Why design a typeface

Why Design a Typeface?

I’ve wanted to be a type designer for a while now. I’ve started a couple of typefaces, but never finished. That makes me sad. I’m not entirely sure why I never finished. Perhaps I didn’t feel a particular need or urgency to do so. Perhaps it’s because some of the process of finishing a font is somewhat of a mystery to me and I don’t know how to procede just yet. Perhaps it’s fear of failure. Who knows?

I’ve made a decision to create a typeface from start to finish. There are a number of reasons for this. The biggest reason for me is the most personal: I just want to say that I’ve created a font from start to finish. But there are other good reasons too.

Type turns lettering into a system. As I mentioned in my previous post on the difference between lettering and type, just about any kind of lettering can be made into a font. I can draw all the characters I’d need or want to use, and make them replicable and rearrangable. (Which is pretty mind-blowing when I think about it.)

Once I’ve made a font, it makes my lettering available to more than just me. While it’s nice to be able to have a shortcut to recreating letters I already put the work into, it’s even nicer to be able to share that with other people. If I can do great work with these letters, just think of all the new and amazing things other people could do!

When it was just me making letters by hand, there was only so much work I could produce. When I make it into a system it is not only easier and faster to produce those letterforms, it’s more accessible than hand lettering. That’s not just to say it’s scalable—it is, more people can make these leters than before—but it’s also less expensive. Before I had to be paid for my time and expertise to do a particular thing for a particular purpose. Now, people can pay into the work I’ve already done by purchasing a (far less expensive) font license.

With a font, my letters are out there in the world. It adds another voice to the marketplace, and the more diversity of voices the better.

I haven’t made a font yet. I know that I can, and I really want to. I also know that other people out there want to make a font too. I want to help others make a font from start to finish.

One of the difficult parts about making a font is figuring out how to do all the steps from start to finish in a clear, linear fashion. There aren’t that many resources out there to teach it that way. Once of the reasons is that there are a lot of moving parts. Typeface design is an incredibly detail oriented task. It’s very easy to get lost in the weeds very quickly. Those weeds make for myriad books on various facets of type design, very few of which are all encompassing.

To be fair, most type design books cover what they set out to cover, but they can’t cover everything. Many times this is because they’re written by experts. Experts have been doing this thing long enough to take certain things for granted. There are details that will seem obvious or not worth mentioning—the things that might seem like dumb questions. These are the kinds of questions instructors will answer in a classroom setting. However, there are few people who get to learn type design in the classroom.

So here’s what I’m going to do:

I am going to design a typeface from start to finish and document my journey. Every week I’ll post what I know, what I’ve done, and what I’ve learned.

While this is more likely to catch more of the “dumb questions” and little details than some of the resources out there, I won’t pretend it will be comprehensive. But hopefully it will be helpful. Digging in a little bit at a time should offer more opportunities to cover the minutia of each step.

For some of the posts I will point toward resources I’ve used, rather than rewrite the books on the blog. There are a lot of good references out there. Some of these resources have gold nuggets, but don’t require reading the whole book (for a particular step, anyway). So I’ll list page numbers or cite specific passages when that would be more helpful.

Next week I’m going to start broad. I’ll talk about the skills I already have that I’ll be putting to use. I plan on listing books I’ve read or resources I’ll refer to. It will be kind of like a class prep list. (“Bring your college ruled notebook, Trapper Keeper™ and sharpened no. 2 pencils…”) There shouldn’t be too many things to purchase right off the bat, and remember that your local library system can often get even some obscure titles through inter-library loan.

I’ll finish up each blog post with “homework,” or the steps I plan to take in the next week. This week and next I’ll be thinking about what kind of typeface I’ll be designing, why I’m designing it, who I’m designing it for, and where it will be used. (And since this is Quaker Creative, it will be peace and justice related.)

Let the journey begin!



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