Depending on the view, Tangle, a free experimental display font by English designer Claire Mitchell, is either lovely or a freak of nature. Recognizable sans serif letterforms emerge within a wild swirl of lines—mimicking the floating action of dandelion fluff or (if you're a sci-fi fan) a heart-stopping dervish made from bio-engineered cells waiting to go berserk. Font Interpretation 101: People, it's subjective.
Despite the chaotic ornamentation, Tangle’s characters read loud and clear. As a designer, I see a challenging font like Tangle and go about imagining a client that's a fit.
The bioengineered villains in Ridley Scott's classic 1982 neo-noir film Blade Runner will do nicely. Picture a prequel set in 2011 Los Angeles. Never mind visas. My android clients come to the studio seeking a new look to launch their interplanetary staffing business. Who better to finish the filing than a non-stop replicant, they say. Tangle's kinetic illusion is a definite match.
Tangle emerged during Mitchell's coursework at the University of the West of England (UWE), where the Graphic Design program includes a first semester module aptly named "Communicating with Words." For six weeks, students develop a 26-character font around a single word. Mitchell chose Chaos.
The design went through several iterations to reach its current form. Inspired by research and readings on the nature of chaos, Mitchell began with initial sketches on paper. Next she plotted the base style offline on graph paper—pre-staging for a digital translation. Finally the process moved online to FontStruct, the type-building application developed by Rob Meek. Along the way, the designer and her classmates received support and criticism not just from instructors and each other, but also from the larger FontStruct community. The final result is a bold set of lower case characters composed of atmospheric motion lines.
Like the replicants of Blade Runner, Tangle is a beautiful feat of engineering, but its emotional range is limited. Clever entrepreneurs will choose words that take advantage of this in-motion style, like the word fusion to label a new micro-brew or needleplay to brand a minimalist's clothing line.
Tangle's characters are easily recognizable, although they are best teased apart with a little letterspacing. The action surrounding each letter is included in the point size, so characters will appear smaller than their non-chaotic counterparts at the same size. Start large and scale down while bearing in mind that single words trump phrases. The fizzing lines rope characters together so that phrases break from word to word, making for a spotty read.
Mitchell has generously placed her creation under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. Use Tangle for personal or commercial work, but include attribution to the original designer. If you alter, transform, or build upon Tangle, distribute the resulting work under the same or a similar license.
Entertainment insider Variety recently announced that Alcon Entertainment is pursuing the rights to Blade Runner. Prequels, sequels, TV mini-series, and more will head for development as soon as the deal goes through. Welcome, Replicants! When the filming wraps, Tangle awaits your next big idea.
[Kate Godfrey is a designer in San Francisco.]