit via Typecutter.com).
If nothing else, Letters Are My Friends is a fun workshop window into typography in the digital age and a testiment to the multidisciplinary background of its founders. Before picking up their in-store alter egos, Philipp “Ingo” Rahlenbeck and Nina “Bärbel” Juric have been VJs, motion designers, media and performance artists for more than eight years. In that sense, their type’n’tech store is just another stepping stone across the analog-digital divide. As far as the future of Buchstabengewitter is concerned: “There will be more experiments in this direction,” says Ingo. “Hopefully we can inspire other type geeks to explore this field as well.” Word!
Speaking of type geeks: Letters Are My Friends has a vacancy and is looking for creative Berliners in need of a workspace. If you’re into design, code or both and letters are your friends, get in touch with Ingo and Bärbel via firstname.lastname@example.org.