Untitled serif, student type design

Hello typedrawers,

it is my pleasure to introduce myself with my first, and truly humbling, attempt at designing a typeface. In the past I have always been drawn to letter shapes and practiced calligraphy on and off for years. In the past I have worked as interface designer and web developer (feel free to check my portfolio), so I have had a lot of contact with typography, however, so far not on such a macro level. Currently I am doing a MA in New Media at the Media Lab Helsinki, so this gives me time to indulge in such a demanding learning project as this.


Check previewsheet.pdf

This yet to be named typeface started mostly out of interest in exploring how seriffed letters are constructed and how the overall process of designing a typeface works. Some inspiration came from the predominant slab serif trend, but my professor also kindly pointed me to Scotch typefaces. All in all, though, I could not say (or at least name) any particular clear inspiration.

Over time the use I imagined this typeface for has developed to be somewhat of a text face for medium length texts, possibly with a focus on screen publication (however, I am unsure if that particular "aim" is really met or evident in any way). In terms of progress I have drawn and tweaked the roman alphabet for a while now, added punctuation and some numerals, and (not shown so far) played around with diacritics. Metrics and kerning (last two pages of the PDF) are still very rough - I am learning the technical aspects still, as well as struggling to implement my design choices coherently.

Before jumping on to cursive (which I have some sketches for) or trying bolder versions I wanted to refine this font still by exposing it, and myself, to some criticism from more experienced designers. This can range from detail aspects to the overall impression. As a learner, I would really like to hear your reasonings and how to approach solving issues you might point out. 

Also some concrete questions:
Is hinting a thing still, and should I be planning on hinting the font?
I know webfonts, and CSS, start supporting open type features. But how about open type kerning, is that an "automatic" standard in modern webfont formats when generating them from a open type source?

But most importantly, your opinions on this typeface design so far? What to improve, where are problems, and can you recommend or point me to similar typeface references?


Many thanks,
Johannes


Comments

  • To my eyes, I think /x and /g seem too narrow, while /c is too wide. /X also a little narrow. I recommend checking out Frank Blokland's www.lettermodel.org theory for how to better understand typical proportions.

    For hinting, see http://typedrawers.com/discussion/1143/how-to-use-ttfautohint#latest

    Yes, OT kerning is mostly available in browsers, but not always automatic - see http://caniuse.com/#search=kern - and you need old KERN tables for Office.


  • […] Over time the use I imagined this typeface for has developed to be somewhat of a text face for medium length texts, possibly with a focus on screen publication […]
    […] but my professor also kindly pointed me to Scotch typefaces.
    IMHO the advice of your professor is contradicting the imagined purpose of your typeface. The return to the archetypal models from Jenson, Griffo, Garamont, and consorts, since the end of the nineteenth century had some good reasons, as also legibility researches have proven since.

    I’m not in favor of taking existing typefaces as direct points of reference or even as templates. I know that this is happening on a large scale nowadays –if only because of the open-source fonts that one is allowed to tweak– and this explains why youngsters like the ones on this forum develop complete type families in a mere jiffy. TBH, I don’t like it. It hampers the development of what I believe is the most important aspect of type design: the personal idiom. If one looks at Michael Harvey’s DTL Unico or Elmo van Slingerland’s DTL Dorian, then one sees unique hands that are the result of a development and refinement by practicing many, many years. These typefaces were completely drawn analogically and manually digitized.
    I recommend checking out Frank Blokland's www.lettermodel.org theory for how to better understand typical proportions.
    Normally I would agree with Dave, but the nineteenth-century typefaces are the result of the flexible-pointed-pen inspired equalizing of widths. One can tweak the broad-nib model as represented in the LeMo app, but that will make these matters not more clear. Besides the contrast and contrast-flow aspects, the leveling of widths of the nineteenth-century typefaces was a good reason to go back to the fifteenth-century origins of roman type. For understanding that model the LeMo app is a perfect tool.
  • This looks very neat and tidy. I like what you did with the capital /Y - gives something extra. Maybe your /S and /s could use some more work - can't quite put my finger on it but they might be too curvy - have you tried a form with a little bit more diagonal in the center?

    To be honest, for me this would need some more extra's and some more unique treatment of glyphs to make it interesting enough as a new typeface. But as a first typeface I have to say you did a very nice job (imho). Good work!

    The thing that stood out to me the most in your specimen is the kerning. That needs some more work - it seems you went a little overboard kerning some pairs. For example /AV and /AW are really close to each other (as are /AC /PA etc etc). And in the sample text the numbers and punctuation marks also seem too close to each other. In some cases glyphs seem to touch or overlap the next ones, which is too close for a standard tracking.

