Martin Grasser wants to rid the Internet of words. Maybe it's not a bad idea.
It’s been the perfect morning. I wake up, make a pot of coffee, open my web browser and see, instead of Google’s usual search screen that has become as exciting as the buttons inside an elevator, this: beautiful, colored dots (above).
The dots have no meaning—but we usually interact with Google interfaces by rote now anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.
It’s as if a wizard (or the inventor of some new George Clinton-themed HTML candy drops) has waved a magic wand over the search screen and transformed it into the spherical keys of some gorgeous, multi-colored joy synthesizer.
If only. It’s actually a Firefox extension called Color Dot. The extension, developed by San Francisco-based artist Martin Grasser, converts letterforms that are normally rendered in Google’s go-to search font, Arial, into his own open type font, Color Dot. All those happy color drops you see are actually glyphs, i.e. letters and letterforms.
Can we please make them stay? No more World of Warcraft web copy. No more 4chan. No more beauty, dog or fitness blogs. No more Facebook posts celebrating your “fifth year of marriage to the man of my dreams” or your delicious baby abalone dinner in the Turks and Caicos.
No more Twitter. (Grasser actually designed the Twitter logo). Can we do the same thing with video? Can we turn the Paul Brothers into a single multi-colored dot with no voice or hair?
The idea of drawing attention to functions and design that we use so often we take them for granted is a brilliant and eye-opening one. We need more of this in every aspect of our lives.
Because, yes, we’re so familiar with Google UI, we can search or log in to Google in Swahili or Cantonese. The words have more or less become icons, or worse, typographic filler. What they mean is no longer conveyed by the letterforms or by language.
Even better, a project like Grasser’s draws attention to the fact that we ingest so much copy daily that much of it might as well be colored dots. We simply don’t read it or interact with it. At least with Grasser’s browser extension, the forms mean something, if only for as long as you stare at and enjoy them.
Being sucked into one of Grasser’s kaleidoscopic Color Dot-filtered web pages reminds me a lot of Christo’s projects from the 90s, when Christo and his wife Jean-Claude would drape familiar landmarks around the world (buildings, bridges, whole coastlines, etc.) with colorful fabrics.
What might have seemed the height of postmodern pretentiousness was actually a brilliant way of making us re-see the familiar and interact with spaces we never really paid attention to. After Christo wrapped an object up, it would never be boring again.
Can we say the same thing for Color Dot?
Cleansing the web of words for a while is great because, like Christo wrapping up the Reichstag in Berlin, when we take away the filter, we see the words differently. For a few seconds or minutes, we don’t take the letters for granted.
For web writers, the Color Dot project might also be a long overdue wake-up call. If its playful colored glyphs say anything to us, it’s that we need to take more care with the copy we do let loose onto the web. Less force-feeding would be great. More attention to words and ideas. More editing. More conversation before we hit publish.
And, of course, more care with the way we present our writing: better body fonts, more conscientious typographic choices, and layouts that tell better stories.
If we do make those efforts, the next time we use and remove Grasser’s Color Dot extension, we may be a lot happier with what we see.
When Max Sheridan isn't clogging up the Internet with words, he designs comeback campaigns for Nicolas Cage. (What, you don't think he needs a comeback campaign?) His second novel Hubble is coming fall 2020 from Run Amok Books. Talk to Max at your own risk here.