»From Responsive To Live – The Role Of Typography In The Internet Of Things«

Marlene Rudolph


The Internet of Things (IoT) is getting more and more important for everyday life. Experts say that shortly the IoT will be more important than the web. Lots of smart devices are connected to each other and can automatically work in the background. Because of that smart devices do not necessarily interact with the user anymore. On these grounds this thesis is questioning which role written communication – and therefore typography – plays in the IoT.

Role and importance of type in the IoT and where it can be found will be pointed out. Challenges in practical application and approaches to solving them will be shown. Is responsive typography enough for the future or does type need to be more dynamic? How can it be developed further? This master thesis is the first to collect the status quo of type in the IoT and sets an initial point for further work in this field. Typographers and designers can learn about current tendencies and possible developments in the future.

This thesis deals only with type-related topics of the IoT. It should not create the impression that the IoT is limited to these. The IoT is huge and under fast and constant development. Augmented and virtual reality can be seen within the IoT. In this work they will not be in focus, because the topic would become too big and complex.

Experts from the area of typography, web-typography, design, web develepment and Internet of Things have been interviewed. These experts give a practical and current insight from different viewing directions into new developments of typography in the IoT. These interviews and their evaluations are combined in a separate publication, called research book.

The first chapter is about important basics of webdesign and digital type. The evolution of the web is shown and how the first fonts looked like. Responsive design, currently the most important term in webdesign, is explained. The new font-technology „variable fonts“ is also explained and seen trough different perspectives. Its advantages and disadvantages are described as well as their meaning for the IoT. The second part of this first chapter defines the IoT and its subareas.

The second chapter (05 – »Typography in the Internet of Things«) explaines the connection of both digital type and IoT. First it shows where type can be found and which challenges can be found in using type practically in the IoT. Is typography important in the IoT and which role do variable fonts play? Do typographers still have an overview about all this technology?

Scribbles, that describe possible uses of type in the IoT, were made during the research phase. These ideas are shown and developed further in the separate booklet »Collection of ideas: Type in the IoT«. The broadness of possible uses and new ideas, how type can react on diverse problems are shown.


This thesis shows that typography plays a role in numerous fields of the IoT and is going to get more imporant over time. Even though some »smart things« do not communicate in written language, the importance of typography will remain.

One of the important innovations of the IoT is, that besides the screen new mediums accrual. These mediums – e.g. projection on walls, glas or skin– demand new requirements for type. Already today and with responsive design the designer has to deal with the fact that he / she may not know the final displaying medium. In the future this problem intensifies, because it embraces the whole real world (»Internet of everything«). New, flexible Systems have to be developed, so that interfaces and fonts can react on this problem.

This thesis shows, that type will still play the main role in complex interfaces. Silent and explicit communication is only possible with type, in contrast to voice- or gesture-controlled interfaces. Complex interfaces consist mainly of type. In the IoT eventually any object can require an interface to be made »smart«.

Small displays, few memory and little resolution are problems type has to deal with more and more in the IoT, because smart devices often have to use cheap hardware. Good typographic solutions like optical sizes are used to solve these problems. But during further research about this topic new challenges had to be added. On every screen in multiscreen environments fonts have to look the same to achieve brand consistency. But even between retina and nonretina screens there are huge differences. When you transfer this to the IoT with interfaces probably everywhere, the problem intensifies. To develop good typographic solutions for reasonable, legible interfaces under these conditions typographers have to speak up and take part in the discussion.

Variable fonts are a big, powerful new technical achievement for webdesign. Additional to responsive design the font itself can now be responsive. But not only for webdesign, also especially for interface design in the IoT variable fonts is a very promising technology. It is an innovativ and forward-looking approach to solve the problem of »unknown mediums« and external circumstances.

Variable fonts make type more dynamic. This is especially important for the IoT, because it is much more fluid than the web. One example for reacting on external circumstances can be the optical-size-axes. With variable fonts it is possible for the first time to interpolate optical sizes seamlessly, instead of gradually before, mostly in two steps: on / off.

One idea, developed in this thesis, is of »smart fonts«. It describes, that fonts could react on sensors in the future. Variable fonts – connected with the right software – could contain completely new design-axes for interpolation and their parameters could be measured through sensors. In the future everything will become fluid, live and dynamic. Variable fonts make type live as well. A »smart font« could automatically and dynamically react, even on external circumstances.

Because the IoT is developing very fast, new challenges for typography arrive daily. These can only be managed, when typographers are willing to test new technical developments promptly. But all of this is getting so complex, that typographers alone can not manage them on their own. Typographers, designers and developers have to work together. Working interdisciplinary is the sustainable way to work in the future and to develop typographically good applications.

Today it‘s not possible to say how big each role of language, symbols and typography in interfaces in the IoT will be. But because the IoT is so diverse and finds its way into all areas of life, it‘s sure that it will not get along without type. Typography and the IoT are developed permanently through new ideas and technologies. This thesis can therefore only be a snap-shot and can try to look into the future. It‘s also a summary and starting point for further research, e.g. accessible interfaces. This work has the aim to show typographers and designers how to participate in the IoT and initiate work in this direction. In order to stay sustainable typography has to pay attention to technical developments and has to rediscover itself again and again.

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