Hibernation pros/cons and optimal duration

hrant's picture

Based on my own experience as well as that of some others (most recently Jason*), putting a typeface design in development away "in the drawer" for an extended period allows one to come back to it and generally immediately see what needs improvement, both on a macro level (eg lower contrast) and a micro level (eg the tail of the "g"); but presumably this tactic has drawbacks as well (for one thing it precludes the case of working with a commission deadline). This is not something intuitive, and typically it happens without intent; but if it works maybe we should do it actively. Also, this does not mean the overall rate of development need slow to a crawl: one can have multiple designs in the pipeline simultaneously** and maintain the same rate of release over time. On the other hand, many people can't properly develop more than one thing at a time.

* See first post of 3/6/09 here:

** Which actually has its own benefits in terms of cross-pollination.

In some cases it has taken a designer over 10 years to finish the font (and presumably in most of those cases there were long periods of total inactivity) with stellar results (Beorcana comes to mind). In other cases a designer has returned to a design years after its release and made -or at least desired to make- a markedly improved version (Slimbach's Garamonds come to mind).

I'd be interested to learn who has used this tactic, what insights they've gleaned about it, and what they feel is an optimal hibernation period.


John Hudson's picture

I don't know whether a lengthy hibernation, e.g. putting the design away for a period of many months or even for years, is a good idea or not. What I have had some experience with is an extended development cycle involving periods of some weeks or months of working on a design followed by some weeks or months of not working on it, followed by some weeks or months working, followed... and so forth. This is roughly how the Gabriola type was made, taking about four years in total, and in the case of that design, I don't think I could have done it any other way: I needed frequent time away from the outlines, during which I was still thinking about the design a lot but not working on it directly.

Nachos's picture

In my opinion, as long as it takes to separate yourself sentimentally or emotionally from your work in order for you to critique it in an objective fashion is the optimal duration of time to spend away from a piece of work. Sometimes, due to deadlines or whatever else, you don't have the liberty to take that time off in which case it is helpful to involve other people's fresh eyes in the project.

I work in Graphic Design and have learned to detach myself fairly quickly from any concept or design I create for a client. However, a piece of artwork or a typeface for instance takes significantly more time to step back from.

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