Do typedesigners with bad handwriting exist?

BMorickeBMoricke Posts: 22
edited April 2021 in Education
Being taught at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague in the late nineties, I left the academy with a ‘Hague scrawl’. A type of cursive handwriting that most students (that were interested in type) developed during their studies. Unfortunately, I think it is not taught anymore. 

Since the script is so terribly comfortable and easy, I decided to spread the love for it and organise masterclasses and courses about it. I simplified the system for writing this ‘Hague scrawl’, made a typeface that explains the construction, and wrote a manual to practise. 

It seems quite hard to find the right people to attend the lessons. What does this mean? Handwriting is gone? Pondering about this, I was thinking about my type design teachers at the academy and literally ALL of them take care of their handwriting. To me, it looks quite ridiculous to NOT do that as a typedesigner. I’m really curious to know how you think about that?


  • Igor PetrovicIgor Petrovic Posts: 248
    edited April 2021
    I really like your Instagram posts and videos and I guess it's more about marketing than the idea because the idea is pretty appealing.

    The possible problem is that sometimes the audience likes the content but is not sure what exactly is going on (because people scroll half-minded through the social networks).  

    For example some of my friends like my type design posts for years, but when we met in person they were not sure what exactly I am doing, and they didn't realize that I am actually trying to SELL fonts.

    That said, I really like your script system and videos but wasn't aware you run the course.

    I guess that a more open "call to action" message should be conveyed more directly. Somehow to tell "I SELL FONTS" or "I RUN THE COURSE". Seems that social networks sadly are not for subtle messages :)

    Or to give a small giveaway, like one free ticket or one free font license. Then people share/tag/comment in order to enter the giveaway. 

    Also, consulting the marketing expert or sponsor the post might be a good move. On Instagram things happen in terms of thousands of followers, my 330 or so followers mean one or zero fonts sold via Instagram :)
  • BMorickeBMoricke Posts: 22
    Thanks for your reply! Yeah, the marketing part is quite new to me. However, it's like you say, when I speak to people they say they notice me and think I'm doing 'cool stuf'. Yesterday I put up a post which clearly said that I give the courses, but maybe the type size was too small? Haha!

    That post also said that they can bring someone for free (or split the costs). You know, at art school we don't learn this stuff, but actually, I notice I really like it and it's a big challenge!
  • Sérgio MartinsSérgio Martins Posts: 16
    edited April 2021
    To the title question: yes, they do. My handwriting is absolutely atrocious. :smile:
    I've had a chicken scrawl that's varied between unreadable and just hard to read and while I've noticed some passive (slight) improvement after learning and practicing calligraphy (but not handwriting), it has steadily deteriorated throughout the years.
    As for the last question, I'll refer to Latin since that seems to be the focus of post, and I don't think one answer beyond "it kind of depends on the script" fits type design as a whole.
    While I do think that knowledge and firsthand practice of calligraphy and other letter form related activities are fundamental to expand a type designer's understanding of the shapes they work with, I'm less inclined to say their mastery or diligent practice towards improvement of such skills is as much of a boon. Especially for shapes more removed from calligraphic expression.
    There is, I believe, a discussion to be had as to exactly how much understanding one can gain from mastery (or at least constant improvement) of these skills, that they could not by studying and experiencing the activities firsthand without constant practice. That is not to say that there is no gain from it, simply that the diminishing returns set too soon and there are far too many styles to master; particularly when taking into consideration that type design skills are not the same as the required skills for calligraphy.
    Incidentally, calligraphy is not the only field that benefits a type designer to learn about - shaping engines, encoding standards and linguistics are also useful rabbit holes. Learning all about them, though, might not be necessary for everyone.
  • BMorickeBMoricke Posts: 22
    Thanks for your feedback! I think there is a clear distinction between handwriting and calligraphy. Personally, I don't like calligraphy that much (although my fascination for letters started there with the book of Johnston), but through the years I got to know the world as either totally cool, filled with people that have no clue what they are doing but just want to follow the trend, to people that master perfection. And to me, striving for perfection is boring (very personal, I know).

