Ben Mitchell's typo blog charting the excitement, activities and challenges of my 12 months' studying the MA in Typeface Design at Reading University.

Now with occasional ramblings about type-related things I find interesting.

Opinions are all my own.

David Březina () came to visit us last week, to talk through his career in type design and his award-winning, multi-script foundry, Rosetta, to critique our typefaces, and to ask us an impossible question. What he wanted to know was how we plan to create original work in our typeface design careers over the next ten years. A ten-year plan is not something I’d naturally sit down and think about, so it certainly struck me as an intriguing question. How on earth can I set about planning my long-term creativity? It was the kind of meta question that demands you take several steps back from the process itself and consider how one approaches one’s approach.

David suggested one way to respond to this question might be to map the design space in which to plot typefaces, and use this to identify areas that have not yet been exploited. Maps have always seemed useful, so I started to sketch out how I personally categorise designs. It turns out that I judge typefaces based on two axes, which seem to run from functional/sober to artistic/characterful and from humanist/calligraphic to constructed/experimental.

However, I quickly realised that there are two aspects to a typeface: its form and its styling. These aspects may need to be categorised separately — for example Gill Sans Shadowed has rather restrained and conventional forms, but more eccentric, trendy styling. This may mean typefaces need to be classified twice, once according to their form, and once for their styling.

I plotted a few typefaces to see if the map would work:

This sort of thing is hugely subjective, but could be useful in talking to clients, especially if illustrated with example typefaces. I suspect it could be useful in finding contrasting typefaces that work together nicely.

From this map, I wondered if everybody isn’t trying to achieve the same goals in type design: the design space in the middle of the chart should be some sort of sweet spot where ‘perfect’ tension arises through the interplay of conventionality and playful creativity. Nobody generally wants a bland or cold typeface, but neither do they want a wacky, overstated thing that won’t stop shouting. Therefore the best way to create original work is to avoid the crowded space where everything blends together. One option might be to think about balance rather than blending. Somehow the idea of yin and yang popped into my head, where the black contains a spot of white and the white has a spot of black. Why not let’s try and apply this to design? Instead of blending the opposites, draw on them both but keep their characteristics distinct. I’m sure some interesting possibilities lie that way.

There could be some other approaches that promote originality. Originality seems to stem from individuals creating work that is truly personal. FontLab’s bezier wrangling interface results in certain kinds of curves, but sketching with pencil and paper produces shapes of a different quality. So it follows that using a range of different tools (and I include different software in my definition of ‘tools’) will result in more personal outputs.

It seems also to make sense to study a range of different typefaces to see how others have solved certain problems, and broaden our repertoire of what constitutes ‘acceptable’ or ‘conventional’; also, to plot new areas on the map. Reading about type allows deeper, theoretical or historical concepts to inform our choices.

Lastly, typefaces solve problems, so seeking new problems is very likely to lead to original ideas.

Following David’s stay, we were delighted to welcome Reading alumnus Paul Barnes (@paulobarnesi) from independent foundry Commercial Type to talk about his approach to type. Paul emphasised the way originality can be grounded in a sensitive appraisal of historical sources. His main interest lies in 19th century British typefaces in the ilk of Baskerville, but his expertise also includes European influences going back to the 17th century. He finds original ideas evolve, interestingly, from being faithful to traditional letterforms, perhaps treating them in new ways stylistically. For example, his typeface developed for the National Trust took traditional English letterforms from the 17th century, converted it to a sans-serif design and applied Optima-style modulation:

Paul’s typeface experiment, Marian epitomises this approach: he took a selection of typefaces that represent different historical eras, and wondered what they would look like if stripped down to their barest form. He rigorously consulted thousands of sources to develop a very well rounded judgment of the typefaces’ inherent characteristics, and then drew their strokes in the thinnest hairlines. The result is an unexpectedly elegant family of display faces and I’m looking forward to seeing how graphic designers treat and use it.