    I would go over those again and take some more distance, see which ones are too close. Use more sample text, make prints, using several font sizes, take a marker and point them out for yourself, and then go back to the kerning later. This takes time! I've often overdone kerning myself before and it's a big job moving back and forward all the time, but worth it.

    Keep going!
  • I agree, step away from the kerning. Many glyphs and much of the spacing is likely to change, and you'd have to constantly do it over. Save kerning for the very end. 

    Focus on the thicks and thins. Look at the relationships between these, across letters, and settle on something consistent. Stems, diagonals, crossbars. Look at the letters, both in their intended use/size, and huge, printed, around 120 pt. 

    Consider your treatment of the serifs in /E /F and /T and how they relate to similar terminals, such as /C /Z /f and /r, etc. 

    Think about the spacing at the same time. Look for a good rhythm of negative space. Some letters can't be helped in any typeface, such as the /L. Others can, for example here, the /K and the /j. For the lowercase, space with the /n and not the /h.

    I also agree, this is a very good start for a first typeface. 
  • Look for a good rhythm of negative space. Some letters can't be helped in any typeface, such as the /L.

    IMHO that is only true if one purely looks for an equilibrium of white space (or red in the image below):

    Those who are familiar with my research, know my ideas about the role of the stem interval for the standardization and systematization of the capitals in roman type by the early punchcutters, as I also describe in my article for The Eternal Letter. From that perspective the width of the L is forced into the pattern of the stem interval of the lowercase. Present-day type designers can do this by the eye because of their conditioning with the archetypal models.

    The example below has been made with DTL Haarlemmer. I did not change the proportions of the original capitals from the brilliant hand of Jan van Krimpen.


  • That's interesting to think about the other elements that influence rhythm beyond equilibrium of negative space, and how these things can offset any distinct spatial discrepancies. I feel like a lot of this balance is created subconciously while designing, reacting to the way letterform pairings work together.
  • "It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that swing"
  • Dooa doa doa – doa doa doaa
  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 798
    edited October 2015
    This certainly looks better than my first attempt at a text font! :grimace:

    I like what you did with the capital /Y - gives something extra.
    I can't agree with that — for me, this form doesn't read as a /Y, it stands out as a single outlier, and it feels forced. The tail neither rests on the descender line, nor does it hang or swing freely. I understand the urge to be creative, but don't spoil what is meant as a text font with one incompatible letter. I'd recommend making a more traditional /Y for your default text cut and expanding the existing /Y into a whole stylistic set of matching «creative» caps to make it feel less like an outsider.

    Among the lowercase, /g strikes me as the letter most in need of overhauling. The descender feels highly compressed and sideways.
  • Wow.

    Thanks to you all for the insightful and encouraging feedback. I dare say some of your considerations are beyond my typographical grasp just a little while longer, but it is good to know where to aspire to. A few answers or comments to your specific comments.

    Frank, I have to defend my professor by saying he merely reacted to my initial sketches when suggesting to me I have a look at Scotch typefaces, not as a response to my intent for possible screen use. Mostly, I was perplexed that in my outset I ended up with round shapes drawn with a straight horizontal "imagined" nib, and I did not know exactly what to do with letters where those join on stems like in /b /d etc, nor in a letter like /s.
    Supposedly I am one of "those youngsters on this forum", but when asking for references I only mean to broaden my sense and history of typography, rather than looking for ready solutions. Personally, I concur with you when you urge for finding a personal voice through reasoning and experience.
    Your suggestions about and interest in stem intervals resonates with me. Seeing as I have little formal knowledge about how to arrive at "right" looking proportions and rythm, I have found myself wondering about stroke rythm. But maybe I was not aware of it as explicitly as I may be aware of looking at, say, negative space around letters. Blushingly, I confess I started the proportions in this typeface from /o and /n and just eyeballed it from there on. I will have a look into what more systematic approaches there are, and glady will check your research as well.

    Jan and Dyana, thanks for encouraging me to really leave the kerning aside still for a while. Realisticly looking at it, it is silly to work on it when I feel the lower- and uppercase are not yet as settled as I would like them to be. I supposed I got carried away with ethusiasm to be testing the font outside my design software to see it come "alive". Then again, I went to big news websites, and viewed them with having substituted their CSS declarations to use my own type design, which was a fun and encouraging quick-and-dirty demo that probably would have been underwhelming without any kerning. For now, I will keep it on hold.


