What is Fontplore? Fontplore is an interactive application designed for searching and exploring font databases.Fontplore helps you to easily find the right typeface for your project in a collection of several thousands of fonts. It lets you browse, preview, compare and print the fonts you are interested in.
And the clou is: It does all that on an interactive table, using tangible objects to navigate and control actions, so the workflow is easy to understand - easy to grasp! Whats the use-case? As the development and distribution of interactive tables is still in its early days, we see the Fontplore Table as some kind of customer attraction for the bigger design agencies, where clients and designers get together and share the experience of selecting a suitable typeface for the project.
Why do it on a table? When a designer searches for a new typeface, he basically has two choices: Either to use a font catalogue and flip through the pages, or to search the internet and click through hundreds of font lists.

With the traditional printed catalogue, you are more or less limited to browsing through the pages. A search for fonts of a specific theme is not practicable and a preview of your content (i.e. the company name you're doing a logo for) is not possible.

When using a web-based platform, you have all the preview and search options, but you usually lack the option to see the font printed on paper. More important, you'll spend a lot of time clicking through pages and pages of font previews, where it's hard to compare and easy to loose track of your search.

The Fontplore setup allows us to combine the advantages of both web and print based research and to bring a completely new feeling into the process.
How are the fonts organized? Fontplore uses a tagging system to structure the fonts in its database. Every font is tagged with any number of tags and the tags themselves know their relatives.

When you start a search, the first layer of tags is made up of the classical font categories and each category is associated with a characteristic typeface.

By selecting a tag you get all the fonts linked to this tag, each of the fonts again representing a tag. Now you can choose between browsing through all the fonts or selecting another tag in order to narrow down your search.

The information architecture is self-organizing and focused on the quality (i.e. the look and feel) of the fonts.
How do you interact? The interaction with the table and Fontplore is based on tangible objects.

We have a primary navigation object (round shape), which can be placed, dragged and rotated on the table. Rotational movement cycles through the fonts in the current search result, while dragging is used to select a tag or undo a selection.

The pyramid-shaped objects are used to commit actions, like preview, save, print and reset. Any number of these objects is supported, although we feel that more than three or four would be more confusing than helpful.

Both types of objects feature a tiny transparent tube in the center. By rendering a small circle just beneath the object we achieve a nice colorful illumination (almost like an LED). This visual feedback is used to communicate the current status of the object.

When a font is saved onto one of these objects (light turns green), they stay connected even if the pyramid is removed from the table (until resetted - light turns red). This feature helps you to organize your search, but should not be used for permanent storage.

Permanent storage and even better preview of your favorite typefaces can be obtained by the implemented printing feature (light turns blue). The printed pages contain pangrams in various sizes an a complete alphabet. They also contain a digital ID recognizable by the table, so when you come back with your sheet of paper, you can simply put it on the surface and continue working with it.
How did we do it? The interactive table is an implementation of the reacTIVision system and was built by students and staff from the FHP for the mæve installation and we are really really grateful for the opportunity to use this table as a basis for our work.

The application running on the table is written in Java (using the NetBeans IDE) and based on the Processing framework. We use a MySQL Server for our database and the Processing SQLibrary to connect to it. The communication with the table runs over the TUIO protocol and uses the Processing TUIO Client. Mathematik - a part of the gestalt framework was very helpful for vector math and we have to thank Rob van der Woude for his PrintPDF batchfile.

We have to thank all those creative and open-source initiatives for their work and their spirit and we want to return the favor, so if you're interested in our code, just contact us.