Guest's picture

ID, Please?

hrant's picture

I certainly agree that the "A" is received, perceived and generally rendered as being made of three lines. What I'm saying is that that's not how it's used by readers - reading -not creating- being the purpose. As a result, ideal type design does not see an "A" as being made of three lines (or any other fattened skeleton); it sees an "A" purely as a certain relationship of black and white, unfettered by an illusional metaphoric tool. Arguably punchcutters were doing this -to some extent, in practice- from day one, but designers who drew/painted shapes and then asked punchcutters to make them were generally throwing things off.

Oh, and I like people very much.


Nick Job's picture

I realise you must like people because you seem to really want to help them to read better/more easily. I'm not sure if your punchcutter argument holds much water. One can't help but think of the shape the ink makes before the space that it leaves (probably depends on the individual philosophy of the punchcutter him/herself).

Thinking about space as well as ink is the area of typeface design that is alien to me. Am I normal or does everyone think in equal measure about black and white? I know from my own experience (such as it is) that the black gets a whole lot more airtime than the white. Is there any mileage in designing a complete font without any black infilling so that the black and white are both white and therefore, in theory at least, get equal airtime during the design process?

Stop me when I start to talk garbage. I'm really thinking aloud.

hrant's picture

It is indeed very difficult to see the black-white instead of just the black (or just the white). I know because I haven't managed it yet! In fact it scares me so much that I haven't tried hard enough yet. There might even be some human biological impediment that prevents it! The key might be a method that leads to abstraction, for example how in Legato Bloemsma conceptualized that "twisting" the inside whites would break the black's strangle-hold across letters, thus allowing glyphs to meld into words (actually, boumas) better. And this leads to a paradox inherent to type design*: when you consider that a font isn't the end-result, a font is a tool that leads to an end-result, you realize that no matter what ideology you use to make a font you never really see it anyway: you see individual glyphs, and sets of glyphs, but you can't see what it really is at once, or even what a font's user will end up setting (and then his reader seeing).

* Which is absent in calligraphy and lettering.

So designing a font is an act of abstraction anyway. Not being able to see the black-white directly does not preclude approaching a certain fruitful ideal; an ideal that cannot be approached via black-centric design.

> Is there any mileage in designing a
> complete font without any black infilling

Do you mean an outline font? In terms of reading that wouldn't work. But tellingly that's how we design fonts (at least mechanically) - we edit lines that separate black and white. Many chirographers think outline editing is a curse, and some of them (like G Noordzij, IIRC) have even tried to invent black-marking font editing systems. To me outline editing is a blessing, allowing for the final liberation of type, by helping us get over the black.


abi's picture


I have read many of your posts about this topic before and usually I am quite the lurker but I thought to leave my two cents this time. I believe your characterization of calligraphy/writing based type design is overly simplified. As a note I honestly do think your continued arguments in favour of Bloemsma's typefaces and his approach are refreshing and will definitely prove quite fruitful. You speak of a different construction methodology that certainly deserves much study, but the array of letter constructions all take from the archetypal letter shapes but not necessarily the same proportions or weight/axis tendencies. But I don't think writing based techniques and the idea of black and white relationships is mutually exclusive as you make it out to be.

I should point out that I am still in the very early stages of approaching type design and I decided to start in a way that made sense to me, which is to look at very traditional methodologies and past type design techniques. I believe that history informs much of my work as a graphic designer so I have felt it important to look at writing and the origins of writing (and writing tools) before looking at ways to break from those tools, or elements that can deviate from them.

But back to why I think your argument against writing models is overly simplified: calling writing based type design black-centric really does the methodology and practitioners a disservice, and this is mostly because what calligraphy/writing allows is a look at rhythm/spacing/texture and not merely the application of a black to a white surface. I believe that letterforms are important but they are not designed in isolated conditions, it is really the relationship between the letters that is paramount, and therefore the white space is an element that is enormously important in writing based designs. Writing is important as a way to study these black and white shapes and the many permutations that can come from a few simple tools. On a whole I think I believe I give the same amount of emphasis to the shapes of the white spaces (counters and the space between letters) and the black of the letter, but this is an obvious relation, because when you change one, you change the other. Writing based type design is not just tracing over some scans with beziers, I see type as a system of letters that translates into a groupings of letters (words) that form whole fields of texts (and this 'macro' arena is where a study of rhythm and texture is very important).

Above I have termed writing/calligraphy based type design as a methodology and it as a methodology/approach it should be able to exist alongside many other methodologies for type design and lettering. I just wanted to say that the issue may not be as 'black and white' as you make it out to be.

hrant's picture

Abi, thank you for the detailed and reasoned response.

