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Made In Canada: BlackBerry 10 Uses Slate for Interface

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The recent highly publicized launch of the new BlackBerry 10 smartphones has put Canada front and centre on the world stage, and even managed to generate an outpouring of national pride at home. And for Canadian graphic designers there is another component of the new phone that merits a little extra attention. The typeface used throughout the new BlackBerry interface and hardware is the work of award winning Canadian type designer Rod McDonald FGDC. Slate was originally designed in 2008 and McDonald spent countless hours in his Halifax studio shaping individual characters for maximum legibility on screen – without sacrificing overall style. Following the adage that typefaces are read by people, not machines, his goal was to develop a typeface that did not have the ‘mechanical’ look so often associated with screen faces. Slate is classified as a humanist sans serif. It is warm and inviting to read and communicates in a clear and relaxed manner. It has an openness that, combined with distinctive forms in varying proportions, helps prevent confusion when reading. That is especially important on screens where motion can often be a big obstacle to reading. The careful spacing between characters also aids in communicating information quickly and ergonomically. In adapting Slate for the new BlackBerry 10 operating system and smartphones, the BlackBerry design team worked closely with Steve Matteson, creative type director at Monotype. He started with the Slate Pro version and expanded the basic character set to support international multi-language requirements. Matteson also added Greek, Cyrillic, Vietnamese and phonetic characters. Other languages are being worked on for future releases. In addition a custom ultra-light weight version of the font was developed specifically for the clock application.

Slate is even being used on the iconic BlackBerry keyboard, the BlackBerry Q10 smartphone, as well as on the new BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen keyboard. BlackBerry took lessons learned from creating a world-class keyboard and brought those lessons to the touchscreen keyboard: such as the use of frets between the keys and the use of the white Slate type on a black background. The Slate font is also used in the BlackBerry Z10 smartphone and BlackBerry Q10 smartphone advertisements for a seamless experience.

BlackBerry Vice President of User Experience Design, Don Lindsay said “Slate was the perfect choice as it could serve not only the needs of the BlackBerry 10 on-screen experience, but also extend to our physical keyboard keycaps, our advertising and internal communications. It is a versatile typeface that when used in all of these mediums, reinforces the ideals of the BlackBerry 10 brand values. Monotype has been a wonderfully supportive partner in this process by understanding our specific needs for the font and crafting elegant solutions.”

When asked how he felt about seeing Slate on the BlackBerry, McDonald said he was very proud that a major Canadian company would choose a Canadian typeface. But what he was most pleased about was that BlackBerry “got it”. “They really understand the kind of typeface Slate is, and that is one of the most gratifying things that can happen to a designer”.

This article was originally posted in the Society of Graphic Designers Atlantic eNews.