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DNA on 10th — street art, wayfinding and font


Fonts + Design

Snellen Optotype Font with Upper and Lowercase characters

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font. Uppercase, lowercase and symbols to test your eyes. (zoom)
Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font. Uppercase, lowercase and symbols to test your eyes. (zoom)

In the process of designing my Snellen Eye Chart typographical posters, I came across the Snellen font by Andrew Howlett. I wasn't happy with all the letters, so I made attempts at giving the font an update. I call this redesign "Snellen MK", to avoid conflict with Howlett's "Snellen".

Not being a font designer, I will likely get myself into trouble.

snellen chart posters

While making my Snellen chart series, I entered the rabbit hole of optotype fonts ... and I can't get out!


Typographical posters of how the world works in the style of Snellen eye charts
 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca buy artwork
A technically accurate Snellen chart using four genetic bases A T G C rendered as optotypes. The chart begins with the start codon ATG and ends in the stop codon TGA, which appears only once in the chart. Print at 16 in × 24 in. (BUY ARTWORK)

Typographical posters of how the world works in the style of Snellen eye charts
 / Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca buy artwork
A technically accurate Snellen chart using the nautical flag alphabet rendered as optotypes. Print at 16 in × 24 in. (BUY ARTWORK)

The charts don't necessarily use the latest version of my Snellen font design, which fluctuates as my mood about some of the letters changes.

optotype fonts

The optotype requirement is that letters be designed on a 5 × 5 grid, and have constant stroke width. This means that both lower and upper case letters need to share the grid and stroke. To stay compatible with the eyechart paradigm, letters should be as obvious as possible.

Lorrie Frear's article What are Optotypes? Eye Charts in Focus is a great read about optotypes and eye charts.

Snellen Optotype Letter Design

uppercase

The uppercase letter design uses Herman Snellen's original chart as inspiration.

I have modified the design by Andrew Howlett (see below) for some letters. All the changes are relatively minor: more serifs and consistent stroke width for bars on R and K.

lowercase

The lowercase characters should be considered experimental.

The progress of my redesign is shown below. I would greatly appreciate feedback and suggestions!

Download SnellenMK Optotype Font

The distribution contains both Andrew's version and my redesign.

v7.002 11-Jul-2019 — Download SnellenMK optotype font

version v7.002 11-Jul-2019

Tidied all letter forms with Fontlab 6.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Snellen optotype font (version v7.002 11-Jul-2019) that includes both upper and lower case characters, along with most punctuation and some symbols. Based on design by Andrew Howlett. (zoom, download SnellenMK optotype font)

version 7 — 6 Feb 2017

Fixed g and e. Thanks to Makeesha Fisher for suggestions.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Snellen optotype font (mk.v.7). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters as well as digits and symbols. (zoom, download SnellenMK optotype font)

version 6 — 5 Feb 2017

Adjusted serifs on f, j, l, o, t to extend the full width of the grid. Added a lot more symbols.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Snellen optotype font (mk.v.6). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters as well as digits and symbols. (zoom, download SnellenMK optotype font)

version 5 — 4 Feb 2017

Added lowercase, digits and symbols.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Snellen optotype font (mk.v.5). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters as well as digits and symbols. (zoom, download SnellenMK optotype font)

version 4 — 23 Feb 2017

Adding digits.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font (mk.v.4). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters as well as digits. (zoom)

version 3 — 22 Feb 2017

I'm exploring the lowercase characters. I don't know what I want to do with them. Make this into a more standard font in which lowercase letters are smaller, so that letters can fit their roles clearly when text is set in sentence case, or fill out the full optotype grid.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font (mk.v.3). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters. (zoom)

version 2 — 22 Feb 2017

Flushed out some inconsistencies in the uppercase characters. Added serifs to more letters.

Now all the letters occuppy the full 5 × 5 grid, including the I, whose serifs were widened to allow this. While this new uppercase I isn't as pretty as the old one, it makes the entire typeface more consistent to its optotype roots.

