Chaotic and kinetic, yet delicate, Tangle font

07.05.2011
Depending on the view, , 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 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 .

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 , 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 , 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 to label a new micro-brew or to brand a minimalist's clothing line.