Character Study: Type Design’s Past, Present, and Future

Anna Richard presented an engaging overview of typography and type design at the October CDPUG meeting.

Her passion was quite evident throughout the talk. She started at the beginning, her beginning. From an early age she enjoyed math and rarely missed an episode of the TV show Numbers. Anna also enjoys art, creating her first book at two-years old!

At Kent State University Anna realized her analytical and artistic skills are great qualities for a type designer. For her first typeface design assignment she went above and beyond – creating an entire typeface – in one weekend. Her professor was amazed but then challenged her to consider how each letter looks next to each other.

This challenge started Anna thinking about the design choices faced when designing type. She presented a number of visuals illustrating what works and what does not.

Our eyes see horizontal lines as thicker than vertical lines. Optical corrections are necessary.
The H at right has been optically corrected.
Even though the lines are the same size the X at the left does not look correct.
The X in the middle has been optically corrected. Larger X shows how.
The tops of curves should be thinner. Tweaks are needed to make it look correct.
This is where the math skills come in handy.
Kerning takes the longest amount of time in the type design process.
Word Adhesion is the spacing between letters. Letter spacing is more important than letter design.
A well-spaced yet bad-designed font looks better.

Anna explained that typefaces are code. The current font standard, Open Type, is coded by hand in the computer language Python, a relatively easy language to learn.

She mentioned copyrighting fonts is easier in other countries than the United States. Evidently this is a gray area. Some larger U.S. corporations have been able to protect their unique font by trademarking the name of the font.

Currently the largest selection of online open-source (free) fonts can be found on Google Fonts. Designers are paid up-front for their font design but not per time used/downloaded. There is controversy in the type design community surrounding this. Some designers just want to give away their fonts for free exposure.

Anna has downloaded and used fonts only to find out later about licensing issues. Some fonts have complicated licensing such as not permitting use in logos or “high-risk” businesses like airlines. It is best to read the fine-print in the beginning than have a problem later. She indicates there are many inexpensive quality fonts and does not mind paying the designer for their hard work.

The first typeface Anna designed is Noether Sans. This name is a nod to the female mathematician, Emmy Noether. Fitting name since math plays a large role in font design. Anna admits that she may never be completely finished with a typeface. She is always expanding upon and improving the font.

Other fonts Anna has designed, Merci Beaucoup and Appalachian, are just used one time.
She prefers the term lettering for one time use fonts and typeface for fonts where all the letters work together (spaced properly and sharing the same design dna traits).

Anna worked at Google Fonts, first as an intern then a contractor. She designed the font Cutive Mono for Google. The team critique atmosphere at Google was a plus. She found their insights and advice most helpful.

Inspired by old Smith Corona typewriter type,
Cutive Mono has teardrop terminals in letters a, r and c.

Currently Anna is a graphic designer at designRoom where she assists with production and design on a variety of projects. She created the branding typeface, Rascal, for designRoom. Anna wrote a fascinating blog on design choices and thought process behind the Rascal font.

Named after designRoom CEO and Founder Kelly Farrell’s dog,
the Rascal font is used as an accent, complementing Trade Gothic font.

TypeCon is a yearly meeting of font designers and fans. Anna had a presentation there on the visual personality and history of handwriting and culture. In the 1800’s handwriting was based upon gender, education and class. Merchants wrote in legible fonts for bookkeeping, scribes in ornate blackletter for contracts, secretaries in script and women in “frivolous” fonts. This just enforced social classes.

Anna found alot of useful information on handwriting in the book Handwriting in America – A Cultural History by Tamara Plankins Thornton.

On to the present day, current studies have shown that 75% of the time people can correctly guess a persons’ gender after studying their handwriting. This holds true even across different cultures. Men’s handwriting is typically seen as slanted, spiky or rushed and childlike. Women’s handwriting is typically seen as curly, bubbly, fancy and neater. Anna emphasized that this is all just generalizations of course

Anna finds it fascinating that we continue to ascribe personality to fonts.

She mentioned some font trends including variable fonts. Not widely used currently they can be used in Adobe Illustrator.

Variable fonts can be altered by the designer setting the point scale, width and weight axis.
Merriweather is an example of a variable font. Fourteen people have been working for six months, so far, to develop this. Anna is working on periods to ensure they match the other sixteen styles plus light and black fonts.

Trending font design also includes the use of movement and color. Other upcoming font trends see a fusion of different cultures and styles blended to create something unique.

The Childish Reverie font has a color scheme ‘baked-into’ it.

Anna was generous with her knowledge and answered a number of questions from attendees.

To find high-quality fonts Anna suggested David Johnathan Ross’ website, for Mac users and 1001 fonts, dafonts, and Google Fonts for windows and Mac users. For fonts designed by small design firms or solo designers she suggests Creative Market. This is also a great option for fonts since they provide a default user agreement.

When creating your own font Anna suggested creating an imaginary company logo, then create a font to go with it. Keep in mind the considerations discussed earlier (spacing, kerning, similar style).

Anna finds inspiration for a new font with just one interesting letter or character. Popular for inspiration are the capitol R, lower case a or ampersand character. These all have straights and curves to inspire. Other inspiration comes from unique or foreign signage.

Spike Radway, Director of Programming for CDPUG, found inspiration from his font shirt and created a type face for the occasion. He also made a typeface for Anna.
Spike has on-topic library books handy, and always makes sure we have pizza and salad!
Way to go eating healthy Bill Kiraly!

Slides courtesy of Anna Richard.
Photography by Laura Dempsey.

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