Student developing his first typeface

Flay's picture

Hello everyone! I'm an Australian, first year visual communications student who, amongst other things, is studying typography. Unfortunately, while everything else seems fairly straight-forwards, typography is completely alien to me!

Anyway, to the present. I'm currently working on my first typeface, for a university assignment. The brief states that we're to 'design and name a new and original DISPLAY font / typeface... [which] can be produced in either lowercase or uppercase (or both) and should also include the design of punctuation and numerals.' The emphasis is on hand generating sketches and process, and typographic detailing.

The inspiration I'm drawing upon is the art of the First Nations people (native to Canada). Some good examples can be found in this flickr set.

I was hoping to get some advice on developing and refining my typeface. Below are some images of my current sketchings (apologies for the high resolution, but they should be clearer this way). Clearly these aren't refined; I'm trying to establish a set of letterforms I like before going on to detail them. Many of these are simply experiments.

Thanks. :)

Flay's picture

I quickly threw the letters in to a word (see below). The most obvious problem I can see is the inconsistency in style between the block-ish letters with small holes and all the rest. I'm also aware the thin lines probably won't reduce very well, and I'll probably fix that later on.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Some of the shapes seem to be on the right track, while others not so much. I really enjoy how it reminds me of stacked stones and pebbles. What you need to do is decide what you really want it to do. Some of your shapes are not as finessed as the others. I'd get rid of those. For instance, the 4th P. Why do you need a huge counter? And the 4th B. It just looks squooshed. It is fun to have alternates. I'm not saying get rid of the alternates. While all of the D look like fish, the 1st seems to be the least successful. And do you want this to have some Japanese flavor? Some of the shapes are more successful at this too.

Bendy's picture

Really interesting. I love the unusual way the forms are broken with the stripes.

I think you should look at the overall harmony. For example, most letters have vertical and/or horizontal breaks, whilst a few have slanted ones. To me the first way is stronger. There's also a bit of reconciling to do with the curved terminals vs square ones, and you'll find some kind of 'rule' proably a good idea, though it doesn't need to be set in stone. Think about the weight of each glyph too, the thickness of the strokes and amount of counterspace associated with each form, since in the 'First Nation' example, the R looks quite a different weight to the S. Widths too need to gel more, I think.

Sye's picture

nice start. (btw where are you studying? i'm about to finish up at RMIT)

Mills Chris's picture

Hey Flay!

I find a really helpful device when designing type, or anything else for that matter, is to define the project with a set of rules. You can call these characteristics if you like. If you apply these well everything starts to look related and the comprehension/legibility is enhanced.


aric's picture

This looks like a really interesting project. If I could pick some nits about terminology, which I hope will help you if this assignment has a written component:

"First Nations" is a blanket term that refers to most of the aboriginal peoples of Canada; the group of people covered by this term is very culturally diverse, which means (among other things) that there is no single First Nations art style. Your work seems to be inspired specifically by the Northwest Coast art style, which extends from the Alaska Panhandle (and areas immediately to the east) through much of coastal British Columbia, including most of Vancouver Island. The Coast Salish art style shows many influences from the Northwest Coast style as well.

I don't know a whole lot about this art style, but reading up on it might help you refine your work. A book which I haven't read but which looks particularly promising is Northwest Coast Indian Art: An Analysis of Form by Bill Holm, published by the University of Washington Press.

Anyhow, best of luck with your project.

Flay's picture

Thanks for all the helpful replies!

I've started trying to refine my sketches more. I attempted to create an entire alphabet using the blockish style seen in the letters A, B, D, P and R in the first set, but I'm afraid it just doesn't work with a lot of glyphs.

In order to get more consistency, I've simplified a lot of the shapes and applied a new set of rules. I think these can be called an improvement, but there are certainly issues. The ones I immediately pick up on are the counter of the 'B' being to far to the right, legibility issues with the 'D' and the leg of the 'K' looking somewhat out of place.

By the way, yes, I did use 'First Nations' as a blanket term - I wasn't sure how familiar everyone would be with the terminology (I'm certainly not). I'm specifically looking at the Haida culture, which I've done some research in to, but not a great deal. I'll probably look in to it a bit more later, but for now my entire life is taken up by either typography or work.

Oh well, off to do more sketching.

illustrativetype's picture

Cool stuff, It is something different. I enjoy experimental types.

Jerry Rose

Flay's picture

More sketches!

Flay's picture

And now in a word:

I desperately need criticism, so if anyone has ANYTHING to say I'd love to hear it.

Vladimir Tamari's picture

Good work, Flay. The T looks too civilized - I liked the first one that looked like a tree in 'First Nation' the F was more original there too. When you use 'whole' that is unsliced outlines they sort of look flimsy, as does the Y. One side of the X could be thicker, the bottom of the L can be much thicker and one of the strokes of the H could be thicker than the others and so on. The Z gives an uneasy feeling as if it will topple over. I feel that your most successful letters are the O, B and R. The A is great and reminded me of the Kelly gang's helmet. In fact the whole font somehow has the appearance of this home-made armor: Good luck!

Flay's picture

Thanks! I'm in the process of digitising these, and I'll be making a number of adjustments along the way, so I can adress a lot of those problems.

Unfortunately, although I think I prefered the old 'F' and 'T' myself, my tutor doesn't like them (and she IS the one marking them, after all). I've demonstrated in the past that I know nothing about typography, so I can't even trust my own opinons any more...

Flay's picture

My progress so far...

dojr2's picture

Highly interesting. I am not too keen on display fonts usually but this one has quite some potential.

There are quite a few weights problems though. O and Q are much darker than anything else. B is too dark compared with the rest of the line. Try for example to use the top element of the R as the top element of the B (but adapt it).

