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159: Barlow: An Incomplete History of Type

Updated: Nov 22, 2023



Name: Barlow

Release Date: 2007

Designer: Jeremy Tribby

Classification: San-Serif

Owned By: Google Font free licensed font

Claim to Fame: The typeface that was named in honour of internet pioneer and activist, John Perry Barlow



From the Middle Ages to the Middle East, from Futura to Freight. Join me on a journey across the type universe and go where no designer has gone before. Welcome to an incomplete history of type. The feature typeface of this episode is Barlow.


Born October 3rd, 1947 in Cora, Wyoming. John Perry Barlow was an American poet, activist, songwriter, cattle rancher, and co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation or EFF for short.


Let's take a look at who exactly John Perry Barlow was and how the modern San-serif typeface was named after him. He grew up on his family's cattle ranch in Wyoming, and later attended school in Colorado where he befriended Bob Ware, who would be the future guitarist for Grateful Dead.


After completing his degree in Comparative Religion, Barlow began writing lyrics for Grateful Dead. In the late 1980s, Barlow began using the internet as a frequent poster on the well, an online community. He eventually started taking interest and posting about the US Secret Services series of raids that were intended to combat computer hacking, believing that people's constitutional rights were being violated.


Barlow together with Mitch Kaur and John Gilmore founded the EFF. The EFF provided legal aid for a number of cases involving music, copyright, trademark law, and anonymity relating to cyberspace. In 1996, the Communications Decency Act attempted to place prohibitions on internet speech, which prompted Barlow to write a declaration of the independence of cyberspace. In which he argued that cyberspace should be freed from outdated notions of property expression and identity.


In 2007, engineer and designer for EFF Jeremy Tribby and artistic director Hugh Dondre, realized they shared an attraction for the fonts inspired by DIN engschrift. Together. They recognized that there were no good open source versions available and after stumbling upon the engschrift grid online, Tribby manually sketched what would be the beginnings of Barlow, a font named after the co-founder of EFF as a tribute to his lasting impact on his life's work created in San Francisco, California.


The modern sans serif is optimal for readability over long distances and draws inspiration from the visual style of California public sharing qualities with the state's car plates, highway signs, buses, and trains. Barlow is visually slightly rounded and low contrast, and is a part of the grotesque font Super family. It embodies a geometric design that is intended for efficiency and speed of reading. Barlow is a part of the Google fonts free licensed font, familiars and APIs for use with CSS and Android, which is licensed under the open font license and can be used for products and projects, whether it be print, digital, commercial, or other. The typeface comes in standard, semi condensed, and condensed in addition to nine different weights. It is also adapted in italics and all widths and weights for a total of 54 styles. After doing some research, I found that Google Fonts provides real time statistics on the usages of Barlow, including that it has been used over 704 million times over the last week. It's featured on more than 750,000 websites, and the top countries that use this font are the USA, South Africa, and Turkey.


In 2018, Barlow sadly passed away, leaving a lasting legacy in that he devoted his life to making the internet into “a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice. Accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth, a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs. No matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity


After learning about John Perry Barlow's life and the impact he made on cybersecurity, I understand why Tribby named this font after him. I personally love using Barlow in my artwork when applicable and feel that it brings a certain modern vibe to any paper or creation. It is easy to read and not to shade Arial or Times New Roman, but I prefer using Barlow over them for this reason. I always knew each font had a story, but actually researching and understanding the decisions behind each curve makes you feel a real connection to it. I hope you were able to learn more about the Barlow typeface and the inspiring story behind its name.


Thank you for listening to this episode of an Incomplete History of Type. See you next time.






About Our Guest:

Vittoria is a recent graduate from Toronto Metropolitan University's Graphic Communications Management program, specializing in inclusive packaging design. She is passionate about creating innovative designs while fostering collaboration with diverse professionals. She enjoys traveling and exploring different cultures to help further enrich her work and broaden her design perspective.




Music (public domain): TRG Banks - Above the Earth


Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle


Boat Origami Photo: Boat Origami Photo by Alex on Unsplash

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