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This Font Was Inspired By Teenage Hacker Bill Gates

The unofficial Bill Gates font automatically turns your words into l33tspeak.

Long before he was a powerful billionaire or a globe-trotting philanthropist, Bill Gates was a hacker. At age 15, he was caught hacking into a major corporation and was forced to give up his computer for a year. And at long last, someone has paid homage to that fact–with a hacker-inspired font called Bill.

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Designed by Paw Poulsen and spotted on It’s Nice That, Bill looks like a very typical neo-grotesque font that’s not terribly different from Microsoft’s own custom sans serif that was introduced in Windows 2000. It’s an inoffensive plate of buttered noodles for the eyes, without any hooks or flourishes at the ends of its glyphs to excite you. It’s just serviceable.

[Image: courtesy Paw Poulsen]
But as you type with Bill, something strange happens. It replaces many of your letters with numbers. “Bill was inspired by leet (or “1337”), also known as leetspeak. Leetspeak is a kind of language encryption that uses some characters to replace others, in ways that play on the similarity of their glyphs via reflection or other resemblance,” says Poulsen. “I found this concept quite clever and wanted to make a font dedicated to this.” So he designed a font that serves as a sort of 1337 translator.

Of course, leetspeak is not all that complicated of an idea for the uninitiated. It’s something akin to visual pig Latin. In 1337, numbers like “1” become “L”, “3” becomes “E,” and “7” become “T.” Just swapping out those letters for numbers, automatically, is certainly not hard. But Poulsen actually shaped the numbers in anticipation, changing their angles and curves to better resemble letters. His “4” is a real masterpiece, with such a subtle, tented shape that it conjures an “A.” And his “6” features curves that somehow encourage your eyes to hallucinate a proper “G.”

“It was a fun challenge for me to optically match words and letters as natural as possible, within the frame of a neo-grotesque,” says Poulsen. Indeed, and Bill the font makes a perfect portrait for Bill Gates the man. However understated he may look on the surface, he’s always scheming something up. Which is why for however many billions he’ll donate when it’s all said and done, you’ve still got to be careful watching him talk at TED.

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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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