I know how to start. But I don't know when to finish.

Andrew WoodAndrew Wood Posts: 42
edited April 30 in Technique and Theory
Designing a typeface seems, to me, to involve dozens of big decisions, and thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of small iterative changes.

How do you know when you have finished your typeface? 

Comments

  • I think there are two important elements: one would be to set a goal, and to strive by any means not to stray away from it.
    And then I believe that the typeface should be tested, also in intermediate stages if needed, in an actual application, to see how it works, and if it works well and satisfies at least the essential premises of the initial goal.
  • I've been making fonts for over twenty years and I still haven't finished any.
    Coincidentally, earlier today we tweeted:
    ‘At https://www.dtl.nl beta versions of DTL Fell fonts can be tested on screen. As one will notice, there are a few rendering issues and the kerning is incomplete still. However, we think that after a development that took more than 20 years, it is going to be a wonderful typeface!’

  • Rob BarbaRob Barba Posts: 41
    Personally, I tend to subscribe to Da Vinci's Maxim (or the George Lucas' Principle of Abandonment if you use the modern term):


    Basically, to quote the linked article:
    You can always go back and touch up a painting. You can always rewrite a lyric or melody. You can always edit a book or blog post. Art is never done. It is never complete. It can always be refined.

    And that is most certainly true.  Like with my non-font artwork, I'm always tweaking, improving.  For my fonts, it's adding a requested glyph, working on the glyphs themselves, or something.  There will always be something that needs to be tinkered with.

    Two weeks ago I released a new font that I'd let sit (and forgot about) since 2013.  Once of my most basic fonts is getting an extended set addition.  A couple of experimental, internal-use fonts I made I'm considering expanding and releasing in full.  The list goes on, and I am most certainly not the only one that does this.

    So to answer, when have I finished my typeface?

    The answer is really, never.


  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,154
    I regularly beg each typeface I am working on to be finished.  Beggars can't be choosers.
  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 892
    Funny, I've never heard that sentiment attributed to Da Vinci. I first heard it paraphrased by Matthew Carter and he attributed it originally to Paul Valéry: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” (And Matthew transposed it to “font,” of course.) 
  • Cory MaylettCory Maylett Posts: 158
    edited April 30
    I've been tempted to ask this exact same question here, so I have no answers. I do have some observations, though.

    In my professional work (I'm a graphic designer and art director), there are always deadlines — projects might be due by specific dates or budgets only allow for so much time or clients might have ideas that affect the completion. In other words, I'm done when the deadline, money, client or employer says I'm done. After that, it's finished and there's no looking back since another job has replaced it.

    In my type design work, it's purely a personal thing with no specific timetables and no one to satisfy other than myself. Type design is also an activity that provides a near-infinite level of detail into which I can get lost. I can get a font family 95 percent finished then decide that, say, the lowercase s isn't quite right, but fixing the s means I also need to change a dozen other glyphs to bring them into better conformity with the new s. And of course, this extends across, I don't know, 20 fonts and 20 italics. But now that tweaking of the s and those other glyphs and their sidebearings has affected the kerning, so now I need to go through several thousand possible kerning pairs. It never really reaches an end until I just feel so worn down that I walk away and call it done, even though I know there's more I could do.

    Lately, I've been thinking that a logical stopping point is when my tweaking crosses the line into something that nobody will ever notice. For some reason, though, I'm finding this easier said than done.

