Architect and writer Andries Samuel was so engaged by Simon Garfield’s book Just My Type (read the review here), that he designed his own font.
Does Garfield explain how to design a font in the book?
No, he doesn’t. He does tell the stories of how many fonts came about, though not in detail. The book is not technical in that sense. The background stories do illustrate what a complex undertaking it is and I found this intriguing.
So, it’s not a how-to guide. Why did you want to make a font?
Probably because the book is not technical, it makes it appear straightforward. But it is really hard work, like a puzzle. You have to set some aspects and proportions, then design the principal letters, then revisit them all when they push against this framework as the letters take on a life of their own. It is really easy for the whole thing to become a formless collection of knuckle bones.
Not an easy job then?
No. Though judging by the number of sites that provide basic tools for designing your own font, many people are enthusiastic about it and persist enough to build a decent font. I did not get that far. When I realised I would also have to get into the diacritical signs I felt the experiment had gone far enough. There seems to be a completeness level for a basic competent font and I did not get that far.
How is designing a building and designing a font similar and how is it different?
In a way it is similar to designing a building. Architecture is about space and font is a lot about negative space around the shapes of letters. Also legibility, clarity, simplicity and a set of conceptual principles that structure the design. Buildings are about how they are made, their materiality; fonts are the same, although where their materiality used to be related to carved or wrought or cast letters, this materiality is now being made superficial by digital making. Architecture suffers from the exact same problem.
Have you named your font?
No. I would say it is too unfinished to require a name.
Think you’ll ever try and design another one?
Probably not. It is really time consuming. I am now more considerate of the existing fonts I use and would definitely consider tweaking an existing font next time I am faced with a line of text that needed more definition. Just considering spacing and kerning already makes a difference too.
∫ Ahem. What is “kerning”?
How close the letters come to one another. When pages were laid out by hand, someone could kern the letters using their eye. Nowadays, with computers it is automatic and sometimes disturbing. Designing the font includes setting rules for how the letters relate to one another so designing a font requires the consideration of all the possible letter combinations next to one another. ∫
The alphabet and sentence used here are Andries Samuel’s© design.