Today's Obsession: TypeDNA

Type management and font pairings, two things I’ve always been particularly bad at, become less of a nightmare with a new concept in type management from a product called TypeDNA. The application is actually a few different applications working in concert:

  1. A scanner, which loads all of your typefaces from your system into the type manager,
  2. A font manager which activates, deactivates, and allows you to compare type choices based upon harmony, contrast or similarity.
  3. Panels which carry all of these actions into your CS5 applications.


The type manager itself is really nice. It’s a streamlined interface which sits atop Adobe Air (which is a way to develop Flash-based applications for use as desktop applications) and lets you sort, activate, and store your typefaces on your system as you would expect.

The new part of this tool comes in its ability to suggest typefaces for a selection. You can pick typefaces based upon similarity, harmonizing characteristics, or a curated option called SmartChoice.

Upon your initial import into TypeDNA, the tool measures fonts in your collection based on predetermined criteria and extends those criteria into your own collection. So no matter your choice, it will be pertinent to your type collection. You can choose to fine-tune typefaces in harmony or SmartChoice for body or headline, body copy, or “mix,” which is a more organic way of comparing typefaces free of their purpose. It will return selections based strictly on the font, not its intended purpose. All in all, it makes for a nice freeform inspirational tool for more concrete selections. You can see this at work here.

The manager also extends elegantly into Adobe’s CS5 applications using panels pulling all of the capability directly into the application, letting you continue working without leaving the application. This concept is akin to browser usage within the iPhone: it’s a pain to leave Twitter or Facebook apps to read something in Safari, so both apps embed a browser inside themselves to make the workflow quicker.

Working in the panels in CS5 apps is a seamless repurposing of the full desktop app in a miniature footprint. The panels sit in your Adobe interface as quietly and unobtrusively as you’d expect any tool to do, and they can send your choices directly into your document from the panel. It’s pretty slick. You can see your typefaces by either single-line choice or panels of body copy clearly set apart from other typefaces.

Of note: I normally use FontExplorerX, so that meant I needed to uninstall that application before installing TypeDNA, and that was awful. I ended up hunting through a system folders, logging out, back in, realizing I’d missed something, then trying again. There’s no easy way to uninstall FontExplorerX, and directions are not included in the package’s installer (what is it about Mac software companies who refuse to show you how to uninstall?). If you decide to try TypeDNA, you’ll run into this, without question. And, to their credit, TypeDNA’s developers have made it easy to uninstall if necessary, via a script that only requires a double-click from the Finder.

If you’re wary of installing a new type manager, go to TypeDNA’s site and spend some time going through their online demo. It’s in Flash, like the standalone app you’ll be installing later if you like it, so the demo is identical to the application. No hidden or unmentioned features. This YouTube video shows you how all this works.

Overall: this is a great type manager. Give it a try, for a free 30-day trial.

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