“The only limitations are in our expectations.” Those words were said by Just van Rossum, co-creator of the typeface Beowolf along with Erik Van Blockland. Beowolf was created in 1989, and designed for digital screens. Its point of difference was its randomized programming, which meant that every letter had a slightly different outline and there was no detailed uniformity.

The name of the typeface itself drew inspiration from the famous English poem “Beowulf”. There is only one manuscript of Beowulf left, and that is approximately a thousand years old. Despite this, the story contains sufficient influences to lead historians to believe that “Beowulf” was orally handed down over many generations, being embellished and modified as it went. The story has inspired many variations, interpretations and references to different traditions and time periods, but the bare bones remain the same. In the same way, Beowolf looked different every time it was printed on a page, but the basic letterforms were similar enough to distinguish that is was all clearly one typeface.

It created both delight at its ingenuity and disgust as its rejection of traditional typographical values. Its popularity rose and fell, finally resolving into a well respected typeface representing an important period in the history of typography. I have written and created a double page spread briefly outline the history of the typeface and have created an illustration exploring the idea of randomised outlines, and how these vary from smooth and straight to jagged and barely legible.

 

Note: You can find out more about Beowolf here and visit the creator’s blog here.