Originality in typeface design, then, is personal to each of us, so we shouldn’t aim to be prescriptive. It is somehow linked to inspiration, and to a full understanding of historic context and precedents. It can be offering a new take on a well-loved model, or it can be driven by a synthetic exploration of concepts. It’s been a fascinating start to our final term, and the meta-thinking will serve as a continual, quiet reminder to produce better informed work.

With thanks to David and Paul for their generosity and encouragement.

Posted at 12:07am and tagged with: originality, typeface, design, type design, MATD, Reading, Paul Barnes, David Brezina,.

The year has flown past at an alarming speed — not that it’s over yet, but as our project deadlines are in June, it feels like we’re very much in the final stretch. After our fantastic field trip to Antwerp, Amsterdam, the Hague, Haarlem and Bussum, the Easter break gave us some much needed breathing room to get down to some serious business with FontLab.

My serif face now has the complete character set (aside from Thai, which I’ve started but am not sure whether to continue — spending time on it could seriously compromise the quality of my other styles) and spacing is almost done. The sans face was feeling a little bland or rigid or something, and I’ve added more warmth and softness by drawing it slightly away from where it started. One thing I’ve realised through the year is that even with the strongest concept behind a design, or perhaps especially with a strong concept, there is a time to let go of one’s fixed ideas about a typeface and realise that things can evolve in their own direction and gain a stronger identity. So although I had begun with some fusion of Excoffon’s and Bloemsma’s ideas, I’ve allowed myself to open the gates to my own expression. I think that’s happened in a few areas of my typeface, so perhaps there’s some higher conclusion one can draw about being attentive to a design maturing and outgrowing its origins.

Of course it’s not always certain which way to take a design, so I tried a couple of possibilities before settling on a more humanist option. Top row shows the design that wasn’t quite working for me, middle rows show exploration of a couple of new options, and bottom row shows something I’m more comfortable with.

Bold is currently under development, then I’m hoping to give condensed a go, if time permits.

Posted at 11:31pm and tagged with: sans serif, typeface, MATD, font, design,.

Our Spring term has flown by, and progress on my typeface was honestly a bit disappointing. Perhaps I tried to tackle too many things and ended up spreading things a bit thin with unresolved attempts at Greek and Thai, or perhaps it was the packed timetable of workshops, visiting lecturers and assessment deadlines, but I was expecting to have achieved more by the end of term. I was especially unhappy that I didn’t have very much new stuff to show Gerard in his two visits of the term, as I’d been focussing on the non-Latin designs rather than bold, italic or sans fonts I’m also trying to develop. On the plus side, however, my Latin lowercase in the regular weight is now accomplished, including most of the spacing, so I’m freezing that now to work on the caps and Burmese.

One of the problems with designing Burmese type had been nagging me since the start: Burmese script seriously challenges a type designer because there are ostensibly very few things you can do with a circle: make them circular, or make them circular?  At the end of the day, a circle is still a circle. Referring back to my brief, those words ‘active, fluid, lively and cheerful’ seemed incommensurate with drawing a circle. Whoever heard of a lively circle? And with letterforms so completely removed from the Latin, what could be translated across to harmonise the scripts? The interesting lesson was learning to see beyond these limitations, think about how those adjectives could be implemented in different ways, and design at a higher level. I’ll try to explain how.

Joins

In this sample from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, using a font called Myanmar2, we can see that a good proportion of the circles in Burmese are connected (and some of the connections have not been well implemented). My first response was to look at how I’d made the junctions in my Latin letters and transpose this onto the Burmese shapes. This meant substantial thinning at the junctions to brighten the joins. At the same time, I’d responded to the requirement of ‘fluid’ by smoothing the joins into one continuous stroke.

Unfortunately, this had unwanted side-effects. The stress in the second circle has now moved around to the right side of the shape, and more importantly, the shape now bears no relation to the way it is drawn.

This image from John Okell’s indispensible Burmese: an introduction to the script shows clearly the consonant Ta is composed of two strokes, with the tool lifted off the page between strokes. Although my typeface is not strongly calligraphic, it seemed unwise to contradict the stroke construction only so that it would seem fluid. It also seemed the continuous construction didn’t give enough definition to the joins. In addition, the vowel sign Aa needs to connect to differently shaped consonants as a distinct mark, so having different joins just looked inconsistent.