    Based on all of your feedback, I do think I agree with the particular letters you pointed out as needing some honing still. Some have commented about width, but I feel /c and /e stand out (also) because of their more open terminals, when the serifs on most letters keep closing the shapes back towards the stem like in the /a and /f. In terms of the /Y I concur, it sparked my want to make something different, but maybe it is too different. Also, I might have too eagerly translated lowercase to uppercase, in particular with the /Y.
    I am surprised no one actually had anything to say about my lop-sided /l :O

    I am sure if this particularly is what Dyana refered to with looking at thick and thins, but I feel the lowercase letters with round elements and a stem like /b /d etc are not entirely consistent with their curvature, line contrast and counter spaces.


    For now thank you all already for the pointers. Maybe the one aspect that was the most left out of the discussion is my aim to develop this as a typeface for use on screens. Is that, in your opinion, better to be left as an altogether starting point that is not relevant at the stage and direction I developed the design to, or what particularly should I keep in consideration to drive development into that direction?

  • Blushingly, I confess I started the proportions in this typeface from /o and /n and just eyeballed it from there on.

    That's a widespread, longstanding, and sound method for which no embarrassment is warranted! 
  • What Graig intends to say is that he purely relies on this method too. ;-)
  • I supposed I got carried away with ethusiasm to be testing the font outside my design software to see it come "alive".

    A totally normal impulse. We've all done a little kerning here and there for testing purposes. 

    I am sure if this particularly is what Dyana refered to with looking at thick and thins, but I feel the lowercase letters with round elements and a stem like /b /d etc are not entirely consistent with their curvature, line contrast and counter spaces.

    It wasn't specifically what I had in mind, but that is a good observation. To expand on what I was saying, think about all the crossbars as a group. Think about all the diagonals as a group, but also how they relate to the stems, are they too thick? Too thin? What about the thin parts of the rounds versus the thin parts of the straight characters? 

    Maybe the one aspect that was the most left out of the discussion is my aim to develop this as a typeface for use on screens. Is that, in your opinion, better to be left as an altogether starting point that is not relevant at the stage and direction I developed the design to, or what particularly should I keep in consideration to drive development into that direction?

    Those are tricky questions. On one hand, a text font for screen is often more readable with wide counters. This font is slightly condensed, in contrast to that notion. 

    It is important to make the distinction early on, how the typeface is going to be used (small vs large especially) because that is going to determine how it is tested, designed, spaced, and kerned. 

    But I also believe in allowing an idea to grow in the direction it is naturally tending towards... so if you find this typeface is growing more towards a headline face, then you should treat it as such as soon as possible. On the other hand, it could be that exploring a condensed screen text face is an interesting experiment—it depends on what interests you, really.  

  • What Graig intends to say is that he purely relies on this method too. ;-)
    lol :)

    About that /Y - what Christian said is partly what I meant too. If you are going with this lowercase-inspired uppercase, which is your own choice whether you'd want that or not, then I'd rather see some more choices like that in other glyphs too. Treating just one letter like that makes it stand out too much. Christian's suggestion of developing a set of stylistic alternates is a good one if you ask me, but you can also leave that for later of course ;) And if you don't treat any of the glyphs unusually, that's fair enough too. For me it would become less interesting, but for general use / screen use that might be just the way to go.

    Keep going!
  • What Graig intends to say is that he purely relies on this method too. ;-)
    And there's nothing wrong with that! It's just not something you could write a thesis about. ;oÞ
  • And there's nothing wrong with that! It's just not something you could write a thesis about. ;oÞ
    No, there is nothing wrong with that as such. Obviously it is a manner that leads to good results. But one can actually write a thesis about this IMHO; at least I’m writing about this in my dissertation.

    The fact that one can judge aspects by the eye does not by definition imply that these aspects find their origin purely in optical ones. How you look at harmonic and rhythmic aspects of type is for a large part the result of your conditioning. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century descriptions of type-foundry practices put a lot of emphasis on the role of the eye. But perhaps it is a bit short-sighted to project these descriptions literally on the practice of the fifteenth-century punch cutter without further investigation. Perhaps the standardization and systematization I measured in Renaissance type find also its origin in technical matters that had to be solved by the engravers and goldsmiths that we now know of as punch cutters. Perhaps it is possible that later punch cutters could mostly rely on the eye because for them optical judgment took for granted the underlying patterns, almost without awareness. Perhaps it is possible that production methods of foundry type changed over the centuries, for example because precious metal like copper became more affordable.

