Display type based on odd signage

Austin StahlAustin Stahl Posts: 54
edited June 2016 in Type Design Critiques
I've started working on something fun, based on some fabricated metal letters above the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, near where I live. I've always been fascinated by these letterforms — they're just so strange, like they were made by someone without a full grasp of what letters are supposed to look like, and yet I find them really charming. Some pics (note that they're somewhat different on each side of the tunnel!):

North side: http://bridgehunter.com/photos/17/19/171979-L.jpg
South side: http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/32268723.jpg

So I started designing something that's cleaned up enough to be usable, but hopefully without losing that awkward charm. The tough thing is finding the spot where that balance is!

So far, I've made only the characters that I have references for. Wanted to get a little feedback before moving on to filling in the rest of the alphabet.

I know the /R is super weird (I mean, even more weird than the rest), but I love it. There are definitely some characters that feel darker than others — I need to figure out how much of that I want to keep (what's distracting vs what's attractively naive).

I think this has a cool 20th-century industrial confidence to it, but I have no idea whether that's appealing to anyone but me. :)


  • Ideas to try out: wider top of A, reversing the M. 
  • reversing the M. 
    Maybe for an alt, but this is part of the original lettering's charm, no?
  • Actually instead of reversing the "M" I would reverse the "A". See some great examples here, such as: https://www.flickr.com/photos/patlejch/21846108510/in/pool-altcontrast/

  • I've been torn on the M. I actually removed some weight from the left stroke because it was so heavy overall, but maybe I should stay away from half-measures: Either reverse it to look more normal (and keep the A as-is), or just go all-in on the "left side is way heavier" thing?
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 787
    edited June 2016
    Hrant, that steady rhythmic strategy can work for lettering, but I don't know if reversing all the diagonals is really the best solution for this typeface. The charm is in the mix of contrast, not the mere reversal of contrast.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,610
    edited June 2016
    Stephen, I can dig that, and I'm no fan of blind reversal (even though it can at least serve as a wake-up call). What I tend to propose is greater harmony by favoring the eye over the dogma of conventional ductal contrast; whether it's a font or canned lettering, making for example the "A" thin-left/thick-right tends to create discord. I posit that's why those unencumbered by tradition tend to favor the opposite.

    At the very least we need to spread the idea of a Stylistic Set that flips the contrast distribution to heavy-lefts (as Austin mentions). You heard it here first. Well, unless you follow me on Twitter. :-)
  • Yeah, that's an interesting use of Contextual Alts! (Sorry, I simply don’t have the brainwidth to follow folks who tweet 10 times a day.)
  • Just because it exists as signage, does not mean it needs to exist as a typeface.
    If you are going to go there, what about the lowercase?

  • Well, there are a lot of typefaces that don't need to exist. I'm having fun.

    Was considering a small caps as the lowercase, if I get that far. We'll see.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 972
    Consider the contradiction that I've been often guilty of: quirky, rustic glyphs with laser precise horizontal precision. A slight vertical misalignment can inform the reader that this is supposed to be wrong-on-purpose. If you take it too far, it can look perhaps too zany. If you bop the glyphs randomly...maybe up to 3 units up and down it will make such a difference. Like an expensive pair of expertly distressed jeans vs the Wal*Mart version.

    I've ruined many a good ALL CAPS display typeface by adding a lowercase. Proceed with caution.
  • Ray, I'm a little fearful of crossing the "zany" line, but that's an interesting thought.

    Testing out Craig's suggestions — Before:


  • Whatever option you chose, keep the others as alternates (ss01, ss02, etc...)
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,610
    edited June 2016
    Booya. (See also the middle of the "M", and the tighter spacing.)
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,610
    edited June 2016
    Hmmm, actually, since –arguably– the characteristic thing in this design is not really the left but the bottom-left being heavy...

    A.gif 1.7K
  • That poor A. :'(
  • I've finished the basic alphabet + numerals. Filling in the characters that didn't exist was an interesting exercise! (I'll probably keep the "corrected" M as an alternate, but I think the "backwards" one is working better for me in context.)

    Some of the numerals are proving tough to incorporate the "heavy left/bottom" thing into—some are looking especially quirky. But fun, I think?

  • The alphabet feels consistent to me. Some of the numerals don't feel like they belong. Here's what I'd do in this situation: surround each numeral with similar letters and zero and adjust until they harmonize. There's no need to match any specific properties of each letter but each numeral should feel like it belongs.


    Test the numerals together and make minor adjustments so they work well together.
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