    I'm also increasingly coming to realize the importance of really thinking through the details during the first stages of the design rather than just charging ahead with what sort of seems right at the time. It's just way too easy to make quick but far-reaching decisions that, two months down the road, can't be fixed without a huge amount of effort.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 908
    Kent Lew said:
    Funny, I've never heard that sentiment attributed to Da Vinci. I first heard it paraphrased by Matthew Carter and he attributed it originally to Paul Valéry: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” (And Matthew transposed it to “font,” of course.) 
    Yup. https://quoteinvestigator.com/2019/03/01/abandon/
  • Rob BarbaRob Barba Posts: 41
    Kent Lew said:
    Funny, I've never heard that sentiment attributed to Da Vinci. I first heard it paraphrased by Matthew Carter and he attributed it originally to Paul Valéry: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” (And Matthew transposed it to “font,” of course.) 
    I'd first heard it as the Lucas Principal of Abandonment, which is why I mentioned it.  I later heard the Da Vinci version and presumed he was the one who coined the initial phrase.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,539
    edited April 30
    Don't worry about finishing, just making things useful to others. (BTW crucial to this last bit is not thinking of it as Art.)
  • Don't worry about finishing, just making things useful to others. (BTW crucial to this last bit is not thinking of it as Art.)
    The word "art" seems too generic in English to me (am I wrong?), especially as far as "graphic arts" are concerned. Clearly type design is an effort placed at a crossroads between disciplines. That’s why I suggested that setting boundaries can be part of a “self-education” in learning to decide when something is finished (at least to some degree, or that you’re satisfied with the result).
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,539
    edited April 30
    Terms are poorly used regularly, you just have to pick a meaning that makes sense to you (and be willing to explain yourself) while remaining open to change. You get a lot of "That's not what the dictionary says!" but that sort of blinkered dogma is pretty easy to shoot down.

    Instead of Design being at a crossroad, I see it as one pure end of an axis, the other being Art. And any given creative effort is never at one pure extreme or the other, but somewhere in between. The difference between Design and Art that I've personally arrived at (for now) involves not a lack of expression, but its intent. Nothing made by a person can avoid personal expression, but in Design it happens in spite of you, while in Art it is the purpose. Applying this to finishing a font, it becomes a matter of not what feels satisfying to the designer, but how much how many users will benefit. Although the more complete and polished a font the better it can be used, the more you delay it the more you are robbing from its potential use.

    But I do agree with setting a release threshold... just not too early... and as long as you stay willing to change it.  :-)

    Recent and related:

  • Andrew WoodAndrew Wood Posts: 42
    Thanks everyone. An interesting and insightful discussion, even if practical advice was limited :-)

  • Terms are poorly used regularly, you just have to pick a meaning that makes sense to you (and be willing to explain yourself) while remaining open to change. You get a lot of "That's not what the dictionary says!" but that sort of blinkered dogma is pretty easy to shoot down.
    This is only true to some degree, and depending on the term. Words are not arbitrary, regardless of their nuanced or altered meaning.
    We do not even have the term “design” in italian, as applied to graphic design. The term exists (and is widely used in the other fields) but the concept of “design” as an encompassing discipline makes it specific to use.
  • Thanks everyone. An interesting and insightful discussion, even if practical advice was limited :-)

    I tried to give some, but it escalated quickly in “pop philosophy”. :D
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,136
    edited May 2
    escalated quickly in “pop philosophy”
    Sorry, that was partly my fault. :smile:

    MyFonts has an online handbook about making fonts. Although some of it is specific to MyFonts, the section "Making Faces" is a good overview that should answer your question for the most part.
  • Claudio PiccininiClaudio Piccinini Posts: 232
    edited May 2
    escalated quickly in “pop philosophy”
    Sorry, that was partly my fault. smile 
    Oh, no. :)
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,597

    How do you know when you have finished your typeface? 

    At a practical level: when you have not only completed all your initial, measurable goals, but can also set it aside and come back to it a month or two later, and not see anything terribly awful that has to be corrected.

    Not saying you don’t see anything you want to fix, but rather that the fixes you want to make are just “nice to have.” Maybe make those fixes and then ship the darn thing.
  • The other reason is that, in order to finish a font and release it, I need to limit the scope of what I want to do with the font. Sometimes things that don't make the cut end up in later updates or releases.
    Yes, but when the desired destination use is more focused, it can be indeed doable.
    Said by me which needs to learn how to make decisions and stick with them. :smile:
  • ClintGossClintGoss Posts: 21
    "The Enemy of the Good is the Perfect"

    ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_is_the_enemy_of_good )
     
    This issue has been central throughout my life. In commercial software development settings, I always wanted to tinker with source code to improve it - often just in the comments - on the off chance that some other developer would read the code. In a commercial environment, this aggravated everyone down the line because of the need to re-test, re-release, whatever. I saw my work as Art, not Product.

    Working in fonts now is wonderful (for me) because every tinker is an improvement to the product that gets rendered and seen ...
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 908
    Oh, I've done plenty of tinkering that doesn't get rendered.
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