FF Beowolf came to light at the end of the dark and murky 1980s when Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland found a way to change the programming in PostScript fonts. When printed, each point in each letter in every word on the page would move randomly, giving the letters a shaken, distraught appe... Read more
FF Beowolf came to light at the end of the dark and murky 1980s when Just van Rossum and Erik van Blokland found a way to change the programming in PostScript fonts. When printed, each point in each letter in every word on the page would move randomly, giving the letters a shaken, distraught appearance. First just called “RandomFont,” the invention caught FontFont’s interest and they offered to sell and distribute the beast. Not sure that a single font would be enough to cause noticeable typographic damage, van Blokland and van Rossum created three versions with increasing degrees of potential randomness. Renamed FF Beowolf, the face made typographers and graphic designers of good standing cry out, seeing it as final proof of the dangerous effects of computers on typography. Luckily this turned out to be a generational thing and soon FF Beowolf was being used for posters, headlines, CD covers, band logos, magazines, and everything else.
The technology in FF Beowolf wasn’t what computer and printer manufacturers had in mind for desktop publishing. So, while it worked great (if a tad slow) through most of the 1990s, FF Beowolf was eventually barred from performing its magic: pesky things like printer drivers and operating systems learned to ignore the non-standard. FF Beowolf seemed relegated to mere recollection.
OpenType technology brought new hope, forging paths in the type-tech continuum, which would eventually lead to a new generation of random fonts. But it would take years for the FF Beowolf DNA to mutate and adapt to a hostile environment. But the time did come. Purists and typographic philosophers will be wont to point out that these OT fonts do not actually alter their shape in the printer as their fore-bearers did. Instead they make use of pre-programmed randomness: each glyph in each font (except R20) has ten alternates and a massive Faustian brain to control the mayhem. Specially developed and hellishly complex software, nearly ninety thousand glyphs and an army of purpose-built ’bots took days to forge the OpenType features no ordinary type tool could have assembled. The FF Beowolf OpenTypes come in four strengths. The randomness performs on screen in any application on MacOS and Windows which supports OpenType.
FF BeoSans is based on a robust sans face by Just van Rossum. FF BeoSans Hard follows the harsh angles of FF Beowolf; FF BeoSans Soft is the smoother companion. Each has a bold version and R11-14 and R21-24 have 10 randomly generated alternatives for every character.
Put those computers and printers to good use and give good taste the salute it deserves!
In 2011, the Museum of Modern Art in New York added the first digital typefaces to its permanent collection. FF Beowolf was one of just 23 designs to be included. It debuted at MoMA as part of the “Standard Deviations” installation in the contemporary design gallery. Collapse description
- 2007 Typographica
- 2011 MoMA Architecture and Design Collection