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Forget design templates. Touch Type is an extraordinarily fun way to create your own typography

Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator shape design without us realizing it. So this firm makes its own bespoke tools you can try free.

Forget design templates. Touch Type is an extraordinarily fun way to create your own typography
[Image: courtesy Studio Schultzschultz]

With one finger, I tap a letter onto the screen. With two fingers, I can pinch it larger or smaller. With three fingers, I can spin through the entire alphabet like a rotary phone. With four fingers, I stretch the letter wide. And with five, I thicken its line to make it a robust bold.

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This is Touch Type. It’s a free letter design tool that you can try right in your browser, developed by the German design studio Schultzschultz.

[Image: courtesy Studio Schultzschultz]
Consumer-friendly platforms like Canva democratize good design by letting anyone create simple visual projects via templates, while pro-friendly platforms like Adobe’s Creative Cloud assist more studied designers in creating more complicated media. Touch Type is what the design world lacks at the moment: bespoke, artisan-level creation tools. While such quirky, one-off pieces of software might be difficult to master, they may also take creatives down roads that are too narrow for Photoshop.

Touch Type isn’t a commercial product; it’s a free demo you can try and use for any purpose you like. However, Touch Type’s creation did stem from Schultzschultz’s own realization that, in working with their own clients, the creative software of today is amazing, but also limiting. Their own creativity was being shaped by the tools they used.

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This is not a new phenomenon, says Marc Schütz, creative director at the studio. As a type designer, he points out that even the design of letters has been long-shaped by the tools that draw them. The flowing forms of written Chinese are the result of drawing them with paint brushes, much like the Gothic writing of Medieval Europe was shaped by the downward strokes of broad pointed, ink-dipped bones and other writing utensils favored by monks who transcribed books of the era. Hundreds and even thousands of years later, these tool-based creative decisions still live with us in today’s digital fonts.

[Image: courtesy Studio Schultzschultz]
“You realize the tools that you use are just as important to the final result as the person who uses these tools,” says Schütz. “If you translate this to our digital tools today, people just don’t realize they are using a tool. It’s just, ‘Photoshop is everything!’ And you can do a lot [in Photoshop], but it still sets some boundaries.”

At the studio, they began experimenting with scripting their own little experimental tools, just for fun, and as a way to break out of their own creative ruts. They’ve written code to design with PlayStation controllers instead of mice and keyboards, and they’ve built all sorts of pixel-editing scripts that never even see the light of day. It’s an approach they’ve taken since founding the studio in 2007.

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“We like to come up with our own very basic visual ideas, and often something is not possible using common tools like Photoshop or Illustrator,” says Schütz. “If you are able to create your own tools, you really feel more free.”

This development work isn’t wasted for Schultzschultz. By building bespoke tools, they have ideas ready to go on the shelf. And those ideas can create unique work for their clients down the line. This is work that literally can’t be produced anywhere else, and for Schultzschultz, it’s more than mere theory. A recent mural the firm produced for Mastercard was based on a color smearing tool they’ve since made public. I can’t say I look at this mural and know that it wasn’t created in Photoshop; but I can say that I’ve never seen anything quite like it—which is exactly what drives Schütz.

[Image: courtesy Studio Schultzschultz]
As for Touch Type, it’s a neat toy to create a small poster for social media or just yourself. But there’s also value in the experience of using it, as the interface acknowledges the touch of your fingers with bright graphics—a series of circles, lines, and numbers that might be a bit superfluous, at least to the uninitiated, casual user.

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“It’s kind of like learning how to ride a bike every time you create a new tool,” says Schütz. “You have to learn to use it. And it feels really great learning how to use a new tool. Like an instrument, at first it’s awkward, then you learn you can do beautiful stuff with it.”

Indeed, part of the appeal of Touch Type is absolutely the learning curve behind its maximalist interface that feels straight out of a sci-fi movie. It’s a vibrant contrast to the minimalist software of Apple or Canva. I’m reminded of the on-screen interfaces designed for Marvel movies by Marti Romances and his firm Territory Studio. Or the work by John Underkoffler at Oblong, who built the famed Minority Report gesture touchscreen. And I, alongside plenty of members of the design community, am excited at the possibility of design tools that embrace exuberant experimentation. Because no single piece of software should be a gatekeeper to our unlimited creativity.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is the Global Design Editor at Fast Company. He has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years

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