It was at this stage I realised the strokes and components of Burmese needed to overlap each other rather than join in a Latin way. I also remembered Fiona saying that Indic scripts tend not to thin much at the joins.

The result above seems much more assured and less contrived.

Wraparounds and verticals

These highlighted parts in digital fonts always seemed so out of character for such a round script, and my original intention was to make them much less intrusive by ironing out the straight lines and sharp corners. My first attempts looked too clumsy, with inconsistent stress and shaky verticals. By the time I created my most recent version (third line below), I’d realised the problem with other fonts was not the verticality of the forms, but their squareness and sharp corners.

What about those adjectives then?

Yes. Active, fluid, lively and cheerful. As mentioned above, the simple way didn’t work out. Lightening the joins and making the strokes continuous ended up with a style that contradicted all the evidence. Instead I chose to lighten the interiors of the circles by taking weight off the inside strokes (resulting in a new way to avoid the problem of too much monolinearity and creating a pleasant balance of thick and thin strokes). I also brought in more energy and bounce to the leaf shapes by making their counters much more open. (Image above shows two letters with the leaf shapes.)

Posted at 5:19pm and tagged with: Burmese, letters, font, type design, typeface, glyphs, non-Latin, MATD, Reading,.

The Adobe Font Development Kit for OpenType (AFDKO or simply FDK) is a set of command line tools that Adobe makes freely available for font developers to help with production and testing. If, like me, you’ve struggled with FontLab’s glitches only to end up with incompatible font names, duplicate encodings or extra features you didn’t write, FDK seems like a better way to do things. Unlike glyph-editing software like FontLab, Fontographer, Glyphs or DTL BezierMaster, the FDK’s strength is in directly wrangling your fonts’ behind-the-scenes properties, such as naming and compiling extensive font families (especially from multiple masters), scripting the OpenType code that FontLab can’t manage, and comparing stem widths to expedite hinting.

Miguel Sousa, Adobe’s Type Team Lead, (and alumnus of the MATD programme), visited last week to teach us how to use the FDK, and even came to the department on Saturday to explain pretty much everything there is to know (or at least everything we wanted to know!) about multiple masters and hinting.

The FDK model is based on CFF/PostScript outlines, which are compiled with a set of text files into an OpenType font file. The text files set out all the font’s properties (font tables) like naming, style linking, hinting, glyph positioning (GPOS) and glyph substitutions (GSUB), The compiling is instructed mostly through the command line, but there are also several Python macros that can be run directly in Fontlab.

We started off working with Adobe’s multiple master font AdobeSans, which is built into Acrobat to generate instances that mimic the width and weight of missing fonts in .pdf files. After generating a regular instance of the font in .pfa format, we created the FontMenuNameDB and GlyphOrderAndAliasDB files. The former determines the weights in the family, and how they appear in menus, whilst the latter sets the order of glyphs, converts working (friendly) glyph names to final (production) names, and assigns Unicode values to the glyphs. After a couple more skeleton text files were complete, we ran the MakeOTF command, and out popped a functioning font file.

On day two, Miguel took us through the CheckOutlines function, which is very similar to FontLab’s font audit function, checking for points at extremes, sharp junctions, crossed paths, incorrect contour directions, and overlaid points. The resulting text file listed the errors Miguel had introduced for the exercise, and after I’d corrected them, I was delighted to see CheckOutlines processing the revised .pfa smoothly without encountering any problems. The next task was to run the AutoHint tool, which is more intelligent than FontLab’s inbuilt routines, in that it reports inconsistencies in stem width (when individual hints don’t quite match up to the user-specified stem widths).

By the end of the second day, we’d created a family of eight hinted fonts from the AdobeSans masters, and the whole process seemed very promising. With a bit of practice, the FDK model is quite logical and more powerful than FontLab. The only thing I struggled with was setting up the correct directory structure, as certain files apply to the family and others need duplicating into the subdirectory for each weight or style.

