Google’s latest Roboto variant is a customizable font at its heart
As a font enthusiast, I know most people don’t share my passion, but I honestly think anyone who cares about typography will be interested in what Google announced on Thursday. If you’ve ever used anything from Google, you’ve seen Roboto. Now Google is introducing something called Roboto Flex. As the name suggests, this is a version of his famous font that you can modify and customize in many ways.
I feel like I’m about to lose a lot of people, so let’s try this: here’s a gif showing all of Roboto Flex’s customizable settings. There’s no trickery – I’m not changing a raster image with Photoshop or anything. Everything you see is built into the font itself and can be changed as easily as the font size.
Pretty cool, right? (If you just said “no” to your computer screen, you have my permission to leave now. It’s not going to get any more interesting for you.)
Basically what happens is that Roboto Flex is a “variable font”, meaning you don’t have to manually upload separate files to change its weight, tilt or other variables. Flex goes further than basic changes, however; Google says there are 12 different ways to modify it, including changing its width, stroke thickness, and even the height of the ascending and descending stems (like those found on the letters “d” and ” respectively). p”).
These types of fonts have been around for a while – even Roboto Flex has been publicly in the works for about a year, but it’s cool to see that Google is making it readily available to anyone who wants to use it.
Roboto Flex also has a few other cool features that aren’t directly related to its cool looks. In their blog post, Google says they’ve balanced the font a lot to make sure they fit specific sizes, so text looks appropriately bold or thin, takes up an entire page or just a small footnote. . Google’s announcement also explains how the designers of the typeface (a studio called Font Bureau) made sure small details were correct. Apparently the circles used in the percent symbol are proportionally the same as the number 0. It’s hardcore font nerdery, and I love it.
In practice, all of this means that designers have a lot of control over the final look of their text without having to do a lot of work (assuming the application they’re working with actually supports variable fonts). It’s also ideal for web designers who want a standard-looking font that they can modify to make sure their headings and titles stand out, both from the rest of the text on the page and from other Web sites. It doesn’t hurt either, since it’s a Google font, you can add it to your site with a line or two of code.
Also… listen, this may come out on a branch here, but I couldn’t help but think of all the fun UI things you could do if it was the police on, say, a phone with a foldable screen. You know, like the one Google is supposedly working on? It’s easy to imagine visual tricks like the font stretching as you open your phone or the text keeping the same proportions as you move from the small front screen to the larger interior screen. This type of thing would be much easier to implement if you’re working with a flexible font and would be really fun to see in practice (and Google is all about fun on Android now, right?)
This isn’t the only interesting font that Google has created recently. It also announced a serifed version of Roboto, which would look like heresy if it didn’t look really good, and it even brought back the beloved blobs in its Noto Emoji font. It’s not the only one to play with variable fonts, either – Apple’s SF Pro, which is used as the default font on almost all of its devices, supports variable optical sizes, and Cascadia code focused on Microsoft programmers support variable weights.
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