Still struggling with the G. In the original version, the descending stroke was cut off in the middle of a grid, which I didn't like.

The S has been fixed—thanks to Elanor Lutz for feedback.

I've color coded the characters slightly differently, drawing attention to ones that I feel need more thought.

The lowercase characters aren't color coded (yet) because ... most of them need help. Primarily, I'm vacillating between making them fill the full size of the 5 × 5 square, just like the uppercase characters, and keeping them confined to a 4 × 4 square, which incurs loss of legibility. If I make the letters the same size, it will be impossible to distinguish lowercase and uppercase characters some cases (e.g. c, i). Perhaps this is desired?

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font (mk.v.2). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters. (zoom)

version 1 — 22 Feb 2017

First attempt at lowercase characters.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
SnellenMK optotype font (mk.v.1). Original design by Andrew Howlett (left) and my redesign (right), which includes both upper and lowercase letters. (zoom, download font)
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news + thoughts

Genome Sciences Center 20th Anniversary Clothing, Music, Drinks and Art

Tue 28-01-2020

Science. Timeliness. Respect.

Read about the design of the clothing, music, drinks and art for the Genome Sciences Center 20th Anniversary Celebration, held on 15 November 2019.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Luke and Mayia wearing limited edition volunteer t-shirts. The pattern reproduces the human genome with chromosomes as spirals. (zoom)

As part of the celebration and with the help of our engineering team, we framed 48 flow cells from the lab.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Precisely engineered frame mounts of flow cells used to sequence genomes in our laboratory. (zoom)

Each flow cell was accompanied by an interpretive plaque explaining the technology behind the flow cell and the sample information and sequence content.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
The plaque at the back of one of the framed Illumina flow cell. This one has sequence from a patient's lymph node diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma. (zoom)

Scientific data visualization: Aesthetic for diagrammatic clarity

Mon 13-01-2020

The scientific process works because all its output is empirically constrained.

My chapter from The Aesthetics of Scientific Data Representation, More than Pretty Pictures, in which I discuss the principles of data visualization and connect them to the concept of "quality" introduced by Robert Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Yearning for the Infinite — Aleph 2

Mon 18-11-2019

Discover Cantor's transfinite numbers through my music video for the Aleph 2 track of Max Cooper's Yearning for the Infinite (album page, event page).

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Yearning for the Infinite, Max Cooper at the Barbican Hall, London. Track Aleph 2. Video by Martin Krzywinski. Photo by Michal Augustini. (more)

I discuss the math behind the video and the system I built to create the video.

Hidden Markov Models

Mon 18-11-2019

Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.
—Rene Magritte

A Hidden Markov Model extends a Markov chain to have hidden states. Hidden states are used to model aspects of the system that cannot be directly observed and themselves form a Markov chain and each state may emit one or more observed values.

Hidden states in HMMs do not have to have meaning—they can be used to account for measurement errors, compress multi-modal observational data, or to detect unobservable events.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Nature Methods Points of Significance column: Hidden Markov Models. (read)

In this column, we extend the cell growth model from our Markov Chain column to include two hidden states: normal and sedentary.

We show how to calculate forward probabilities that can predict the most likely path through the HMM given an observed sequence.

Grewal, J., Krzywinski, M. & Altman, N. (2019) Points of significance: Hidden Markov Models. Nature Methods 16:795–796.

Background reading

Altman, N. & Krzywinski, M. (2019) Points of significance: Markov Chains. Nature Methods 16:663–664.

Hola Mundo Cover

Sat 21-09-2019

My cover design for Hola Mundo by Hannah Fry. Published by Blackie Books.

Martin Krzywinski @MKrzywinski mkweb.bcgsc.ca
Hola Mundo by Hannah Fry. Cover design is based on my 2013 `\pi` day art. (read)

Curious how the design was created? Read the full details.