Day three took us through Type 1 hinting, from alignment zones to stem widths to all those odd ‘blue’ settings that have always been so opaque. In a well-rehearsed and methodical way, Miguel managed to make even the most advanced production techniques completely clear. For example, the blue scale defines at what resolution (in fact PPM) the overshoot zones are rasterised: below this level, all overshoots are trimmed. Blue shift, on the other hand, determines the minimum amount of overshoot you wish to control: overshoots less than the blue shift amount will still be suppressed if they would rasterise smaller than half a pixel. We fiddled with these settings and output the resulting font to a .pdf. Acrobat has the ability to set the on-screen resolution (under Preferences/Page Display/Resolution) to allow direct on-screen proofing — a highly useful feature I hadn’t thought to look for.

By popular demand, the workshop continued into the weekend. Although nothing was planned in advance, a number of us wanted to understand better how to set up and manipulate multiple masters, how to do TrueType hinting and how to get our complex scripts working with anchors and mark positioning. Again, it was wonderful to have such complex ideas explained so expertly, building on the concepts from the previous three days.

Many thanks to Miguel and Adobe for a highly beneficial workshop.

Posted at 11:56am and tagged with: AFDKO, MATD, Reading, Miguel Sousa, hinting, OpenType, multiple masters, Adobe,.

There’s a phrase that pops up from time to time in the department; it’s probably a Gerry-ism. ‘Designing the design’.

My take on it is that before we start drawing letterforms and thinking about details like what style of serifs we’d like, there’s the important matter of how the thing should look holistically. Can I visualise the rhythm and texture on the page, the way the letters perform together? Am I aiming for a particular mood and tone? What connotations and atmospheric values would I like to suggest?

For a text face, these questions are primarily answered not at the glyph level, but at the level of the paragraph. The image below shows that typography also has an part to play, as the two pages are set in (different?) cuts of the transitional-modern face Baskerville. Even though a certain letter may not change much in its details, the countless repetition of those details can lead to a very different impact:

Dan Rhatigan, Monotype’s Senior Type Designer, (and Reading MATD alumnus) visited us last week, and suggested by this stage of the academic year, it is quite easy for students to let their designs get carried away, away from the briefs we set ourselves at the beginning. By now, everyone tends to be enjoying seeing their design take shape and there’s a temptation to experiment with all sorts of new ideas as we get more familiar with FontLab and our skills and knowledge increase.

This advice sent me deep into my paperwork to dig out the brief I’d filed away in November. Luckily, it’s quite a strict brief, so I hadn’t really needed to keep referring to it, as I have a clear idea what I’m aiming at. What was useful was looking back at the bits that dealt with what sort of typographic tone I wanted the letters to elicit, and I’d been very explicit in defining this, using words like ‘liveliness’, ‘flow’, ‘forward motion’ and ‘bright, cheerful shapes’.

Somehow, after pondering these ideas, I was able to clearly visualise how my Burmese should look on the page. My first attempts had been dominated by a fixation on individual letterforms and stylistic details, but following advice from Gerry and Fiona, I needed to have more unity and an overall plan for the script. Although I’m referring to Burmese lettering, signwriting and manuscripts for inspiration, the key to a readable typeface is having all the letters click together in paragraphs and not draw attention to their actual forms.

In the first line, I was trying interesting patterns of stress where the heaviest part of the stroke was opposite the apertures. I’d been inspired by 18th century metal type, which followed this pattern. However this didn’t lead to any consistency, and the shapes seemed to be fighting with each other. The lower sample shows a more considered approach to stroke modulation, and a smoother, much more even and harmonious tone. My Burmese now feels like it has a direction, which will no doubt be further refined as I go through the rest of the year.

Posted at 7:30pm and tagged with: Burmese, type design, font, MATD, Reading,.

I decided to take advantage of Gerard’s third visit of the year to finalise the relationship between my Latin serif and sans serif designs. Several people had remarked that the sans was looking too skinny, too small or too light, but I wasn’t really sure whether fixing it meant stretching the thing or redrawing completely. In the end it was an illuminating and actually quite easy process, despite the many dimensions at play.