    I looked at different names for calligraphy (literally it means 'beautiful, but hey, what is beautiful? It certainly doesn't mean perfection!) and bumped into penmanship. That is not so much about calligraphy, but has a far wider meaning, focussing on handwriting, but not necessarily to a calligraphic level. (Penmanship is also connected to master American spencerian, which is not what I mean.) That said, where is the border between handwriting and calligraphy? Do you think my handwriting in the second image is calligraphy?

    So handwriting is not so much about learning many different scripts, as it is to learn to write in a comfortable, legible way. 

    And I totally agree with you that different fields would also benefit a typedesigner, especially the linguistics! (Don't hear that often from type designers!)
  • My handwriting is absolutely terrible, and has been a thorn in my side for as long as I can write. I developed an obsession over what I can't have, and that's what brought me to typography in the first place. 
  • BMorickeBMoricke Posts: 22
    Haha, well, that's a good place to be! If you want you can take a look at my course, maybe you find it interesting.

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,457
    As a child, first learning to write, my writing was clear and readable.   After 75 years of decay due to writing quickly and only for my own reading, my handwriting is a mess--but I don't care.  Real handwriting is for talking to myself.  Most written communication is typed and sent electronically so it matters not a bit. Years ago, I studied calligraphy and got good at it but never do it any more.
  • BMorickeBMoricke Posts: 22
    edited April 2021
    I understand, you are right that most communication is typed. However, in the time you were learning to write, at least there was some proper education, I assume. I don't know how things are internationally, but here in Holland kids only learn to write capitals, because that resembles the letters on the keyboard. Writing capitals is way more uncomfortable than lowercase, because connecting the capitals is simply difficult (if not impossible). If you know that flow and speed are the main components of a good hand, how can you expect kids to ever like writing by hand? And if people say that we are not going to need it anymore, I don’t agree. Why not?

    A big misunderstanding is that I give these courses out of nostalgia. I do it for other reasons, which are shown through research about the benefit of handwriting: When college students use computers or tablets during lecture, they learn less and earn worse grades.

    It reminds me about an interview I once saw with a professor. A student came up to him, telling him that he couldn't read his feedback. 'Oh my god', the professor answered, ‘is my handwriting that bad?!?’ —‘No’, the student said, ‘I can not read handwriting in general. I only can read typed text.’ 
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,457
    edited April 2021
    I was taught to write in the late 1940s. We were first taught single letter printing in both upper and lower case.  In 3rd grade, we began cursive. We were taught probably the Palmer method and used dipped pen in ink, not pencil. In the 1960s, I was taught calligraphy by Arnold Bank at Carnegie Mellon University.  We were taught all of the hands, including pointed pen italic.
    I never did learn true typing, boys were sent to wood and metal shop while girls learned typing and sewing--a bygone era. I eventually began typing in the 1980s with the advent of the personal computer. I still hunt and peck with two fingers, unlike my grown kids who type extremely well and quickly. Typing at first took me forever but now I am better at it.
    Reading my professors hand written comments was always slow but doable. I remember Wolfgang Weingart's handwriting being impossible but Ken Hiebert's was much easier to read.
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,956
    Even I have trouble reading my writing. Of course it would help if I didn’t write with swashes all over the place!
  • In my generation it was usual in Austria to learn writing in printing letters (sans-serif) first, then Latin script. Later at age 13-14 Kurrent (a broken German script) and shorthand. At age ~17 technical drawing was part of my education including DIN script. I still can write all of them freehand but far away from the speed of my horrible handwriting for notices.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    edited April 2021
    I took an evening course in calligraphy, early in my career. I was working as an advertising agency art director at the time, with type design as a side gig—a hobby, really, as I wasn’t making any money at it.

