Category Archives: Design

Livraison 13 – Language and Typography

Livraison nº13 (from their website)

Just ordered the latest issue of Livraison. I’ve been reading the short summary, and, for an Art Magazine, it sure looks good. May I say it even looks like a Typography Magazine. Lots of interesting pieces from well known designers, like Peter Bil’ak, Lo Celso and Truchet.  At a glance I don’t recognize anyone else, but going through the pieces’ title and description I can’t wait to read it. Get it now (only 16€). Via Le Typographe.

Read more about this issue on Livraison’s website:

Livraison, a contemporary arts journal and, on the occasion of this issue, a journal of graphic design, addresses the field of language and typography. Physical matter of writing and of the thought that it materializes, typography is the meeting point of a linguistic content and a visual sign,…

[...] Peter Bil’ak’s History updates these references, and answers to Frutiger with a higher bid…

[...] “History” is also examined in the contributions by Benoît Buquet, Sonia de Puineuf, and Victor Guégan, in the light of avant-garde languages.

[...] Olivier Deloignon addresses the immediacy of signs imposed on onlookers in the time of reading.

[...] Annick Lantenois resumes the study of functionalist radicalism and the will to “negotiate with the negative connotations associated to emptiness and void” in 20th century.

[...] Stéphane Darricau [...] the difficult problem of the choice of type

[...] Lucille Guigon – having recently completed a post-degree program at the Ecole Supérieure d’Art et de Design in Amiens – also explores the field of language with a typographic creation that sculpts text and subtly diverts perception.

[...] Alejandro Lo Celso grounds his own work on the universe of Perec

[...] Roxane Jubert, collaborating with artist M.A. Thébault, delivers a typographic “play” under constraint based on the sonority of letter J;

[...] Titus Nemeth, with his Nassim, reintroduces the issue of relationships between different writing systems.

[...] Caroline Fabès and Sébastien Truchet systematically and mathematically deconstruct the material of text and letter.

[...] Thomas Huot-Marchand tests the habits and the abilities of readers.

[...] Kader Mokaddem presents a series of textual mappings

[...] Fabrice Sabatier addresses short forms, between irony and the derisiveness of the everyday.

By opening new lines of thought and crossing itineraries, this specific issue wishes to explore the relationships that typography maintains with language, a structuring feature of our relationship to the world. Typographically figured, the field of language is reorganized in a transversal way. More than any other visual practice, typography cannot do without the speech that goes through it, nor can it spare its creators bound to update its conditions of existence.

First lower case sketch


Pedro Proença sent this sketch as a first approach to a gothic type lower case (larger image in the sketches gallery section).
He is a Communication Design student currently studying in London that is mainly interested in participating in this project and learning more about Type Design.

Thanks Pedro! Keep in touch.

The follow up is a small transcription of the emails swapped (sorry guys, PT only…)

Pedro wrote:

“…ficou evidente q o a não encaixava nada bem, e mudei-o um pouco, mas ainda precisa de melhoras! Vou aprendendo conforme faço, por isso qq comentário ou conselho e bem vindo…qt ao t por acaso acho acho q o ‘cross stroke’
(n sei o termo em português) talvez pudesse ser mais curto do lado esquerdo…”

Before, I said:

“Os teus esboços estão muito fixes. Gosto particularmente do “b”, “t”, “f” e “k”. acho que apanhas muito bem o espírito do traço das grotescas do início do século. No entanto acho que o “a” e o “g” precisam de atenção – o “a” onde o olho faz a ligação à haste talvez devia ser mais horizontal e não tão fluida? E o “g” parece muito com a FFMeta mas…”

In response to:
“Tenho feito uns sketches para as letras lower-case…tenho seguido mais ou menos as recomendacoes do site e so tenho feito cenas em papel…vou começar agora a trabalhar no mac. Mando te um jpg com os esboços q fi ate agora…diz-me o que achas.”

(Originally published in 2006-08-09)


So you’ve already sketched out the idea for your typeface… very well. But how are you going to aproach the actual design? By now you’re saying (or at least thinking) “yeah… I’ll just start my software and start copy/pasting until I get carpal tunnelled!”

Before you waste your precious health you should consider on systemizing (I really like this word) your aproach. This will not only produce insightfull knowledge about future glyphs (character designs) but will also speed up the design process.

This brings us to our Character Shape Classification Scheme.
(Actually, this document was produced based on I Love TypeWorkshop’s Type Basics Page and Type Anatomy page).

First of all let me begin by quoting I Love Type Workshop first page:

Same size for all! To optically align all characters on a line, they cannot not have exactly the same mathematical height. For example the triangle on this drawing has to be higher than the rectangle. If this is not the case, the triangle will for sure look smaller than the rectangle. While creating a typeface, you want all the letters to have the same height.

