Say No To Tofu

Monotype develops Google Notu, a typeface in 800 languages

Ever stumble across a foreign website and see ▯▯▯▯▯▯▯▯▯ where text should be? Those little rectangles are colloquially known as “tofu”, little replacement glyphs for letters and other characters that might not be on your system or device. A minor inconvenience for most, but a major headache if your business is pretty much synonymous with the internet.

Google is one such entity, and when the digital giant decided it wanted to rid the world of “tofu”, it turned to our friends over at Monotype to develop a typographic family that would make every single character in more than 800 languages from around the world visible and accessible to all. The resulting typeface — five years in the making — is Google Noto, short for “no to tofu.”

More than simply being able to read Urdu on your mobile device, the Google Noto project aims to help preserve dozens of rare and “dead” languages, some of which have never been represented digitally before. Extensive research into the nuances of various writing systems was a must, including working with authorities on various languages. This meant everything from consulting with monks on Tibetan calligraphy to teaming with Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry, inventors of Adlam, a relatively new written form of the Fulani language of West Africa.

Google Noto is an open source project, and its fonts and typefaces are free to all.