The new Typendium app explores the stories behind typography

Published:  September 1, 2014
Lucy Waddington

Over a year ago, English designers William Robinson and Robyn Nevison began working on an app with the hope to shine a light on the stories behind some of the world’s most used typefaces. The result was Typendium, (available only for iOS), which functions as a collection of responsive ‘playing cards’ divided by colour, type and type designer.

We spoke to William Robinson about the process involved in creating an app about design, for designers, that is both informative and functional: 

What encouraged you to design an app on the history of typographic design?

My interest in type started when I saw Gary Hustwit’s excellent documentary Helvetica. Thanks to that film I began reading books about type, but it was always a passing interest that didn’t do much more than make my university essays more presentable. Fast forward to early 2013 and I thought it would be a good idea to combine my burgeoning interest in code with my interest in typography and make a small iOS app. Unfortunately both these disciplines are never ending rabbit holes, so it took a lot longer than expected to get to release, but here we are and I couldn’t be happier with the result. 

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Initial ‘History’ page

History Current

Refined ‘History’ page

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Snapshot of thumbs for featured typefaces

Why did you choose to publish and release on an iOS platform?

There were a number of factors in deciding to go iOS only. Firstly there are simple issues of practicality — there is far less fragmentation on iOS and as a two person team that is very important. Even if Apple’s rumoured larger iPhones are released next month adding support for them will be much less work than supporting even just the premium Android phones. Secondly there are personal reasons. I’m an Apple user myself, and it is Apple that sparked my initial interest in design and typography so of course it is iOS that I want to create something for and try to impress my peers. 

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What did you consider in terms of the visual theme, layout and functionality when designing the application?

There was a lot of back and forth when making Typendium’s design. Personally I don’t like to include anything that isn’t absolutely necessary, but that can make my designs boring rather than minimal. Thankfully Robyn took my mockups and breathed life into them, creating a striking design. But design isn’t just how it looks, we thought long and hard about how Typendium should work. Because Typendium exists on a touch device we knew gestures would be the way for the user to interact with the app. Initially I thought “great, it can be just like a book!” But then you start adding buttons onto this digital “book” and it becomes full of inconstancies. That is how we ended up with this custom navigation style that is almost like swiping through playing cards so that each page can exist in their own space. Once we had that in place the fun could begin in trying to add delight, such as the fading between colours and the parallax between sections.

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How did you decide on which type designers to feature?

Well originally I wanted to design the app around the alphabet, so each letter would have a typeface assigned to it, Zapfino for Z etc. Unfortunately that became unworkable because sometimes even if you can find a great typeface for a letter, it’s story might not be very interesting. The upside to this approach though is that when we cut down the size of the app I was left with the drafts of several very important and interesting type stories. From there it was a case of choosing the most interesting and running with it.

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If you had to select one, which profile do you find to be the most significant and why?

Personally I’ve developed a soft spot for John Baskerville and his maverick tendencies. If there was ever a Steve Jobs of the 1700s it was Baskerville. However, Eric Gill’s profile is probably the most significant. He is regularly regarded as one of Britain’s greatest sculptors with work all over famous buildings, plus his typefaces are magnificent and adorn all sorts of important institutions. However his sexual deviancy potentially undermines all of his work. To a typographer a typeface is just a tool, but they have to ask themselves if they can separate the tool from the person who made it. I think that this is a topic that society has struggled with for a long time and there are few easy answers.

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