Also round forms have to exceed the baseline to be optically the same. If the circle would have exactly the same mathematical height as the rectangle, it would look smaller than the square. This doesn’t only count for basic forms like triangles, circles and squares. It’s essential in type design, because they apply to every single character in a typeface. Then it even doesn’t matter if you’re designing a latin, cyrillic or greek font. It’s a basic principle for any kind of shape.

This will actually make you think about all the characters and classify them into basic character shapes. In your drawing process you will soon realize that there are many common elements tha can be (re)used and meny that seemed similar but are in fact, different. This will depend on the character classification and anatomy.

So first of all you can design three basic shapes:

1. The Square;
2. the Triangle;
3. and finally the Circle.

As you can see on this image, this will give you an “all character design aproach”. Or will it? I like to complicate things a bit more.

Thinking ahead on character spacing (we’ll see this later on) and different anatomy atributes, I like to classify the basic character shapes into 7 categories:

1. The Square (S);
2. the Triangle (T);
3. the Circle (C);
4. the Half-Square (S2);
5. the Half-Square+Half-Triangle (ST)
The picture has swithed categories (5 for 6 and vice-versa);
6. the Half-Square+Half-Circle (SC);
7. the Half-Square+Half-Triangle+Half-Circle (STC)… what a mess ;)

These classifications will allow us to categorize letter shapes. For example:

  • An A is Triangular on it’s left half and right half;
  • An H is square on it’s first and later halves;
  • An R is square on it’s left half and square+triangule on it’s right half
  • and so on…

This will allow us to quickly interface letters with each other according to their attributes. But I think I’m getting ahead of myself.

As for now, this will allow us to establish standard shape widths and fit the respective characters to it’s classification.
According to the drawing/sketch specifications:

  • if an H takes 3 spaces, then also should the the E and the F.
  • if an A takes 3,25 spaces then also should a V and an X.

This will also allow you to understand wich shapes you should draw first and wich can be reused by other characters like:

  • the stems of the H;
  • the bowl of the O and the C;
  • the diagonal stroke of the A for the V and W, maybe the X
  • and so on… depending on your character shapes.

And so on. First define these simple rules for your sketch, and then you’re ready to move on to the Basic Character Proportions Scheme.

(Originally published on 2006-04-21)

Sketching Type

So, you want to design a new typeface?

Ok! Let’s get started.
Actually we’re cheating. We’re interpreting early 20th century Sans Serifs (Grotesques). More concretely, 1898 Berthold’s Akzidenz Grotesk (later also known as Standard) & 1905 ATF’s Franklin Gothic. More the last than the former.

Wait a minute, what’s that? Early Century sans what? Maybe it’s a good idea to check a bit of type history in this great (concise) website
or maybe take a look at this type classification timeline

Ok, back to our Type Design.
First let’s take a look at what we are trying to accomplish. (If you are trying to design something new or personal you can skip this part)

The images are taken from:

  1. MEGGS, Phillip B. (1998) – A History of Graphic Design.
    pgs. 224
  2. LAWSON, Alexander (1990) – Anatomy of a Typeface.
    pgs. 296

They aren’t very good reproductions since they are very small to begin with, but for now they’ll have to do. We enlarged the images so we could take a closer look at the details (the one’s we could notice…) and started sketching.

Sketching you say? Don’t we start do design on Fontforge? Why are you so old fashioned? You may call us old fashioned, or arcaic, or whatever, but unless you’ve got a pretty good idea of what you want to do, you’d better start sketching on paper.

Actually there are quite a few school of thoughts about the “starting a new design” process. Maybe you’d like to take a look at this document that gives you a few insights on how to start drawing/sketching a typeface.

Basically we use a mixed drawing method (more or less like Ken Barber). Contrary to the KABK aproach, we start to draw “skeletons”, usually “type exoskeletons” (AKA outlines) with a thin ballpen. Then we start to fill in the shapes to get the feeling of the masses. Then we can start to look at the shapes and refine the countours/outlines. This is basically the first aproach.

Finally we can outline the final drawing, and if it looks good we can “manga-outline” it so we make sure that’s the one we like best. Usually it takes a while for a single character/glyph to look nice (on the sketch that is).

Take a look at the first sketches/interpretations of the type Design:

Altough much of the skecthing work is like “guessing” where the curves go, or where the lines meet, an important part of sketching is that you should start analysing the characters proportions according to it’s basic Character Shape Classification.

In this document (soon) we propose an aproach based on the classic Square/Triangle/Circle character classification. But in order to proceed we first need to establish a Basic Type Anatomy & Proportions Scheme.

(originally published on 2005-11-25, updated on 2006-02-07)