Posts Taged handwriting

The Universal Typeface Experiment


We all know the BIC pen—it’s the classic, no-fuss ballpoint pen most of us have grown up using, on everything from school essays to forms at the doctor’s office. (Did you know it is even part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art?)

Well, this tried-and-true brand is branching out, and calling attention to its new digital stylus with a fun (and clever) project called “The Universal Typeface Experiment.” According to this Smithsonian article, “The Universal Typeface is a constantly evolving, algorithmically produced font created by averaging hundreds of thousands of handwriting samples submitted to BIC’s website.” And anyone with a touchscreen device can contribute.

The Universal Typeface Experiment

Is one’s handwriting as unique as his or her fingerprint? Not really; as can be expected, averaging hundreds of thousands of characters yields a pretty plain typeface. But comparing different countries, genders, and professions reveals some more dramatic differences. (I notice they didn’t include medical industry samples; perhaps the inputs were too difficult for the algorithm to interpret? I kid, I kid.)


This project is well-timed: the number of handwritten- and script-styled typefaces has skyrocketed in the past few years, and numerous programs help users capture their own handwriting and convert it to a font. Stylus technology has made great strides since that little Palm Pilot accessory (remember those?), and recent design has embraced an imperfect, humanistic touch. I recently wrote about handwriting and its impact on mental processing, and here I am writing about handwriting again. I just love this modern mash-up of handmade and digital creativity—it’s impacting the design world in beautiful ways, changing our brains, and it really seems to more authentically reflect our culture and society.


It’s like the Smithsonian article’s author wonders out loud, whether perhaps “we’ll find some greater truth about humanity or discover a platonic ideal alphabet or realize that we’re not so different from one another after all. World peace through typography.” Maybe. For now, it’s a fun experiment.

The Pen is Mightier than the Keyboard


Have you written a letter, lately? Do you take meeting notes on paper, or have you switched to typing ideas into your tablet?

Most of us grew up required to learn handwriting and cursive—skills that were practiced each and every year—and many of us still prefer taking notes by hand rather than digitally. If you have young kids in school now, you may have noticed a shift. Common Core standards require handwriting to be covered for just a couple of years, before quickly moving on to typing skills. And some studies say this may be impacting how we learn and absorb new material.

The science: How writing vs. typing activates different parts of our brain

This article in the New York Times highlights some of the interesting studies surrounding how writing vs. typing activates different parts of our brain.  And the studies show that handwriting actually results in the generation of more ideas. In a University of Washington study that followed a group of 2nd-5th graders, handwriting and typing processes resulted in some very different outcomes:

“When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas. And brain imaging in the oldest subjects suggested that the connection between writing and idea generation went even further. When these children were asked to come up with ideas for a composition, the ones with better handwriting exhibited greater neural activation in areas associated with working memory — and increased overall activation in the reading and writing networks.”

This topic is so interesting to me; I actually wrote my college thesis on how digitization is changing the artistic process, and this ties right into some of the concepts I researched. Creating work digitally literally activates different parts of our brain. And losing touch with those hand-driven processes may mean we’re missing out on some of our most creative ideas. Much like how good digital art programs still require drawing classes (practicing drawing skills helps an artist develop an understanding of perspective and space, and forces a habit of truly seeing and studying objects in detailed and meaningful ways), maintaining handwriting skills could be an essential brain exercise when it comes to maximizing ideation.

Next time you’re ready to dive into a new project brainstorm, try a handwritten (or hand-drawn) approach. It may not be as easy to shoot off in an email, but it might result in ideas you’d have otherwise overlooked.