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FiguresPart 1 of 2 – Society of Fonts

Part 1 of 2

“Figures” is another name for numerals in a typeface. In this case they’re the Indo-Arabic numerals 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. There are a few different ways to do figures besides general style, and they all depend on how the numbers wil be used.

This is post 1 of 2 on figures. I’ll cover 0, 1, 2, 4, and 7 in this post.

Lining vs Text

Lining (or Titling) figures are designed to be set on their own or with uppercase letters. They sit on the baseline and are about cap-height.

Text (or Oldstyle) figures are designed to harmonize with lowercase letters. They have different heights—some are x-height (0, 1, 2), some are ascender height (6, 8), and some descend below the baseline (3, 4, 5, 7, 9).

Because protest signs are often set all caps, and because most people are only familiar with lining figures (as they’ve become the default for most widely available fonts), this Protest font will have lining figures.

Fixed Width vs Proportional

Fixed width (also called Tabular or Monospaced) figures each take up the same amount of horizontal space. This way the numbers can be used in tables of data and the numbers will line up vertically in columns. Lining and Text Figures can both be fixed width.

Proportional figures are spaced to fit according to their shapes, the way letters are spaced. Lining and Text Figures can both be proportionally spaced.

Since numbers on protest signs are generally used in conjunction with text, the figures for this Protest font will be spaced proportionally.

0 vs O and Ø

When making a 0 (zero) it tends to be more condensed than an uppercase O. However, for a font that’s already somewhat condensed like this one, the distinction is unclear. So another way to distinguish 0 from O is to give the zero a slash through the counter or a dot in the center.

A slash through the center seems far more colloquial than a dot, which feels more machined. That’s the route I chose for Protest, but I had to be careful. There is another character, Ø (the slashed O), with which the 0 can be easily confused. I need to make sure the slash in the 0 stays inside the counter and does not go through the outer strokes.

1 vs l or I

Often an uppercase I or lowercase l will be drawn as a single vertcal stem. When people write the number 1, it’s also often drawn the same way—just a single rigid twig. While fine in the context of words and phrases, in isolation it can get confusing.

In the interest of clarity the number 1 should have a little flag at the top. Not to be confused with a serif, this flag typically points downward at an angle away from the stem, or curves down from the top of the stem.

Sometimes a 1 will have serifs at the bottom, similar to an uppercase I. Most protest signs I’ve seen in my research have this feature, so I’m doing that for the Protest font.

With serifs on the top of the I, a diagonal top to the l, and a flag on the 1, these three characters should be easy to distinguish even in isolation.


The 2 has two parts: a hook and a horizontal base. The top end of the hook should sit just a timy bit back from the base. The right side of the curve of the hook should be even with or just past (to the right of) the end of the horizontal base. This way the hook portion appears to be reclining comfortably over the base, like one of those chairs with similar structure.

The base of the 2 should begin and end in a way that harmonizes with other terminals and structures in the font. In this case, it’s just a squared off end.


The 4 is a wiley beast. The three strokes can be open or closed. The horizontal and diagonal strokes can be thick or thin. The diagonal stroke can be straight or curved. There are potentially three places to make terminal choices. There is at least one joint of a possible two to make decisions about. And the whole thing is like a flamingo—balancing on one leg, its vertical stem, which is the one stroke certain to be thick.

Protest is a font restricted by the use of a tool, so in this case the strokes are all thick. Since the strokes are so thick, having a closed form would make the counter too small. So Protest has an open 4. Also, curving the diagonal would restrict the space in the terminal, so the diagonal is straight.

Notice most of the design decisions for this font revolve around making sure there’s enough negative space. This is a condensed font, so the 4 can’t be too wide, restricting the counter. The terminal choices affect the negative space as well.

At the top of the stem, I chose to make the terminal diagonal (like the lowercase ascenders). This way the stem opens up some space near the diagonal stroke above it, allowing the form to be condensed while still making room.

The terminals of the diagonal and horizontal strokes are both perpendicular to the stroke. This gives a bit more space at the top of the 4, and allows the horizontal stroke to shrink in toward the stem on the right side of the 4. Both of these design decisions allow it to be more condensed while maintaining a fair amount of white space.


The 7 is deceptively simple. When a form is simple, the little things make a big difference. With 7, it becomes about balance. My eyes want to treat it like a physical opject in the real world, and this particular numerical form looks like it could fall over at any time.

The trick is getting the 7 to seem visually stable. There a few ways to do this. One way is to make sure the left side of the horizontal stroke ends just to the left of the bottom of the 7. Another way to do this is by adding weight to the bottom of the vertical stroke, to give it a “lower center of gravity.” However, with a monoline font it has to be subtle, and needs to work in conjunction with other elements.

The final trick (that I know of anyway) is to curve the vertical stroke slightly to the left. This gives it the kind of mechanical stability the 2 has—it bears the load of the horizontal stroke like a spring, with a stong center of gravity at the same time.

Up Next

In the next post I’ll go over the remaining numerals: 3, 5, 6, 8, and 9.






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