    And no, there is nothing wrong as such to investigate whether there is more than only the equilibrium of white space. And there is nothing wrong to investigate whether Renaissance patterning can be (additionally?) used for spacing too, or even for parametrized spacing like Lukas and Pablo do. And there is nothing wrong with countering my arguments with solidly-based other theories (which is not by definition the same as an opinion ;-) IMHO.
  • Frank, I have neither the intention nor the means to invalidate your theory. I'm glad you consider eyeballing it a valid modus operandi, though, even if it might include standing on the shoulders of giants. :grin: 
  • Again, thank you all for your insights and the discussion.

    Please see some of the changes from the initial posting highlighted in below illustration.

    And you can find the updated preview pdf here.

    Let me try summarise my changes and thoughts behind them:
    • the shoulder of /n /r /h /m felt like having too much of an upward-right pull. In text flow this made the word contour on the x-height very jumpy and uneasy. I feel it is much more calm now and /n and /o fit better together in curvature
    • overall I realised the typeface made an almost condensed impression, which I did not necessarily aim for, despite trying to keep it economical. With the discussion of stem intervals in mind I slightly tweaked proportions of the lowercase, but also some uppercase letters. Overall I have not (entirely) given up on the idea of keeping this typeface screen-focused, so somewhat more open and wide round shapes should help prevent things blurring together
    • based on the /n stem connection, which is no longer an entirely smooth transition from stem to shoulder, but has a bit of an angle departure, I reworked /d /b /p /q and unified their counter shape - while I like the shape, I am not entirely sure if, in contrast to /o, the round part of those letters appears too big now - and if it does, if that is a problem?
    • redrew the /g - after some tries with open loop and different link I felt this version was best in line the character of the typeface (it is a work in progress, though)
    • descenders on /j /J /y /Y are now more consistent and tie in better with the terminals of /t /c /e - I am sticking with the odd /Y for now, and the less prominent descender seems to make it sit a bit easier in text
    • the change most affecting character are the slightly roundish down strokes added on /v /V /w /W /y /Y /z /Z and their reflection in the legs of /k /K and /R. At first I felt this was almost adding a comically romantic touch, but then I viewed it at text sizes and with proper body text samples. Still getting used to the idea, but for now I like how it adds a bit of warmth and tension; I felt helpless with how harsh some of the capitals seemed, but now the overall impression seems a bit more balanced. Opinions? Also, do you consider it inconsistent that /N and /M down strokes would stay straight? What about even keeping the legs of /k /K and /R straight?
    • numerals got some attention overall, as well as being more tied in with the capitals due to just mentioned curvature on diagonals. Especially /4 and /6 feel a lot better in place now

    Also note I completely ditched any kerning I had played around with so far, and restarted on the metrics overall, so this will show in the example pdf text samples.

    Curious to hear what you all have to say, and thanks for taking the time if you do.
  • I haven't checked each and every detail, but a lot of the letters have improved. I like /d and /b better now. A lot of similar curves in /h /c /m /n /p and /q are much better too to my eye. More rounded and balanced, instead of the narrow-ish form they had before. Well done.

    Same for /g - although the distance between the top and bottom bowl seems rather small now.

    I'm not completely sure about the new /s - maybe try something more in between the old and new version? Top seems small to me now in relation to the other letters. I do like the new /S better than the old one though.

    /B /J /R and /Y are more in relation now and their curves seem improved.

    Not too sure about the curved strokes of /V /W and their counterparts in /Z /K and /Y. At first glance the letters now seem to be falling over a bit to the left (/V and /W). Though that does give a bit of dynamic I guess, it doesn't feel right at the moment. Maybe the straight legs are better? Or maybe try curved legs on both sides?

    I like your /at by the way. The /ampersand needs some work - it's longest leg (the diagonal stroke going from top left to bottom right) is too curvy / wobbly to my eye.

    And again, as said before, very nice work for a first typeface dude!
  • Hello folks!

    After letting the typeface rest for a little I've made another push to get things into a more complete state. Now again, I would love your feedback, especially on diacritics and kerning / word image.

    Here you can see a rough overview of the main characters:

    • Tuned down the curvy /VWZvwz, but it's a lot more subtle now; removed it from the legs of /R and /kK
    • Reworked figures, added oldstyle, tabular as well as fraction and sub- and superscript variations
    • Filled in a lot of diacritics and other characters missing so far, supporting Adobe Latin 3 plus some miscellaneous characters (couldn't help myself, had to draw a capital ß) 
    • Done a lot of metrics and kerning work (phew, did I underestimate how much work that is, and how big leaps a typeface will take in that phase, in terms of readability)
    Diacritics and ligatures preview:

    And some figures:


    But for the rest, you better check out the complete preview sheet, with text and metrics samples included: Preview sheet

    Again, this is my first typeface, please don't be shy to point out even the most trivial seeming things - to your they might be, when for me they could be really insightful.