There are problems of homogeneity. In terms of width, for example. I disappears, J is too large (and darker than L): I mean it is larger than the U. In terms of style, this is not homogeneous yet too: by making W diagonal on one side only, you have actually given it a very diagonal feel, if that makes sense. P and R are too close too. I J L U seem to belong to a different font.

There are issues regarding readibility/legibility: H is difficult to read because the inner gap is too large (or you need to space the glyphs differently). W will create a gaping hole in the line. It is too close to the M in terms of shape too.

R is not wide enough if compared with 'similar' letters : B and P.

Why don't you have a look at successful decorative fonts to see how they solve these problems. Say, have a look at Bifur - it is far enough from your font: you won't be tempted to copy.

Keep up the good work!

Flay's picture

Ah, I wish I had read that earlier... Oh well I need to make adjustments anyway. Thanks, also. :)

Here's where I'm up to...

X and S need a lot of work.

DanNisbet's picture

I really like the direction this is going! The only things really jumping out at me are the X, J, and L. For some reason, I don't feel like they fit into the rest of the font as well. I'm wondering if its just the same issue as the T, like mentioned above?

dojr2's picture

Ah! I commented on an old version. Here are updated comments (I am not repeating what is still valid).
1 general comment: as pointed above by miss tiffany, you need to be careful with the cuts through the letters as they may disappear in a smaller setting. You may have Stencil installed on your computer. Try printing it small, see what issues you have and from what size, then check what the size of the cut is and adapt your own font accordingly.

The B looks far far better! So does the R.

Check a few random fonts for PBR - preferably non-geometrical and by a good designer (check who won the Prix Charles Peignot, open their fonts). Often the upper loop of the P is closer in size to the lower loop of the B than to the upper loop of the B. Is this a solution you want to use? Similarly, the upper loop of the P is almost always bigger than the upper loop of the R.

You may struggle adjusting the weights of O and Q. Check Anisette in its extra bold version for inspiration. You may want to get them a bit narrower and increase the counter, or add another horizontal split or widen the existing one, but let's face it, it will be tough to retain their current elegant shapes. Also, check that you have made enough optical corrections and that they don't look like they are dancing above the baseline. I have difficulties asking you to change those glyphs which are my absolute favourites!

EF: open a few random non-geometrical fonts from great designers. Check EF - what do you notice? Is the bar of the F often as high perched as that of the E? In your font, there is too much space at the bottom of the F. This creates a gap at the bottom. Check B v. E too, and see what you notice: isn't the bar of the E a bit lower usually, in order not to create the darkness that can be seen in your font?

Another few things can help you:

- think thoroughly 'what do I want to do?' again (you need to do that a number of times when you do a font, so don't worry if you have done it already); think 'what are the characteristics of this font' and think 'visual characteristics' as opposed to 'intellectual purpose' - some questions that may pop up in your mind are : 'why did I create a vertical cut out in the H, whereas it is vertical or diagonal in most/all others' - 'why is the J so low and wide?', 'what interested me in the "First Nations" designs?' but think 'what interested me visually', as opposed to 'what interested me intellectually'?

- decide which are your favourite glyphs and why, then see what you can do to get all the other glyphs to be as good!

- use O and H (once improved) to benchmark other glyphs, this way:
HHAHHOOAOO HHBHHOOBOO etc. and see what looks wrong to you in terms of how dark and how wide the characters are. I say O and H because I would often consider them to be the lead characters in something I create and because one is round and one is vertical, but feel free to choose others. It is more difficult to benchmark with more than one glyph/character BUT better (with only two characters, you may end up getting all your glyphs too similar in terms of width). Thus you can try IIAIIOOAOONNANNEEAEE. Once you are more confident, you need only compare with one I instead of two etc. Thus IAIOAONANEAE etc. IBIOBONBNEBE.

- some characters are impossible to read: GSY spring to mind. X looks like two different characters.
- the new T is far better.
- C & G are too close in design.

Last but not least: I am very happy if someone tells me my ways of working / thinking about fonts make no sense, so feel free to criticise what I am saying. On top of that, it will provide Flay with different points of views among which he can choose!

Keep up the good work. The improvement between first and last version are really impressive.


Vladimir Tamari's picture

dojr2 said
>>>>>think thoroughly ’what do I want to do?’ again (you need to do that a number of times when you do a font, so don’t worry if you have done it already>>>
Exactly. The earlier version (with the 'eye' dots) had an original cartoonish quality, and the lumpy shapes seemed to create a weird but wonderful landscape. I now feel the font is becoming gentrified - rather slick and stylish - which is fine of course. Flay may have the problem of having the teacher's expectation to fulfill...but making a conscious decision about the character of the font is good advice.

BasDirks's picture

I usually dislike most faces in this genre, but this is really good. I loved the "eyes" in the B, P, etc.


Bas Dirks

Michael Hernan's picture


I liked the redundancy of elements like using two ways to represent the same thing in a character and/or using 2 different ways to do the same thing the line and the dot for the holes in the early capital B.

Scanning what everyone has said so far, I saw the phrase First Nations' as soon as I saw this the eyes in the A and R jumped out at me. Loosing the dots seem a shame in your later drawings where you are trying to normalise your design. This is not the aim of this font. Otherwise it might end up looking like a generic bold display font. This has something else to offer.

If each of your letters could tell a story this would be super excellent. i.e. the sun rising or setting in O and Q. Better if O and Q could depict different things like O = rising and Q setting. The design could then evolve out of this story of depictions - petraglyhs. Letters with encoded meaning....


Michael Hernan

dojr2's picture

IMVHO I like the idea of the rising sun and setting sun. I fear that my many comments may have discouraged you. Apologies if I did. Just go about it in orderly fashion.

Decide about designs first, refine the general concept, then refine each letter for weight, colour, width etc.


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