> I think I believe I give the same amount of emphasis to the
> shapes of the white spaces (counters and the space between
> letters) and the black of the letter

I just can't see how.
I might be missing something - I just don't know what it might be.
Sometimes I can tell I'm missing something; here it just feels very solid.

But I do agree that it's not so clear cut; I talk of pure extremes which I know don't exist - what we make is always somewhere between extremes. Talking of the extremes is simply useful to abstract well about a topic.

For example, there's no such thing as pure reading. Any act of reading involves some attention spent merely gazing at the beauty of a page or even a single glyph. And I'm the first to admit that calligraphy is beautiful. One of the few fonts I've ever purchased is Ex Ponto. Mostly I'm interested in revealing the failings of something that's too often given mythical relevance; it's the grasping of failings that help us improve, help us right the balance. It's been four years since Legato, but we still haven't made anything like it. The balance is manifestly off.

In any case I am warmly grateful for any challenges to my ideas. Refuting them isn't the way forward, assimilating them into a larger view is the only way for me to grow. I argue not to overpower, but to catalyze.


Graham McArthur's picture

"* Which is absent in calligraphy and lettering."


" Many chirographers think outline editing is a curse,"

I assume by chirographers you mean or include calligraphers, perhaps a few ignorant souls, but again: hogwash.

Thanks, Nick for your explanation as it reinforces what I was reading between the angst against the pen. As Michael tried to explain, calligraphy and contemporary calligraphy in particular have more in common with hrants ideas then he realises.
The major difference between us and hrant's 'ideal' is that we have not abandoned the pen, nor history as irrelevant. We also realise that rather than place restrictions to invention and creativity craft knowledge opens the doors to endless possibilities. We have also been playing with drawing outlines and counter spaces for centuries, this idea is not new or revolutionary.

I believe that hrant's 'ideal' is misconceived and is the one that is extremely limiting and restricting:
"So designing a font is an act of abstraction anyway. Not being able to see the black-white directly does not preclude approaching a certain fruitful ideal; an ideal that cannot be approached via black-centric design."

I agree with hrant when he says that designing a font is an act of abstraction. All lettering, no matter how it is made is a form of abstraction, or more correctly semi-abstraction as pure abstraction is non representational and therefore would leave no recognized glyph or letters and therefore completely defeat the purpose.
You do not have to denounce and abandon the pen or the 'skeleton' to draw outlines or achieve what hrant is trying to articulate.
The pen and the skeleton are restrictive only when married with a lack of understanding of the craft.

One last point that I know really raises the hackles of more than a few calligraphers; the very term chirography is an insult and a known insult. There are so called calligraphers with many years of practice who demonstrate a lack of understanding of their own craft, so its not surprising that many non calligraphers also remain ignorant.

Graham McArthur's picture

Great post abi

Typedog's picture

Maybe I can create a font by dragging my index finger through mud? Forget the pen.....J/K
I acknowledge the past with a zeal, embrace the future with an open mind and look forward to see what is new.

abi's picture


thanks for the thoughful and candid reply. perhaps sometime in the future I can make a showcase of some of the sketching techniques I have been taught and how they enable a look at the relationship between black and white as being intrinsic to how we work out ideas for typefaces.

William Berkson's picture

As I argued at length in the "rule or law" thread some time ago, historically printer's types have taken hand written letters as their point of departure, but modified them for greater readability. And by and large this continues to be the case. I think both that type has its origins in shapes created by a moving tool and that it selectively departs from these are valuable insights for creating type today. Not taking into account both aspects I think is limiting.

So I not in full agreement with either Hrant or Michael. But I have to say that Hrant, since he came back posting here, has mainly kept his strong opinions on topic, without resorting to personal attacks. I can't say the same for everyone in this thread. Dial back the personal attacks, please.

hrant's picture

> historically printer’s types have taken hand written letters
> as their point of departure, but modified them for greater
> readability. And by and large this continues to be the case.

Indeed. Retrofitting. Non-ideal.
The least I'm asking is: let's admit that's what it is.

Like trying to kick an addiction, admission is the first step. I'm not asking anybody to go cold turkey. I don't think I can either. I had bacon this morning. Because I enjoy it. Not because I pretend lard is good for me.


William Berkson's picture

Hrant, I guess our disagreement is that I think that the moving front of the tool does add a lot of humanity and aesthetic value to letters.

I recently started to learn Hebrew calligraphy, and was delighted to see how much the broad pen would do on its own to produce beautiful shapes. And I could see where it caused readability problems. But the point is that there is a lot of gain as well as problems in written shapes.

So I think just saying forget about written shapes is a mistake, because you lose something. And unlike you--at least in past comments--I don't think there's a great revolution in reading to be had by more radical departure from written shapes. I am looking just to better 'micro-adjustment,' as Peter Enneson calls it, of weights, proportions, joins, spacing to improve text type.

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