In what is being billed as one of the largest typeface projects in human history, Google and Monotype have collaborated to create a unifying system that spans more than 100 writing systems, 800 languages, and hundreds of thousands of characters. Some of the languages featured have never been digitised before and have only previously existed as inscriptions on stone or on ancient documents.
The name, Noto, comes from Google’s initial brief to Monotype which was ‘no more tofu’. ‘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. Google’s 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, thus eradicating ‘tofu’ from our screens. 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 hundreds of researchers, designers, linguists, cultural experts and project managers around the world. To create the Tibetan characters, Monotype worked with Tibetan monks and Buddhist scholars. Fulani speakers from West Africa have been provided with the first digital alphabet in their language, while there is even a version in Ogham, the Old Irish script used between the first and sixth centuries.
Monotype says its role was in researching and digitally designing the characters, writing systems and alphabets for each Noto typeface and applying the rules and traditions for the individual languages to their respective fonts; and managing the project, including organising external designers and linguists around the world who specialise in specific scripts.
Google, for its part, ‘defined the requirements and scope of the project, shared significant input into design direction for major languages, contributed design review and technical testing resources and expertise for a broad range of languages, and provided the funding that made this project possible’.
“Our goal for Noto has been to create fonts for our devices, but we’re also very interested in keeping information alive,” says Bob Jung, Director of Internationalisation at Google. “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.”
“The aim of the Noto project is to provide digital representation to all the scripts in the Unicode Standard. That in particular is something that many different language communities could not afford to do on their own. Google has been the benefactor in funding this work, and in many cases, we’ve produced the first font ever to serve a particular language community,” says Kamal Mansour, Linguistic Typographer at Monotype. “So to me, the aim is the serve that human community that would otherwise be deprived of the ability to have a digital heritage.”
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 for free download here. More here, including full credits.