The first thing to fix was the width. The sans was feeling too condensed, and Gerard advised me that the proportions of the lowercase /n/ for example should match between the serif and sans design, so I compared the ratios of height to width of both together, and found they were almost identical (in fact I’d pulled in the stems in the sans 5 units to compensate for the lack of serifs):

I used InDesign’s character menu to mechanically stretch the letters horizontally in steps from 100% up to 108% and ran some test prints:

When comparing my printed proofs with the serif design, I found that a horizontal scale of 102¼ % fitted nicely. In fact anything over 103% began to look as though the letters were a larger point size.

The next thing to fix was the stroke weight, which I did by hand in FontLab. I increased the width of the heavy strokes in increments of 4 units and found that 8 units was the right amount to give the same text colour as the serif face.

Finally, the expansion had messed up the letterfitting, so I had to reduce all the set widths to compensate. Again, I used InDesign to quickly proof different settings. The result was a reduction of 12 units all round, and this matches the serif very nicely. Both cuts may still be spaced a little widely, but as long as I remember to tweak them both at the same time, it should be no problem to alter the overall fitting.

Compared to the original, the final result (above) had a width of 102.25%, an increase of 8 units in stem weight and a negative tracking of 12 units. The image also shows a difference between two of the printers in the department: the Xerox on the right gives consistently darker results than the HP on the left. It goes to show that we should continue to proof on as many printers as possible, rather than relying on the results of one which may be an anomaly. Luckily we have six laser printers at our disposal in the department and can also use the offset press from time to time.

With these two styles reconciled, I’ve been trying to fix my Greek! Gerry had been a bit underwhelmed by my first attempt, which wasn’t altogether surprising as I’ve never drawn Greek letters before and don’t read the language. Due to my unfamiliarity, it seemed that I’d been focused on the stylistic details like terminals and stroke junctions instead of looking at the fundamental architecture of the letterforms. Interestingly that resonated with what Fiona had been getting at with my Burmese: try to settle on the essential proportions and relationships between letters before thinking about the modulation and stylistic treatments.

I’m really struggling to assimilate this advice, as I have a strong inclination to experiment with unexpected styling and dissonant harmony whilst keeping such details under the radar for text sizes and immersive reading. I need to remember not to run before I can walk. It can’t be all exciting until the basics are grasped, even if the forms look boring to start with. Step one leads to step two. I guess I’m seeing the forms and the styling as one process, enmeshed and depending on each other. Another problem is my typeface is trying to steer away from the stroke-and-tool model, and I want to let form and counterform have some independent rationale not following the ‘internal skeleton’ of each letter.

My solution so far seems to be to figure out what combinations of form and styling work well together. To help with this, I’ve started the Greek twice, with opposite modulations that affect the forms somewhat.

I’m not yet decided which model to follow, so I’ll keep working on both sets and make a decision later.

Posted at 3:43pm and tagged with: Greek, MATD, Reading, balance, font, harmonising, sans serif, script, serif, type design, typeface,.

We’ve definitely moved up a gear or two this term as our timetable becomes filled to bursting point.

My seminar on how designers respond to technological constraints was well received, with students enthusiastically remarking how interesting it was and with Gerry’s approval that I’d covered the salient points. The gist of the presentation was that successful type designs accommodate the needs of technology, but don’t depend on them. A talented designer will always develop their typefaces to work with more than one technology, and let their eye for aesthetics be the final arbiter over design decisions.

Next up, we had John Hudson visiting the department from Canada for an enjoyable and highly useful two-day workshop. John co-founded Tiro Typeworks with Ross Mills and they produce award-winning typefaces for major clients including Adobe, Apple and Microsoft.

Our mission for the two days was to collaboratively produce a typeface. John had drawn five characters /HOion/ of a heavy poster face (below) and we each took a random selection of the remaining characters to draw.

After we’d each drawn our first six glyphs, we printed proofs and had a group critique. John had to go to an appointment, but in fact that worked very well as we then had to manage our decision-making processes ourselves, and decide which glyphs should lead the design and how to harmonise everyone’s designs. Apart from variations in overshoot and proportion, there were decisions to be made about ball terminals, counter shapes and openness, speed of modulation between thicks and thins, the flatness or pointiness of diagonal junctions, the weight of hairlines, shape of inner brackets and many other stylistic features.

