No More Tofu

Before we start, if you think the title of todays blog represents is a stance against vegans or soya-based food products, then think again! 

‘Tofu’ is the nickname used for the blank boxes that appear when a computer or website is unable to display a particular character because there is no font support for that language. We've all been there. We want to type a particular character (especially when working on a multi-language project with Mandarin or Urdu) and all we get is:

Annoying, isn't it!

In an attempt to solve this, Google and Monotype have collaborated in what is being billed as 'one of the largest typeface projects in human history' to create a free, single typeface family that encompasses some 800 written languages and hundreds of thousands of characters. Check it out below:

Designed over five years, The name, Noto, comes from Google’s initial brief to Monotype which was ‘no more tofu’. The challenge was to create fonts for all of the 800 languages included in the Unicode Consortium standard for software internationalisation, which includes many little-spoken or so-called ‘dead’ languages. Hence, eradicating ‘tofu’ from our screens for good! 

For each language, Noto includes letters in multiple serif and sans serif styles across up to eight weights, as well as numbers, emoji, symbols and musical notation.

The project involved several dead languages including Lycian, spoken in Turkey until circa the 3rd Century BC

The project involved several dead languages including Lycian, spoken in Turkey until circa the 3rd Century BC

The project involved hundreds of researchers, designers, linguists, cultural experts and project managers around the world. While this started out as a project to 'create fonts for all devices', what this has ended up achieving goes far beyond this. It has allowed rarely spoken languages such as Lycian, Fulani and Ogham, to be digitally preserved for the first time. As Bob Jung, Director of Internationalisation at Google put it, this project has enabled us to "keep information alive".

“When it comes to some of these lesser-used languages, or even the purely academic or dead languages, we think it’s really important to preserve them. Without the digital capability of Noto, it’s much more difficult to preserve that cultural resource.”

It's a pun, I know, but this is truly a 'legacy' font. It finally gives dead languages that haven't been used in centuries a digital heritage so it will never again be lost to future generations.

Ok in real world application, we probably won't ever need to use Lycian, but its a nice thought isn't it? It's certainly better than tofu boxes!

Google Noto is open source under OFL (Open Font License), meaning that designers and developers can contribute to the design of the scripts. It is free to use and available to download here