    I thought that learning proper calligraphy would better inform my efforts at type design, while pursuing my interest in cultural history, by hand.

    Of course, it’s not necessary to be a calligrapher, or to know anything about it, to design type in this day and age, but as an antiquarian, I had fallen under the spell of Cooper, Goudy, Tschichold and the Zapfs.

    The upshot of my calligraphy course was a change in my writing style, incorporating the “joining rules” according to my instructor, which did improve it. At least, I think so.

    I have published one cursive “handwriting” typeface, which I subsequently updated with the joining rules implemented with dynamic ligaturing in the <calt> feature, but it doesn’t look much like my own writing style. I have the idea, at the back of my mind, that one day I will knuckle down and make a font that would create a quite accurate facsimile of how I write, but I doubt I’ll get around to it.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,629
    edited April 2021
    My handwriting varies from okay to pretty bad. I was never very good at cursive and settled on a somewhat backslanted print style as a teen. It was the basis for my first published font, Felt Tip Roman. When I'm trying harder to be neat, I make it narrower and slanted to the right. It's gotten worse as I've aged, but it's always been better in the morning than later in the day. My main problem is that I try to write too quickly, causing curves and corners to collapse, like auto-trace set too smooth.
  • Nick CookeNick Cooke Posts: 178
    Like Mark I also write too quickly, but I find it hard to write slower, even if it would make my handwriting neater. My handwriting isn’t bad, but it could be better. That’s why my handwritten fonts are so much better than my actual handwriting: I have the luxury of choosing the best characters and making them better and the way they all work together with contextual alternates and ligatures. They are handwriting fonts, definitely not calligraphy. 
  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,896
    edited April 2021
    My handwriting is abysmal; I think faster than I write, and sometimes my hand abandons skips a letter or two (or a word) to catch up with me.
    Ever since last year's spring lockdown, I teach with a PDF version of my physics script that I hand out to my students (they bring devices these days), and instead of the blackboard I write on my PDF in Notability with a graphics tablet and project it overhead. The graphics tablet makes my handwriting even worse (I've long planned to buy an iPad but haven't gotten round to it so far).
    This is from today's last lesson. I was in a hurry. :grimace:

    At least they actually have to listen to what I say this way...
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,629
    edited April 2021
    On the other hand, my mom had the most beautiful, neat cursive handwriting. She was taught the Palmer Method in the early '40s. She wasn't a type designer or anything similar, though. I'm afraid I inherited my dad's handwriting.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,629
    I think faster than I write, and sometimes my hand abandons skips a letter or two (or a word) to catch up with me.
    Me, too, all the time. Drives me crazy.
  • Matthijs HerzbergMatthijs Herzberg Posts: 140
    edited April 2021
    It largely depends. If I quickly scribble a grocery list, it is not a sight to behold. But while writing a postcard to a family member, with some effort I can make it look pretty nice (years of calligraphy practice have certainly helped).
    Perhaps "handwriting" and "calligraphy" aren't two separate fields, but rather two poles of the same axis. Handwriting is for utility: quick, simply, little effort. Calligraphy is for beauty. Through training, calligraphy can be done faster, or handwriting can be done more neatly, and at some point those two actions are the same thing.
    On another note, my calligraphy has definitely influenced and improved my type design (I picked up a pilot parallel long before I picked up FontLab), but also type design has improved my understanding of spacing and rhythm to a point that it has improved my calligraphy,
  • To me time spent improving one's handwriting is better spent on type. Because the best type is for reading, which is based on notan, not painted skeletons.

    My handwriting is terrible, and I've taken only one calligraphy class (below is my best result) but derive comfort from something decidedly controversial my instructor actually said: "The highest compliment is when your calligraphy is mistaken for a font."  :->

  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,366
    Perhaps "handwriting" and "calligraphy" aren't two separate fields, but rather two poles of the same axis.
    Eagerly awaiting your variable font!
  • @Craig Eliason I can't believe I talked about an axis without considering this. I just might, when I finish the 5 typefaces I'm currently working on ;)
  • BMorickeBMoricke Posts: 22
    edited April 2021
    Thank you for all your replies! It makes me a bit sad there is not much attention for handwriting anymore, because I thoroughly enjoy it myself. But of course, that is not important for anyone else! 