    For further development I am planning 3-5 more weights and during kerning I've set my eyes on including a few more discretionary ligatures like /Th /Ch /st /ch. What I am currently undecided on is the italics. While I do have some sketches and vector try-outs, I feel I've not found the right vibe for it yet to go with this rather straight and serious face. This being my first typeface, I might leave it without italics for now.

    As always, curious to hear what you make of this.

    Thanks for your time, interest and insights :wink: 
  • It's hard to resist, but try to hold off on filling out the character set and especially kerning until your basics are better nailed down. Seriously, don't kern anything yet.
    The closed bowl lowercase letters like /b/d/o/p/q/ all look too narrow.
    I find the acute top serifs on /E/F/T/ distracting. 
    Top of the loop of /g/ should thicken as you have done, but the bottom horizontal part shouldn't.
    The serif on the fives should probably go the other way. Fours are too dark.
    Spine of /s/ (and maybe /S/ too) looks like it's thickest at the bottom right extremum, when it should be thickest along the diagonal in the middle.
    Even though your stress is vertical, the outstroke of /c/ and /e/ could thin a little more slowly to keep them from looking weak.
    Spacing in general looks quite tight to me.

  • Also:
    /W/'s counters should be closer in size to each other.
    The point I made about /c/e/ also holds true for /C/.
    The way /a/ straightens out horizontally in the middle looks stiff. 
    Middle arms of /E/F/ look short/weak.
  • Hey Craig, a great many thanks for all the pointers. I think with some of those things you mentioned I am a bit unsure where runs the line between retaining the typeface's own character and ironing out unevenness. However, with most things I agree and will have a look. Particular the /s/S and the /g have been troubling me throughout the design. The /d/b/p/q series I have tweak already a lot since last and they improved, but maybe I need to step back a bit and check the whole alphabet's widths in relation to each other still some more.
    While I also agree with your reminder to not rush ahead, the problem with beginners like myself is that it's not that we don't want to polish the basics more, but that it's all about learning to see where things are off still. So again, thank you for your very concrete remarks. 
  • My last update about this typeface progress is already quite a while back, but it would seem to me that the changes I have made since warrant a new preview.

    Ironically, I have worked more on another typeface project and generally studied more about type design. Coming back to this now with a tiny bit more experience (I'm still a beginner, I kid myself not ;)) it is refreshing to try my hand anew at a couple of the things I was still struggling with earlier, like... drawing an S :)


    The updated preview is a bit reduced from previous samples; in retrospect I see I rushed things, so now this is more down to basics. I fine tuned many glyphs, redid the metrics, then redid the metrics again, ignored kerning for now and fixed some inconsistencies. Both in spacing and in shapes I let go of the condensed (*coff* crammed) tendencies. Most of the work since the last preview has gone into the shapes of romans and capitals.

    Looking back at my initial post (and even further at my early design files and sketches) this already has come a looong way (and by this, I suppose I really mean my understanding of designing type), thanks in many ways to the insights you shared. 

    Something in particular that I've been wondering about is the proportions of O and other round caps such as G P, as well as the relation of o to pqbd; In the caps I wonder if my round characters are still a tad to slim (maybe aside from D), whereas with the lowercase I somehow can't figure out how to visually balance the bowls of the mentioned round chars to appear similar - or if they even should.

    As always, I am very curious to read what you folks make of the latest version.
  • Reworked a lot of the shapes to remove some of the forced inward serifs, while still retaining that character and the wedgy serifs. Above I mentioned the relation of round shapes to the o in the lowercase and I had another go at this, generally making many lowercase glyphs wider and avoiding making them too crammed looking. Also redrew the figures, starting from old-style for a different perspective.



    New preview with more paragraph text.

    Feedback and opinions welcome ;)
  • Bottom counters of /M/ and /N/ could rise higher, with the top vertices spreading out a bit.
    /Q/ tail could be less shy. /s/ is top heavy. Bottom serifs of /S/s/ seem heavy. /g/ ear too puny. I'd expect a serif on the tail of /y/. 
    Stress patterns on the figures are unconventional (e.g. thin horizontals on /2/3/5/7/). Widths of figures also seem all over the place. 

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