The exercise revealed the multiplicity of design decisions that need to be made deliberately, consistently and coherently. Following the critique, we all made changes to our glyphs and then took another batch of characters to draw. It was an instructive exercise for many of the group: some had never seen a currency sign (¤) before, others had to get to grips with components and blue zones.

By the end of day two, we’d produced quite a consistent typeface, and the hope is to continue polishing it into a useable font. I found the collaborative approach really useful, as the benefits of everyone’s different styles and approaches led to better decisions based on more possibilities, which outweighed the loss of control I could have worried about. Our speed was also surprising: to be able to have a basic Latin character set after only two days felt really good!

Posted at 1:21pm and tagged with: John Hudson, font, type design, typeface, fatface, poster, heavy, serif, collaboration, group, MATD,.

Our first full week in the department has been lots of fun. I’m definitely seeing why Reading University is so highly regarded. Our teachers are really top class: enthusiastic, knowledgeable and fascinating. And it’s a sign of how fun the department is that there are so many ex-students still hanging around, doing research and working on projects, clearly showing no sign of getting bored even after such an intense year of study. There’s always going to be more to learn.

We’re starting to think about our practical projects — the bit where we have to design our typefaces based on a brief we write ourselves. In many ways studying type design is different to designing type professionally, and having to decide our own brief is one example of this. In the workplace, the designer has the client’s brief to stick to; here we are given the opportunity to try anything we fancy.

So how do we settle on a project that’s big enough to give us a broad and interesting learning experience, but small enough to submit by next June? Luckily, I’d heard from previous students it was a good idea to think about the project over the summer. For my project, I wanted to develop areas I’m already interested in, and learn new skills that will be valued in the workplace. That means I needed to pick something that has real-world applicability. The course encourages us to explore non-Latin scripts, so that was a starting point.

From living in Thailand and travelling extensively across Southeast Asia, I’ve become very interested in how the old Brahmi script sprang from northern India in the third century BC, and travelled with trade and religion to so many other parts of Asia, slowly evolving different letterforms as it settled into new cultures. It’s always a source of wonder to me to see commonalities between writing systems that superficially seem so different, and trace back their roots to a common ancestor.

For example, look how the ma is represented in these modern day Brahmic scripts:

The first five are clearly recognisable as the same letter, with the loop at the bottom left. Devanagari has a head-line, which is sort of vestigial in the Gujarati and Tibetan, and possibly in the looped head of the Thai form. The last two, Burmese and Khmer, flip the bottom left loop to the inside of the shape, but the two upward arms are still telltale signs of a common origin.

(An interesting side question is why these forms diverged at all. For the answer, we need to look at where the letters were written, as the environment of each script over time contributed to the conventional forms of letters. Burmese is often cited as being so circular because it was written on palm leaves, which are easily torn by straight lines. One can also imagine that a culture’s visual environment builds a repertoire of shapes that can then be reappropriated into its written language. The jagged peaks of the Tibetan landscape must have played a significant part in the styling of the alphabet.)

Although I can’t yet read it, I’m especially curious about the Burmese script, with its unique, circular forms. I’ve started learning how the writing system works and have found a serious lack of useable Burmese fonts available. So I’ve found an overlap of interest and specific need. My aim then is to create a Unicode font with Burmese and Latin scripts, something that can be used in dictionaries and/or textbooks.

From travelling in Burma, which is probably my favourite country, and meeting some of the different ethnic groups there, I was struck by how welcoming, cheerful and playful people living there are. I hope to be able to infuse some of their liveliness into my design. Keeping things light and fun is also probably a good idea to counteract my tendency to overanalyse and be too serious with things. Of course a dictionary typeface doesn’t want to be comical or silly, but it does want to be alive, so I’m keen to prevent the thing from being too restrained and dull. I’m keeping the words ‘bounce’ and ‘fluid’ (dictionaries tend to feel rather disjointed and staccato) on my sketchpad.

