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NASA Technology Helped Create This Alien Typeface

Like emblems from an alien world, Craig Ward and Linden Gledhill have created a generative computer font using ferromagnetic fluid.

First invented by NASA in the 1960s, ferrofluid has been experiencing a kind of renaissance lately, being used in everything from high-tech lava lamps to designer alarm clocks. Now, designer Craig Ward and photographer Linden Gledhill are taking ferromagnetic fluid into the realm of typography, centrifugally spinning it to create weird Rorschach glyphs, available as both one-of-a-kind prints and a computer system font file.

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Currently on Kickstarter, Fe₂O₃ Glyphs describes itself as both a transcendence and a subversion of what we commonly call a typeface. Using a little bit of ferrofluid mixed with ink and pressed between two glass plates, Craig and Gledhill were able to create unique patterns by spinning it across horizontal and vertical magnetic fields. As they did so, the fields distorted the ink into something close to a ferromagnetic snowflake: a unique pattern that Craig says calls to mind “ancient indigenous markings from science fiction.”

“[Linden] has been studying ferrofluid for a while,” Ward says by email. “He sent me some early images a little while back, and, as someone who works with typography and symbols on a daily basis, they immediately felt to me like some kind of a language system. . . . So I proposed the idea of creating a type system to him, and we went from there.” The whole idea of the project, Ward says, is to invert the type design process: replacing a static pixel grid with magnetic fields, for example, or trading concerted aesthetic decisions for a more generative design process.

Almost as a lark, the duo decided to put Fe₂O₃ Glyphs on Kickstarter as an OTF typeface and a series of letterpress prints. According to Ward, the two thought of the project as “niche, but surprisingly, they’ve already collected almost four times their initial crowdsourcing goal for the ferromagnetic typeface.

“I think people are interested for some of the same reasons we were,” Ward tells me. ” We found the symbols quite infectious, and we wanted to see more and more to see how elaborate, convoluted, and distorted they became.”

Coupled with a unique movable type set up that combines the 138 different glyphs into more possible configurations than stars in the known universe, and just as many unique prints, Ward calls Fe₂O₃ Glyphs “a kind of infinite art machine.” You
can back the project on Kickstarter starting at $40 here.

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