100 Billion Pens Later, BIC Develops a Universal Typeface

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BIC, the maker of pens and enabler of oral fixations, recently launched the Universal Typeface Experiment.

The website prompts visitors to draw the letters of the English alphabet in order to develop a “collective handwriting.” Basic demographics (age, industry, handedness, etc) are also collected, with over 427,000 characters aggregated and catalogued so far.

There’s certainly a difference between my handwriting and how I scratch out a letter on my iPhone, so the results seem a bit dubious at best. But there is still the promise to reveal how demographics letter differently. And as the inspiring website intro screen suggests, while our handwriting might be personal, maybe “U” and “I” aren’t so different after all. If you’re really interested in handwriting, read Philip Hensher’s The Disappearing Ink.

handwriting

When I first visited, the most striking result I saw was that the “traffic” industry apparently made “X” as two outward-facing and disconnected curved lines, looking less like a letter and more like a parenthetical so long it had circumscribed the globe and returned to its starting point, i.e. )(. But now it’s averaged out and normalized. There is, however, no explanation as to whether traffic workers are smugglers, truck drivers, or bloggers.

So BIC’s experiment may not be revelatory. But it seems that isn’t the point. Unsurprisingly, it’s a marketing campaign to celebrate its new Cristal pen that doubles as a stylus. According to BIC, 100 billion Cristal pens have been produced. “In fact this is the best selling pen ever it can truly be called the universal pen. [SIC]” Hopefully they’ll be selling a version that doubles as a red pen.

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