If you didn’t know, there’s a word for the empty box icon that shows up in a text when a character isn’t recognized by your computer’s software: tofu. Now, Google wants to eliminate tofu with a new open source font system that gets rid of that character recognition problem.
Noto, an acronym for “No more tofu,” is the result of five years of work by Google in partnership with the type-related technology company Monotype, as well as Adobe and a network of volunteers. Released for general availability on Thursday, Noto is an open-source family of fonts that supports the display of some 110,000 characters from 800 languages.
Noto “provides pan-language harmony, yet maintains authenticity,” according to Google. The goal of Noto was to create a font family that was like classically styled clothing — elegant but able to be worn “forever.”
A ‘Mammoth Effort’
“Tofu can create confusion, a breakdown in communication, and a poor user experience,” Xiangye Xiao and Bob Jung of Google’s Internationalization team wrote yesterday in a blog post. However, when Google began the Noto project, “we did not realize the enormity of the challenge,” they added.
Developing a font system that worked with hundreds of languages required input from experts in a variety of specific scripts, as well as extensive design and technical testing, Xiao and Jung said. Different languages presented different challenges. For example, every character in Arabic can take on one of four different glyphs, or shapes, depending on the character that follows.
“This mammoth effort required harmonious design and development of an unprecedented number of scripts, including several rare writing systems that had never been digitized before,” Monotype noted yesterday in a separate article on its Web site. “Taking more than five years to reach its current stage, Noto required an intense and coordinated research…