As someone who is passionate about fonts, I realize that not everyone shares my passion. However, I believe that anyone who cares about typography will be interested in the announcements made by Google on Thursday. Roboto is a Google product. Google is now introducing Roboto Flex. It’s a modified version of Google’s famous font that you can customize in a variety of ways. There is no trickery involved — I am not altering a raster image using Photoshop or any other program. You can change the font size and everything you see is already in the font.
You can combine as many or as few of these changes as your heart desires. (If you’ve just said “no” on your computer screen, I give you permission to leave right now. This is going to get more interesting for you.
Roboto Flex is a variable font. This means that you don’t need to manually load different files to change its weight, slant or other variables. Flex is more than the basic changes. Google claims that there are 12 ways to tweak it. These include changing its stroke thickness and width, as well as the heights and heights of ascending or descending stems (like those found on the letters “d”, “p” and “p” respectively).
This font is identical. Image: Google
These fonts have been around for some time — even Roboto Flex was in development for about a year. But it’s great to see that Google is making it freely available to anyone who wants to use it.
Roboto Flex also offers a few interesting features that go beyond making it look cool. Google claims that it has done a lot of balancing in the font to ensure it looks right at certain sizes. This means that text will appear properly bolded or thin, regardless of whether it takes up an entire page or is a tiny footnote. Google’s announcement also explains how Font Bureau, a font design studio, made sure that every detail was correct. The percent symbol’s circles are proportionally the same size as the number 0. This is some serious font geekery, and I love it.
This means that designers can have a lot more control over the appearance of their text without having to do much work (assuming that the application supports variable fonts). It’s great for web designers who need a standard-looking font they can adjust to make their headings and titles stand apart from the rest of text on the page. It’s also easy to add the Google Font to your website with just a few lines of code.
It’s simple to import Roboto Flex to use for your website (though it would take someone more advanced than me to navigate these settings). Plus… I couldn’t help thinking about all the fun UI stuff you could do if this was the font on, say, a foldable phone. You know, the one Google is supposedly working on. Visual tricks such as the font stretching when you open your phone, or text that remains the same size regardless of whether you switch from the smaller front screen to the larger inner screen are easy to imagine. This type of thing is much easier to implement if your font is flexible. It would also be fun to see in practice (and Google’s all for fun in Android right now).
This isn’t the only font Google has made recently. It also announced a seriffed Roboto font, which would be considered heresy if the font didn’t look great. It’s not alone in playing with variable fonts. Apple’s SF Pro font, which is used on almost all of its devices, supports variable optical size and Microsoft’s Cascadia Code font supports variable weights.