    To summarise what you are saying: handwriting asks for speed, because it is meant for daily use. And the speed makes things worse: low legibility, low readability. I was thinking about that. Isn't it a sign of the times that we don't take the time anymore to just sit down? I started writing letters to people again and it makes me so calm. I love the whole process: sitting down and think of that person, closing the physical bridge between him/her being there and me being here in my mind, say whatever you want to say to that person, close the envelop, bring it to the postoffice and then WAIT.   

    Yes, you HAVE to calm down to be able to write, to organise your thoughts. And organising your thoughts makes you feel calm. Quite an effective circle!

    Here you can see a few of those letters:
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,629

    In general, I don't think there's necessarily a connection between having good handwriting and being a type designer. There are definitely some with excellent handwriting, though, and some calligraphers who also design type. Their faces tend to have a more calligraphic feel.
  • BMorickeBMoricke Posts: 22
    edited April 2021
    No, I also don't think there is a clear connection, although like I said in my post before, all my type design teachers (Frank E. Blokland, Peter Verheul, Peter Matthias Noordzij, Paul van der Laan, Peter Bilak, Petr van Blokland, Erik van Blokland, Just van Rossum) have really good handwriting!
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,457
    edited April 2021
    <<process: sitting down and think of that person, closing the physical bridge>>

    I think the only thing missing in the type written version is the ordeal of a post office ;-)

  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,629
    edited April 2021
    all my type design teachers (Frank E. Blokland, Peter Verheul, Peter Matthias Noordzij, Paul van der Laan, Peter Bilak, Petr van Blokland, Erik van Blokland, Just van Rossum) have really good handwriting!
    That may be to do with the way handwriting is taught in The Netherlands.

    In the US, when I was in elementary school in the 1960s, a cursive style, descended from the Palmer hand and the like, was taught. That style was better suited to fountain pens, not ballpoint pens and pencils, which is what we had. And the instruction was not as rigorous as when my mother learned with the Palmer Method. I don't remember anyone in my class having particularly good handwriting.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,098
    We all try to outdo our teachers. That creates an historical thread, and a web of influence.

    Gudrun Zapf von Hesse was an apprentice and assistant at the bookbindery of Otto Dorfner in Weimar from 1934 to 1937. Her calligraphy practice began during this apprenticeship; in her acceptance address for the Frederic W. Goudy Award, she said “One afternoon a week we had to write very simple letters. I was not satisfied with this form of instruction; therefore, I taught myself at home, from a detailed examination of the works of Rudolf Koch and Edward Johnston.
  • @Chris Lozos So Zapfino is basically just Herman's handwriting?
    @Mark Simonson I think it may be more generational than location. I went to elementary school in the Netherlands in the early 2000's and the handwriting I was taught was also a watered down Palmer Method-esque cursive, and our training also wasn't rigorous. By high school, most students had reverted back to scribbly block letters. While it's possible that handwriting education in the '60s was better in the Netherlands than in the US, I can anecdotally say that both my boomer parents have rather unappealing handwriting.
  • Handwriting goes against Design because it's more about the maker than society. Calligraphy is æsthetically beautiful handwriting... but that makes it ugly in a deeper way.

    Ever since the establishment pf printing the best calligraphy has been essentially unconcerned with legibility. See the amazing work of Pierre Soulages.

    Although painted skeletons can certainly be æsthetically pleasing to readers, that's not really at the level of reading, but merely looking. The closer one gets to text typeface design, the more one needs to eschew chirography. (I wish there was a recording of my ATypI talk of Mexico City...)

    And I'm quite envious of my then-6yo boy's freedom from convention:

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