Chartwell font turns numbers into graphs

FF Chartwell, designed by Travis Kochel, is a typeface that represents sequences of numbers graphically.

Driven by the frustration of creating graphs within design applications (primarily Adobe Creative Suite) and inspired by typefaces such as FF Beowolf and ­­FF PicLig, Travis saw an opportunity to take advantage of OpenType technology to simplify the process.

Before the True/OpenType era, Beowolf used postscript hacks to render slightly differently every time, creating a uniquely convincing aged effect; PicLig is a pixel font which uses OpenType ligatures to turn certain character pairs into useful symbols.

Chartwell is a more ambitious project than either, and comes in 7 different "weights", each producing a different kind of graph. $130 for the lot, they're $25 each if, say, you only like pies. A web version is under development.

Introducing FF Chartwell [via DF]


  1. What an awesome project! 
    I have to agree, Adobe really neglects Illustrator (and it’s users!) compared to the rest of the Suite.

  2. This looks like clean and very light-weight output.  As far as I can tell, however, the graphs and charts only support whole numbers (at least, none of their examples show floats), so to use this for anything but a simplified display may require some transformations of your source data.  Also, there is no facility for axes labeling, so you’d have to do that separately, I suppose.

    1. If so, you could maybe just use javascript to multiply the numbers until they’re all integers and the font renders properly. That way the source data can stay clean in the post/database/whatever.

      1. “use javascript to multiply the numbers until they’re all integers”

        Oh, Rob.


        Haven’t had the chance to use it yet but this is a brilliant (and lightweight) way to display charts on the web.  Although I stumbled across it a little while back I’m greatful for the reminder that it exists.

        Also check out FontAwesome for icons.  Not just quick, easy and light, but also because it’s a font it displays perfectly on retina (or any other DPI) screen – unlike the hassle you need to go to with images.


          1. Granted, but if that’s typical of an expected set then this will:

            Removed code because it wasn't playing nice with Disqus

            You’d still be using Math.round() somewhere in there :)  All I meant was that you wouldn’t want to do some crazy maths to get all the numbers to whole numbers whilst remaining proportional.  Although now I think about it that’s probably not what Rob meant.  It’s been a long day.

  3. I like the idea but I don’t see how it solves the problem of Adobe programs not being good at charting. It seems like Excel offers more flexibility, but of course like all Microsoft products the results are pretty darn ugly even with thoughtful tweaking. 


    It’s a cool idea but the font doesn’t really work. You cannot use decimal places in your data—you only get to use whole numbers, and in some cases, only the numbers between 1 and 100. 

    For example, what if I have three numbers to chart, 605, 697, and 23,105? Chartwell couldn’t pull that off. Even if I go through all the manual work of dividing by the lowest common denominators to get the numbers within the range of 1-100, It still would be unable to accurately convey the real proportions between the numbers, as it uses only integers. (I’m not even sure it would handle negative numbers.) 

    My agency got SUPER excited about it until we realized that it was unusable in real world data applications.

    1. I think that it’s fine in the majority of situations.  You don’t need to do any fancy maths, just convert the data to percentages and round off.  Sure it won’t be super accurate, but I’d be surprised if anyone could measure a .2 difference in a pie chart with their eyes (or even a protractor) :)

      Admittedly the work flow would probably be a lot smoother on the web, at least with regard to the maths, as it could be properly automated.

      1. Using the rounding method, 6.4 and 5.5% wind up being the same number.

        I work in pharmaceutical marketing. Accuracy matters. If I can’t accurately portray the .9% difference between two numbers, my client will get sued by the FDA.

        1. It’s a matter of normalizing or scaling your data for visual representation. On a chart, at what size/resolution would you even see a distinct difference between 6.4% and 5.5%? It looks like Chartwell is set up for a whole number scale of 0 to 100. Map your min to 0, your max to 100, scale the numbers in between accordingly, and visually, you should have the distinction you’re looking for.

    2. Limited real world applications I guess – still an innovative concept. Maybe if Adobe would consider making improvements to Illustrator (no really!) people wouldn’t even attempt projects like this one.

  5. This seems like a tech demo for OpenType. I cringe in anticipation of inaccurate graphs propagating throughout the industry. This is an awful development.

    It’s been years since I worked with graphs in graphic design, but I had great luck pasting Excel graphs into (then) Macromedia Flash in Windows, using the break apart feature, and being left with a fully editable vector graph. OLE is/was remarkably flexible.

  6. Well, who is this for then? Who are these people who want beautiful, inaccurate charts that you have no ability to modify? 

    1. You can modify them just fine. Open the story editor, change the numbers. In Indesign, at least. These are for magazine and newspaper designers, infographic makers, corporate report designers, and, well, most of us in this industry.

      I love the fact that my graphs and charts, using Chartwell, can now be dynamic: the linked Excel documents and other data sources and OPML etc pipe numbers into Indesign, and the Chartwell-set data shows up in beautiful, colorful graphs. Voila!

      1. I am a technical writer and I do a lot of graphic design in my work, so I am still not getting this. As a designer, if I wanted to modify a chart, I’d want to be able to change the color, change the shading, adjust the fonts on the text, etc. Can you do that with this? I’m still not understanding what this can do that the Excel charting feature doesn’t do – seems like you have more control over the design in Excel.

        I don’t use many charts but I know how horrible the table features are in a lot of design programs; I used to do all my table design work in Excel and import it into whatever layout program I was using because it was just so much easier to work with. Lately I’m not doing many tables.

  7. Not only was Beowolf pre-TrueType and pre-OpenType, it was a PostScript Type 3 font. The randomization functions couldn’t be written into a Type 1 font, because the outlines in Type 1 are pre-rendered to an extent. Type 3 could still be used as an interpreted scripting language, so things like randomization, shading, fill patterns, gradations, etc, could be included in a font.

    I always wanted to do something similar to Beowolf, back in my PostScript hacking days, randomizing the handles of bezier curves within a pre-specified range to allow for variation.

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