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Underware systematizes the scribble

Don’t let its casual appearance deceive you—Duos, the new script by Akiem Helmling, Bas Jacobs, and Sami Kortemäki, is a marvel of typeface design and font technology.

Duos dexterously straddles two worlds: the manual and the mechanical. If we consider handwriting on a scale, with patient, disciplined calligraphy on one side and quick, natural scrawling on the other, then Duos situates itself toward the rapid end of the spectrum. The design explores the hurried, messy scribbles that result from jotting down a quick note—a license-plate number, a grocery list, an address. This sort of writing is the most personal expression of written communication: instead of conveying information to others, it is primarily meant to communicate with ourselves, to help us remember things. Because we are the only ones who need to be able to read them, the shapes of the letters don’t really have to conform to universally accepted conventions. Speed is of the essence; letters connect in unusual ways and are often left unfinished, producing overdetermined letterforms that can be interpreted in various ways.

Identical character widths in the four Duaos variants
Although the different glyphs for each letter have distinct widths, identical glyphs have corresponding widths across the four Duos variants.

Using this concept as a starting point, Underware set out to create a casual script that would combine a dynamic personality with a laid-back attitude, a typographic expression of velocity and purpose. They harnessed the script’s frenetic energy and turned it into a system, drawing multiple glyph forms for every letter that could logically combine and connect with another. Then they programmed advanced OpenType features like ligatures and contextual alternates that make the typeface automatically swap out these forms to reinstate the spontaneity and randomness of handwritten words. Magically, as you type, the letters appearing on the screen often make one or more preceding letters change to compose the best possible word shape. If you want to fine-tune the resulting word even more, you can manually pick different glyph forms. Not only does this allow you to alter how words look, but you can also control their length, since the different glyphs for each letter have varying widths. Selecting alternate glyph shapes often affects other letters, too: the smart font will always try to create an optimal combination. Setting type in Duos becomes a fascinating journey on which you can make endless discoveries. And ultimately, you retain complete control over the end result.

The four Duos variants and the tools they reference
Each Duos subfamily references a specific writing tool. Duos Brush and Duos Paint look like they were written with a stylized and a loose paint brush, respectively; Duos Round mimics the line quality of a felt-tip marker; and Duos Sharp recalls the broad-nib pen.

Underware added in- and outstrokes to the character sets. When attaching these strokes to the beginnings and/or ends of words, they mimic the flick of the wrist as the pen lands on the paper or exits a word. These add-ons can also be used to refine the text setting or fill out a line. But perhaps the most unique feature of Duos is the inclusion of polysemic characters, letters containing in-between shapes that can be interpreted in two or more different ways. We all know the feeling of trying to read a note that has been hurriedly scribbled down. Is that an a or an e, or even an o? Duos plays with this ambiguity, turning it into a strength. It allows the writer to introduce multiple readings for certain words, thereby stimulating readers and encouraging them to enter into a dialogue with the text.

Alternate glyphs in Duos
Duos offers several alternates for each letter. Starting a word or sentence with a different glyph for only the initial a has consequences down the line while you type, as evidenced in the pink top half of this illustration. Duos’ artificial intelligence likes to mix it up to keep things interesting. Yet the user retains control over every single glyph, and can customize wordshapes even further by picking and choosing alternates until the desired text image is achieved, as demonstrated in the blue bottom half of the illustration.

Duos not only offers three weights—Light, Regular, and Black—it also comes in four expressive styles related to writing tools. Duos Sharp has square, angular stroke endings, like a broad-nib pen; text in Duos Round looks as if it has been produced with a felt-tip pen. Duos Brush adds fine, detailed artifacts at the stroke endings, much like the hairs on a brush running out of paint. Duos Paint has a brush texture running down the entire length of each stroke and is available only in the Black weight. The additional dingbat font Duos Tools consists of tool icons, strokes, and banners to further spruce up your text.

Polysemic characters offer multiple readings for certain words
Polysemic characters create cryptic words that invite multiple readings.

Use Duos short and big, for catchy titles and attention-grabbing pull quotes, for sharp T-shirts and sassy tote bags. Below its exuberant free spirit hides a quietly humming, intelligent OpenType engine that turns you into a master calligrapher, a leader in ligature flair, and a skillful word sculptor. Let the clever fonts do the work for you, or dive in and control the shape of each word up to the last glyph. Whatever you choose, Duos will lend your words a joyful personality that scintillates on the page or screen.

Different weights of the four Duos variants
Duos Sharp, Round, and Brush come in the three weights Light, Regular, and Black; Duos Paint is only available in Black.

Like all Underware fonts, Duos is available for desktop, web, app, and ePub licensing. Webfonts may be tested free for thirty days. To stay current on all things Underware, subscribe to Type Network News, our occasional email newsletter featuring font releases, foundry happenings, type and design events, and more.

The Type Network staff is overdetermined.