I heart type, type hearts you

Interactive LED installation

In the fall of 2017, I was commissioned to design a conference booth for Type Network, a company that creates, licenses and distributes type and type technology. A major component of the booth was a light-up sign that would draw visitors to the booth and hopefully inspire an ‘instagrammable moment’.

The sign featured Bitcount, a typeface designed by Petr Van Blokland, released earlier that year. Bitcount’s design is based on a grid of imaginary pixels (in homage to earlier, cruder days of type) and offers the potential for extreme layering with different styles and shapes due to the consistency and harmony of this grid.

For the sign I worked with three styles of Bitcount: small dots (represented by Adafruit’s ‘Flora’ Neopixels), large overlapping circles (mezzanine layer) and medium squares (frosted diffusers). The phrase “I (heart) type” is a slogan used by Type Network in previous marketing campaigns. The Bitcount heart glyph was a recent custom addition to the typeface designed for this purpose.

All 116 LEDs were hand-soldered to a power grid I designed consisting of bare copper wire and stranded wire connecting the different letters. Four power supplies were used throughout the line to make sure all lights had sufficient power.

The LEDs are driven by an Arduino Zero, which is robust enough to both drive the pixels and communicate with an IR camera. Although quite tedious to build, the concept of the program is simple: the picture read by the camera is reproduced on the pixels of the sign. I recruited some help with interpolating the data from the 8x8-pixel camera to 23x23, the theoretical size of the sign.

The sign was presented at AIGA 2017 in Minneapolis and then went on to be shown at Adobe MAX 2017 in Las Vegas.

'I heart type' sign

Above:The sign is running the Neopixel sample script, which consists of various iterations of mesmerizing fading rainbows and light chases.

Troubleshooting the data line Detail

Top: An oscilloscope was necessary to troubleshoot a finicky data line. Bottom: Detail showing construction consisting of a mirrored acrylic back plate, LEDs and wires, clear acrylic mezzanine layer and frosted acrylic diffusers. Letters are attached to a fabric-covered wooden panel via adhesive hook-and-loop strips.

Special thanks

Further reading

Next project: Light-up awards