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Pen brand Bic is supporting the creation of the Universal Typeface - a synthesis of handwriting styles - to mark its manufacture of more than 100 billion Bic Cristal ballpoints.

The Bic Cristal is the best selling pen ever, according to company officials, and the idea is to go from the 'universal pen' to the Universal Typeface by collecting samples of handwriting from around the world and then transforming the data into a digital font.

The Universal Typeface site features an interesting technology that allows contributors to run the session from a desktop or notebook computer, while using a mobile device as a touchpad for entering the characters.

Some basic demographic information is collected (eg, approximate age, sex, country), and in addition to comparing the individual's lettering with the current average, the site also allows exploration of the similarities and differences with other groups.

The Universal Typeface project is a collaboration between advertising agency DDB and digital production company MediaMonks.

DDB Dusseldorf creative director Jan Propach said "Our handwriting is one of our most personal possessions.

"With BIC having produced one of the most universal writing tools and billions of people using their product, the primary question was: what then, would the world's universal handwriting look like?

"This experiment allows us to explore that and celebrate the pen we all know and use."

MediaMonks international project director Joris Pol said "In order to determine the Universal Typeface that best represents all submissions, and for the typeface to be legible, MediaMonks developed an elaborate algorithm that underpins the digital experiment.

"The opportunity for our design and development teams to unify creativity and technology within this project by bridging the analogue and digital writing worlds has been a true honour."

The current iteration of the Universal Typeface is quite scrappy, and looks more like a font designed to mimic a child's handwriting.

The first version of the Universal Typeface will be released in August.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences, a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies, and is a senior member of the Australian Computer Society.

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