To become a type designer?

Hello all, been a bit of a lurker around here for a while and finally mustered the courage to ask you fine folks a question. I am a graphic designer and frustration and annoyance with my job has given me the drive to learn something I have long admired but never done (other than the odd bit of custom lettering here and there), which is font design.

3/4 months ago I started my journey by learning calligraphy. As advice from a couple of others has told me that to understand type I must know its origins and forms intimately. I have done this by studying Johnstons Foundational hand and now feel I have a good grip on it. But I am not sure where to go next on my journey, as with a mortgage and wedding coming up doing a masters at Reading seems a distant dream (though I might be able to do [email protected]). Any advice would be appreciated.



  • Dave CrosslandDave Crossland Posts: 1,250
    edited September 2016
    I started the project - 3-day introduction workshops around the world - for people in your position :) We are expecting to announce an event in San Francisco in January soon, and if you join the email newsletter on the homepage we'll let you know each time we announce an event.

    Out of the workshops there are 3 good resources,, and (which has all the essential information we cover in the workshops, plus more.)

    The best single introduction book I know of is - although note that it is in Spanish 
  • Kayley HillKayley Hill Posts: 27
    edited September 2016
    Hi Dave, do you have any plans for a London event soon (or anywhere else in the UK)? I will also have a look at those links. Also Terminal it is encouraging to hear that others here are self taught, gives me hope =).
  • Actually, most type designers are self taught. Formal education is very recent on this area. You may find interesting information about the background of some type professionals in this thread.
  • Starting with calligraphy can never be wrong. Also an excursion into old-fashioned sign painting and lettering – or even carving – may be a worthwhile experience. If you can organize it, see to get your hands on lead type as well (physically). Maybe in a printing museum or any small workshop. For my own upbringing as a type designer, I still regard this experience being essential for my feeling of type.
    However, first I wish you all the best for your wedding.
  • If you can organize it, see to get your hands on lead type as well (physically). Maybe in a printing museum or any small workshop.
    Funny you mention that, I currently volunteer at the Letterpress Workshop at Amberley Working Museum. It started as a way to do some hands on design and get to handle the type and ink. I love it, working with the old printers and hearing their stories is fantastic. I am actually now getting a 8x5 Adana so I can do some stuff at home (wedding invitations being one).

    Also Igor thank you for posting that thread, I was starting to think at 30 I have begun to late. So good to hear I am not the only late starter in type design.

    And finally Mark (big fan of your foundry by the way), I would like to do a course if I can. I am hoping I can possibly self-fund it if I can start doing more freelance. Though until I get the funds I am going to get my feet wet by learning as much myself as I can.

  • edited September 2016
    A type designer should study calligraphy in the same way that an automotive engineer studies an accident scene.

    Kayley, formal education is the quickest way to end up producing polished, mainstream work. But to me autodidactism remains the "slow food" movement of education: you will take much longer to get somewhere other people are interested in, but contribute much more of yourself to the craft. However this also depends on your character: if you can manage to duly come out of the shadow of your teachers, formal education might still be the best avenue. Always keep some healthy doubt handy.

    Oh, and do run all this by your future better half.  :-)
  • As others have already mentioned, type design is something you can 'teach yourself' to a great extend. Workshops or even master degrees are probably a good idea at some point, but whatever route you decide to take, it's probably good to just get started now. I'd say: buy a font editor (I recommend Glyphs), get something ready, post it on this forum for feedback, and at the same time be on the look out for workshops and such. Good luck!
  • One of the most important things to do is learn who to take advice from. There are plenty off armchair design critics who have never designed a decent latin font but have lots of bad advice to offer. It's best to focus on the advice of successful designers who have produced a body of great work. Check out people's portfolios before taking them seriously.

    Look into shorter programs since grad school isn't an option. Typecon, ATypI, and   smaller type conferences offer great introductory workshops. Cooper Union has a condensed summer program, and sometime years Reading offers summer programs. And good calligraphy lessons can be found almost anywhere. 

    Since you are a practicing graphic designer start using calligraphy and lettering in your work. Some grear type designers started this way.
  • For self teaching, I would recommend the following books (for making type, not using it):
    'Fonts and Logos' by Doyald Young, 'Designing Type' by Karen Cheng and 'On Stone' by Sumner Stone. The Young book is fantastic for pointing out small details, the Cheng book covers the basics and the Stone book covers a specific case in great detail.

    my two cents on Calligraphy: practicing calligraphy helped me enormously to see why certain certain curves worked better than others and to learn the logic of certain letter forms, especially using a broad nibbed pen. Suddenly the long 's' made sense!
  • My book recommandation would be the Frutiger book. It might appear expensive, but considering the historical, practical, and business insights it contains, it is a steal.

