These Two Guys Want to Turn The Entire Planet Into a Typeface

By Alissa Walker on at

Last we checked in with Benedikt Groß and Joey Lee, the designer and geographer had just finished counting the number of pools in LA (43,123). Now the duo hope to bring their somewhat-insane methodology to a similarly perplexing challenge: how do we find all the buildings on the planet that look like letters from the air?

Aerial Bold would be a brand-new typeface made from the best possible buildings-as-letterforms on the planet, as well as a dataset including all the buildings-as-letterforms on the entire Earth. And the project would be designed and built using some exceptionally creative data-mining techniques, all of which they plan to make free and open-source for other researchers. Also, their Kickstarter video is very funny.

You'll remember Groß and Lee's project The Big Atlas of LA Pools, which turned into a 74-volume book featuring information and photos about every pool in Los Angeles. I wrote about their data-collecting process, an ambitious hodgepodge of satellite mapping, Mechanical Turk, clipping farms in India that took a year.

Aerial Bold is even, um, bolder, according to Lee, mostly because a big part of this project is making all the data public. "After the feedback from the Atlas we had a growing realisation that normal people — artists, designers, citizen scientists — increasingly wanted to have ways to find features in aerial imagery", he says. "We thought, why not do something to explicitly show the process of making your own data, and on a large scale with open source tools?"

These Two Guys Want to Turn The Entire Planet Into a Typeface

Satellite imagery overlaid with OpenStreetMap vector-based data. What letters do you see?

As in the Atlas, Groß and Lee have published a detailed workflow that shows how they'll gather and hone the data. To find ABCs of the world they'll use the impressive open source map OpenStreetMap, not Google or Bing, because OSM is vector-based, not image-based, allowing them to search and isolate the letterforms they're looking for more efficiently.

But eventually they'll need satellite imagery to picture the actual buildings, which is an issue because Google and Microsoft do not legally permit data-mining from their maps. They're hoping to get special permission for the project, but they also have backups like the aerial imagery created by the USGS. They'd just have to find similarly high quality images in other countries, which would be a lot more time-consuming. Hopefully a partner like Google pulls through.

These Two Guys Want to Turn The Entire Planet Into a Typeface

Sample letterforms with geotagged locations, so each letter could also be plotted on a map

While we've seen other hypothetical typefaces cobbled together from Google Maps imagery, Aerial Bold is notable because all the letterforms—again, every letter-building on the planet—will be geotagged to a specific location. And since they're opening up the dataset, they're hoping to see some geographically specific mashups of the content.

"The opportunity is available for the typography and design nerds to create Aerial Bold/Spain or Aerial Bold/LA," says Lee. "This would be a nice regionalisation of the typeface and a cool evolution to the project." You can support the project via their Kickstarter campaign, which launched today. [Aerial Bold]