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?
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.
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.
I understand John's point differently. I tend to think of n, o, p and v as guidelines, but then I design a-z, in order, always returning to the seemingly outlying a at the end. This forces me away from what I see as limitations of copying similarities as they occur, or charts for people who don't think about type design until one of us tells them to. These lead to groupings and their inevitable linking of the letters by black parts, in the example font. Then what? So, I feel like if I go for diversity first, equality of everything black and white comes sooner, if that makes sense. If it doesn't, make sense, think of how many fonts you might abandon after all the effort of a-g, nopv;)
Hope it helps!
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.