    I think a good internship is a really great way to start, but this might not be any easier for you. In any case, a lot of practice is the only way. Try designing a Didone, a sans serif, and a humanist serif. Didone and humanist will give you the basic understanding of contrast, sans serif to focus on the quality of curves, where defaults cannot hide behind fancy details.
  • Type design can be approached any way you want, since you have a background as a graphic designer, think about your inspirations and work in the graphic design field and try to relate them to type. Think of something fitting for a publication, a poster, something which makes it possible for you to discover how a type design can be a solution for an overall design issue, the issue you want to be able to solve with your own designs. Your designs can be as outlandish as you want, don't limit yourself to classical methods. While valuable, you can always delve at your leisure, but it's being able to relate type design with your interests which will give you the second breath for the long run.

    I'll also add a few cents on starting to play and experiment with digital type. I'd say: start with something extremely simple, something created out of a limited set of shapes and play with it.

    If you take the plunge quickly and start working on something intricate which requires careful balance (especially with designs you have a certain attachment to), you'll end up with projects with will become hard to handle quickly. Create Frankenstein projects, discard them and start anew. 

    While learning the digitisation process you'll run into so many new tricks and methods, that something you created a week ago can quickly look obsolete. Learning these methods will save you time later on, enabling you to focus on the real design problems you need to solve (and you aren't hampered by the fear of having to adjust every node by hand). Try one of the programs for font production and look which works best for you. (almost all of them offer trails). For a starter Glyphs is extremely friendly, both in price and it's manual/tutorial assets.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,640
    edited September 2016
    Nothing wrong with calligraphy courses or any other kind of lettering courses, so long as one develops an understanding of how typographic letters differ from written ones. This is mostly a matter of size. Yes, there are examples of very small writing — and a number of cultures that developed scribal specialisations in writing small — but in Latin script most text type is intended for use at smaller sizes than manuscript letters. In this respect, developing an understanding of calligraphy — by which I simply mean formal or cursive written letters made with an emphasis on aesthetic beauty —, or other forms of writing, can contribute to a better understanding of how typographic letters need to differ, whether your eventual designs may be categorised as para-chirographic — modelling aspects of written letters — or radically departing from writing.

    More important, to my own way of thinking, than learning to produce particular style of calligraphic letter is developing an understanding of the genesis of the normative shapes of letters or other signs within a script, which in most of the world's writing systems begin with, well, writing. In order to start making sense of how shapes can be made, manipulated, changed or, indeed, abandoned, it helps to understand how they came to be the way they are. In this respect, understanding writing is as important as — and perhaps this is what Hrant means — understanding how an accident happened if your job is automotive engineering.
  • edited September 2016
    Scale is indeed a central issue, where I would add that there is a threshold between display and text type, and it's in the former where calligraphy can admittedly play a positive role, and it's in the latter where it becomes a handicap. This was in fact the crux of the talk I gave at ATypI 2009.

    The pervasive intransigent oblivion to the handicap above –whereby we now have three schools teaching Noordzijism– necessitates a well-meaning ideological slap in the face.
  • An understanding of the development of letterforms is crucial, sure. That includes the understanding of shape changes during the transition from handwriting to type and afterwards.
    The very first ‘modern’ Roman text faces, Jenson and Bembo (as we call them nowadays) are rooted directly and deeply in the best specimen of handwritten body text in books of their time. Which is calligraphy in (rather) small sizes. That need for writing much and small urged the scribes to optimize the letters to the level best, for both writability and legibility. This torture had made the Latin script mature for her new life in type – when that day was about to dawn.
  • If you want to learn the craft, I strongly advise you to start with a simple, basic style of type, whether serif or sans or calligraphic,

    No, jump head over heels into the deep waters of type and start with something completely crazy lunatic. You’ll have awesome fun and you’ll be learning anyway.

    I have no idea what medieval Grimoires are but I’d like to learn … I wish you a great time!
  • Start with your second-favorite idea, because the first font always sucks.
  • Yes, your 1st will suck but you will be driven to pursue it and you will learn gobs in the process.
    Have no fear, do something that will drive YOU rather than get you fewer negative comments from others.
  • If you want to learn the craft, I strongly advise you to start with a simple, basic style of type, whether serif or sans or calligraphic,

    No, jump head over heels into the deep waters of type and start with something completely crazy lunatic. You’ll have awesome fun and you’ll be learning anyway.

    I have no idea what medieval Grimoires are but I’d like to learn … I wish you a great time!
    Start with your favourite idea. My first attempt was pursuing a concept I had in mind for quite some time. I had to do it to learn it was rather mediocre. If it proves otherwise you can still revisit it later on or start from scratch.
  • Start with your second-favorite idea, because the first font always sucks.
    Yes, but you can always revisit it later...  and if your favorite idea is what motivated you to do type design in the first place, shelving it for later might just kill your motivation.
  • There is a difference between seeing a finished solution to a type design you may admire and learning how to define the process to make a solution.  I can stare at a completed Rubik's Cube forever but will not learn how to solve a random cube without putting the work in. Teaching yourself to fish is not the same as eating a fish.
Sign In or Register to comment.