Laurent Spaggiari tells us the story behind his ignite talk "B612 Polarsys font".
I have serious reason to believe that the planet from which the Little Prince came is the asteroid known as B-612."
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Various studies have been conducted to assess the quality of displays on Airbus equipment including the A380, A400M and A350. The general conclusion was that the displays could be improved in terms of readability (detecting and/or reducing risk of error) and of reading comfort. In addition, if you included the screen used to display pilot/maintenance documentation, the cockpit was not homogenous due to the multiple fonts used.
In the context of a research project, the "Human Factors" team conducted a study with the aim of developing a type font that would provide improved readability and reading comfort.
We had previously conducted research in this area that helped us in the current research. We had the following work to draw on:
- A description of the state of the art of reading and the effects of variables like screens positions, orientation, resolution, light ambiance, size and shape of displayed characters, etc.
- A technical analysis of some type fonts used in literature as well as in the A380's cockpit
- An analysis of needs in terms of the pilots' tasks, through observations and discussions in simulators as well as during commercial flights.
This allowed us to define usability criteria and recommendations for the design of this type font. After exploring different technical and typographical solutions answering to those criteria, a paper prototype was created and then digitized in order to obtain a first set of characters.
After a series of iterative evaluations in the laboratory, an optimized version was tested in a representative environment (airplane simulator) in order to confirm the experimental results: our prototype was more readable and comfortable than the current font on our airplane screens.
After the initial design, the font we obtained was handed over to typographers. They completed the font and all its variants (bold, italic, fixed width, ...), following professional practices and respecting the agreed upon recommendations and criteria.
This type font, available in a proportional or fixed width format, provides regular, bold and italic variants. It is composed of 587 typographic symbols (alphanumeric characters, punctuation marks, accents, pictograms, etc.). It meets currently identified needs in terms of cockpit display, and also cabin display, including documentation. As it is available in open source, the font allows, for instance, other airline companies wishing to adopt it for their documentation, procedures, etc. to use it free of charge. Since 2013, this font has been used in the design of HMI by the R&D community inside Airbus.