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Fonts & Encodings by Yannis Haralambous

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Introduction

Homo sapiens is a species that writes. And among the large number of tools used for writing, the most recent and the most complex is the computer—a tool for reading and writing, a medium for storage, and a means of exchanging data, all rolled into one. It has become a veritable space in which the text resides, a space that, as MacLuhan and others correctly predicted, has come to transcend geographic barriers and encompass the entire planet.

Within this digital space for writing, fonts and encodings serve fundamentally different needs. Rather, they form an inseparable duo, like yin and yang, Heaven and Earth, theory and practice. An encoding emerges from the tendency to conceptualize information; it is the result of an abstraction, a construction of the mind. A font is a means of visually representing writing, the result of concrete expression, a graphical construct.

An encoding is a table of characters—a character being an abstract, intangible entity. A font is a container for glyphs, which are images, drawings, physical marks of black ink on a white background. When the reader enters the digital space for writing, he participates in the unending ballet between characters and glyphs: the keys on the keyboard are marked with glyphs; when a key is pressed, a character is transmitted to the system, which, unless the user is entering a password, in turn displays glyphs on the screen. To send an email message is to send characters, but these are displayed to the recipient ...

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