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Google Fonts Knowledge

Google Fonts Knowledge — the project I’ve been building with the Google Fonts team over the course of the past year — launched today. GFK is a library of educational content designed to enable designers and developers of all skill levels to choose and use type with purpose.

Screenshot of Google Fonts Knowledge’s homepage on launch day

The library, as it stands today, consists of 30+ lessons spread out over three modules — “Introducing Type”, “Choosing Type”, and “Using Type” — and 100+ glossary definitions. All of the launch content was written and illustrated by me (with the exception of a couple of bits of pre-existing Google documentation), and reviewed by a team of typographic experts. The design of the site itself was a collaboration between me, SeHee Lee, and Tobias Kunisch.

Importantly, this content will grow. Not only will new lessons, new glossary terms, and even entire new modules be added over the coming months, but the content itself will be updated and expanded, based on readers’ feedback — so please do feel free to reach out to me directly if there’s anything you’d like to see added or improved upon.

And yes, what’s launching is pretty Latin-centric. There are immediate plans to create content that addresses the opportunities and challenges that come with other writing systems from around the world. (If you need any proof of Google’s commitment to supporting the many scripts of the world, please see the recently updated and, quite frankly, gigantic Noto family. Is it a superfamily? More like a hyperfamily, amirite?) Anyway, I know everyone always says this, but the version you see live today really is just the start of something much larger. My personal aim is to make GFK one of the most valuable typographic resources online.

The project has its origins in the workshop I’ve been teaching at conferences and at private events over the last few years, Everything you ever wanted to know about typography but had been afraid to ask. The content needed updating and I had a vague plan about turning it into a book (possibly with some sort of 8 Faces branding). Thanks to an intro from my friend and former Typekit colleague David Demaree, who was Product Manager of Google Fonts at the time, I pitched this very loose idea to GF’s Fonts Programmes and Operations Manager Dave Crossland to see if they’d like to partner with me in some way. I massaged the idea together, the book concept became a website concept, and then that website concept became an entirely new part of Google Fonts. With Google’s backing, I was able to devote a really healthy amount of resources to the project, and I was able to focus on it entirely as my “day job”.

Screenshot of a Google Fonts Knowledge lesson on launch day

Honestly, working on GFK has been nothing short of a delight. Not only is it a subject I care deeply about, built by a group of extremely passionate type nerds, but also, from a personal standpoint, it came at exactly the right time in my professional life. I was burned out by client work, burned out by leading design teams, and burned out by all the smaller projects I’d taken on as a way of trying to work out what it was I actually wanted to do, now that I do very little in the way of “at the coalface” design. At the end of 2020, I was pretty miserable, I needed a hard reset, and honestly all I wanted to do was retreat into a cabin in the woods and write a book. Metaphorically at least, this is pretty much what I then managed to do — with GFK.

I’m immensely grateful to the team who helped bring GFK to life: David Demaree kicked off those very early conversations. Dave Crossland steered the whole ship. Tobias Kunisch oversaw every creative decision. (Sidenote: Google Fonts itself started life as a 20% project for Tobias and a few Google engineers, so it’s been amazing to be working with him after he moved from the Material Design team back to GF.) SeHee Lee turned my loose prototypes into actual designs. Nathan Williams and the GF Engineering team made everything real. Sarah Daily proofread the lot. A very special thanks has to go out to the expert panel, which consists of my typography heroes and heroines: Bram Stein, Bruce Willen, David Brezina, Doug Wilson, Ellen Lupton, Erik Spiekermann, Frank Rausch, Gerry Leonidas, Jamie Clarke, Jason Santa Maria, Jessica Hische, John Boardley, Laurence Penney, Mark Boulton, Matthew Smith, Micha Rich, Mike Kus, Rich Rutter, Rosalie Wagner, Sam Berlow, Santiago Orozco, Thomas Jockin, Thomas Phinney, Trent Walton, Tyler Finck, Yves Peters, and Viviana Monsalve. What a line-up!

Screenshot of a Google Fonts Knowledge glossary term on launch day

Now that the project is live, I’m glowing from that lovely feeling of having worked on something for a pretty long period of time and then having released it into the wild. But I’m also working hard on all of the updates I have planned for the coming months, including a whole load of content being created by folks much smarter than me. And, as I mentioned above, I’d really love to have your feedback. Positive or negative, specific or general, I want to know what you want to see in future Google Fonts Knowledge updates. So please get in touch!

Also, check out Google’s official announcement on the Material Design blog.

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