Which letters to design first to base others off of it?

I've always wondered how this works and I've not come to a one fits all solution and every time it's me winging it with a few letters to start off and then in the midst I get stuck not knowing how to continue for certain letters incorporating the same style. I mean unusual looking letters, like ornamental wood type or something that's just different. So which letters to draw out first to use as reference to draw up the remaining glyphs? 



  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,863
    edited April 2016
    For a Latin type design:

    i n l h m o
    I H O

    These establish key proportions and standard features such as terminals, arches, stroke modulation. Then either the distinctive letters — a c e g s — or the bowl letters — b d p q —, depending whether I want to concentrate on the character of the design or the proportions.
  • Alex KaczunAlex Kaczun Posts: 163
    edited April 2016
    Start with HOno(zero) for alignment, stems & hairlines, proportions & spacing.
    Then, add A, B, E, G, M, a, b, c, e, g, 2, 4—to define design specifics throughout remainder of font. All the other glyphs will fall into place from this point on.
  • There is also a diagram Hrant Papazian posted over on Twitter highlighting similarities between Latin lowercase letters.
  • Kent LewKent Lew Posts: 905
    Sounds like my starting point is similar to John’s. I have plenty of nascent designs lying around my hard drive that still consist of basically DHIOhilmnopu.
  • In addition to the general sound advice already given, I also find myself playing around on letters that encapsulate the character of the typeface I work on. I don't mean to say start with something distinctive, but rather think of what are the essential features, and are there glyphs that really articulate those. But either way, always do basic n o H O's amongst the first.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,356
    edited April 2016
    If I don't deal with the more difficult letters first, I can end up painting myself into a corner. I go for the heaviest weight of R and e. The R defines the bowl, the stroke and contrast reduction where strokes meet. With the R, there are limits to how much you can crush the counter, how thick the stroke can get before it increases the letter's width. If you start with H, you can do whatever you want.

    The lowercase e, in heavy weights requires more finesse than a lowercase n. How am I going to deal with the crossbar crushing the counter? How does the weight reduction on the e crossbar relate to the R? After that, I can make the HOno. I'll continue to make adjustments to the R and e but I'm prevented from defining heavy letter rules that are impossible to propagate throughout the remainder of the alphabet.

    I started a new typeface today. I started with an N because in this case I wanted to emphasize the N's relationship to the R. Next was the e. I went back to the R and worked on the relationship with the e. At that point, I had enough information to design the n. I checked to see how it related to the e and R. Once the n was done I could work on the spacing, feel the rhythm. I made adjustments so the n would bounce along pleasantly with the e. Now that I had the rhythm working, I was ready for the H. With those few letters done, you can probably guess what the rest of the alphabet will look like.

  • AbiRasheedAbiRasheed Posts: 236
    edited April 2016
    Cheers for the insight everyone & thanks for the links. @Ray Larabie I'm kinda curious with your exemplar, how would O look ? Something like [this]?, more like 3 ?
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,356
    edited April 2016
    The N will end up being replaced with something more austere.
  • This qualifies as "small x-height" or as "Tall uppercase"? :p
  • And of course, it might go without saying, that the closer a design is to a narrowly useable ransom note font, the less the designer needs to concern themselves with a systematic approach. The more systematic and broadly useful a typeface, or typeface family, the more important a systematic approach. 
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