Bic—internationally renowned maker of ballpoint pens, lighters, and razors—has a fantastic record for imaginative self-promotion. Their latest project is the Universal Typeface Experiment, a collaborative Web project designed to find the average letter shapes drawn by the human hand.
The innovative microsite asks you to contribute by visiting with your mobile device, the touchscreen of which you'll use to draw characters, then it connects the browser on your device to the browser on your desktop. You’ll draw each letter of the alphabet on your mobile device, all of which will be submitted to Bic’s database.
Once you’ve submitted your characters, Bic’s application will combine the strokes, with strokes submitted by everyone else, and average them into what they're calling a Universal Typeface.
What is so fascinating about the experiment is the quality of some of the characters produced: the ’S’ leans to the right, but the spine is elegant; the angle at which the bowl on the ‘P’ meets the main stem is delightful.
The most interesting characters are those that are known to have several accepted forms. For example, is there a horizontal stroke on top of a ‘J’? Is an ‘I’ constructed from a single stroke or three? Is a ‘Y’s main stroke vertical or diagonal?
When a character is selected, you can choose to examine it based on age, handedness, country, gender or industry. It’s in the latter category that you’ll find the most interest: take a look at the letter ‘E’, every industry except craft and service agree that the upper stroke on the ‘E’ crosses the stem—craft and service industries average this out into a curve. Psychologists interested in handwriting will have a whale of a time with this site.
Bic’s Universal Typeface Experiment is a really notable, and exciting idea for promoting a brand product. It teaches us that selling a product with the Web, doesn’t have to mean discount codes on a Facebook page.
Ben Moss has designed and coded work for award-winning startups, and global names including IBM, UBS, and the FBI. When he’s not in front of a screen he’s probably out trail-running.