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This Shadowy Typeface Tells The Time Like A Sundial

Not only can you send a message–you can encode it with a unique footprint of when and where you were in the world when you sent it.

Your handwriting used to say something about you–if only how much you’d practiced your penmanship. But as we’ve all adopted the standardized typefaces of print in our daily digital communications, the highly personalized nature of handwriting has been lost.

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Diurne, by Knezo Design Studio, is one typeface that can be imagined near-infinite ways. Its core is a somewhat normal serif typeface. But by using light simulations, Diurne casts a shadow, based upon the position of the sun at the time and place that you are. And so what could have been a totally impersonal font is transformed into a highly specific thumbprint of a moment in your life.

The project was born from designer Alex Knezo’s obsession with creating what he calls “systems.” Rather than create a mere typeface, what if he created a typeface that could spawn more typefaces. “Shadows allowed for that kind of goal as almost everything has a shadow,” he says. “While this iteration of Diurne is a serif typeface, I can also use different lettered structures to create other types of font with the same system.”

At noon on the equator, Diurne looks like a totally typical typeface. The sun is hitting directly overhead, so there’s no discernible shadow. But as the sun begins to set into the evening hours, the glyphs become stretched–almost extruded out across the screen by their long shadows. It’s a neat effect, but it comes at the cost of readability. A 300-word letter written at 6 p.m. would look like someone spilled an inkwell across the page. However, when I bring that up to Knezo, he’s unfazed.

“I’m not worried about the legibility issue that occurs near sunrise and sunset. I rather like the almost calligraphic appearance the font has as it transitions from impossible symbols to legible characters,” he says. “However, at those difficult-to-read times, I don’t believe the user would be trying to use the font for reading. The words would become more like a graphic icons than letters.”

As of today, you can order your own, custom place and time version of Diurne through Knezo’s Kickstarter project at a cost of $25. But in its ultimate form, it seems like Diurne should be a font that lives within a piece of software on your computer, or an online platform like Gmail or Twitter–basically, anything that can be generated in real time for your communications.

“I’ve definitely given this thought, and I would love to have this happen,” he says, “but given the resources I have at the moment, this is really difficult.”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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