A dictionary also requires special variant styles: not just roman and italic, but usually a sans serif companion, light and black weights, and possibly IPA support. These possibilities should allow a great enough freedom to hold my interest for the next eight months.

I’m very much seeing this year as an opportunity to gain skills that are valuable in the workplace. One such skill is to develop a methodology for approaching unfamiliar scripts. On the other hand, much as I love the idea, Burmese fonts are not something that international type designers are going to find too many requests for. Career-wise, it would make much more sense to create in-demand fonts for Devanagari, Bengali or Arabic. Fiona Ross, our non-Latin expert, reminds me that the dearth of Bengali typefaces has resulted in a dozen Bengali newspapers using the same fonts, and they’re now queueing up to get their hands on new ones.

It’s at this point that I find another way that studying typeface design is different to designing typefaces professionally. Students would be well advised to try their hands at very different writing systems. Armenian, with its upright stems and squarish forms, would be a perfect counterbalance to Sinhala, with its extravagant florid swirls. Designing both scripts would be almost the broadest experience imaginable. However in the real world, what need is there for a font that can cover both languages? Is there likely to be an Armenian-Sinhala dictionary?

To resolve this question, I’m keeping my options open. Bengali or Tamil might be nice options as there is some logic to combining these with Burmese (there are significant populations of Bengalis and Tamils in Burma). Through the year, we’ll be looking at plenty of other scripts, and finding out new areas of interest. I’ll sample these and then decide which other script to work on.

Posted at 12:04pm and tagged with: MATD, type design, brief, practical, Burmese, non-Latin, two column,.

My last few weeks have moved really quickly, as I made my decision to come to the MA programme only at the start of August. Since then, I’ve had to finish off some freelance design jobs, sort out my enrolment and accommodation in Reading and get some vfb font files in good enough shape to send to the publishers (unfortunately no sign of a release date yet, as I’m going to need to concentrate on the MA for the next 12 months).

  To get us started for the MA, Course Director Gerry Leonidas sent us our reading list and a couple of exercises to work on over the summer. Whilst sometimes quite dense and technical, I have found the books largely interesting. My favourite so far is Twyman’s British Library Guide to Printing as I didn’t know much about the different kinds of printing presses. I’m currently getting to grips with Kinross’s Modern Typography, which is not quite so friendly in style (rather dry and detailed).

  

   Our first practical task was to get familiar with FontLab. Gerry sent us an image of some (hand) lettering, and asked us to convert it into font vector outlines, then set the word ‘Condensed’ in InDesign. Accidentally, I used the tiny thumbnail version (200px wide) of the image, rather than the full-size image, which explains the round corners at the stroke terminals. This was an exercise in curve-wrangling, and although Gerry suggested we auto-trace the image in FontLab, I chose to manually draw the nodes and position the handles intentionally, rather than end up with an untidy mess of extra nodes and bumpy curves.

   I also chose to normalise the /o/ and /s/, which seemed unbalanced in the original lettering and difficult to space in a working font, where the letters have to work no matter what combination they appear in (unlike in single-word lettering).

   My spacing (letterfitting) is still rather uneven, as I’m not very experienced with this style, or italic forms, and would probably want to normalise all the letterforms a lot further to obtain a harmonious font. I did put in the key dimensions and generous alignment zones (the hand-drawn nature letters are different sizes), in case I ever need to build this into something more.

   I wondered if I slightly rushed this (it took about an hour), but then figured this was intended as an introductory exercise, not a full-on practical project.

   Our second assignment was to sketch some selected letters from the fonts FF Tisa, Plantin, Electra and Adobe Jenson. I also sketched some letters from other fonts, thinking it might be useful to see how different forms are constructed. I was particularly drawn to find out what makes a text face ‘warm’ so here there’s a Fleischmann /a/ and some italics from Quixote. (I also looked at Tiempos Text and Espinosa Nova.) It was a fun assignment; my biggest difficulty was getting the overall proportions to match the originals. My /k/s for example invariably had the knee way too high to start with.

Posted at 12:00am and tagged with: Assignment, FontLab, Letterforms, MATD,.