Teaching Type: How to draw an A

Meredith Ann Brooks's picture

A neat lesson in customizing type. Jessica Hische, creator of the Daily Drop Cap, teaches you how to draw the letter A.

hrant's picture

Pretty.
But in reality typographic letterforms are
not made of skeletons. They're made of notan.

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

What's "notan?"

And are you truncating your lines on purpose for iPhones or small screen devices? I think this is the 2nd time I've see you done that. Don't devices take care of their own line wrapping? I still have no idea why bowerbird does this (let alone who he is in real life).

hrant's picture

Notan (a Japanese term) is the unity and relationship of Black & White. It is what we see and read. However it's understandably extremely difficult to overcome the day-one indoctrination* and the quotidian practicality of making letters via skeletons.

* We even try to enforce the order of the strokes. There's a Leapfrog device my younger son has been using. I'd really like to burn it at the stake.

I often write in narrow columns, because it helps reading.
(I will even change the words and/or the line measure to get a good rag.)

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

Any web user can simply increase the size of the type on the fly. It's even build into apple's multi-touch trackpads and mice now. Forcing line-breaks sometimes interferes settings for the visually impaired. But I do agree with the ~65 character/line convention employed by everyone from Tschichold–Bringhurst. I often find web type too small (and as a result, the line-length too long) so the first thing I do is increase it's size. This, for the most part, then reduces the character-count. For example, I look at typophile at this size:

I did some interesting reading on your site hrant. I had no idea you were so interested in issues of legibility/readability. Where did you study this? Do you have any published works? I am always on the lookout for people such as Larson and yourself.

karinskij's picture

Skeletons or not, I find them very inspiring. Thanks for posting.

aluminum's picture

To be fair, she says 'decorate a letter'.

Chris Keegan's picture

This is great.

John Hudson's picture

Hrant: Notan (a Japanese term) is the unity and relationship of Black & White.

Actually dark and light, not black and white. Which is surely a relevant distinction in the context of antialiasing.

Richard Fink's picture

@christopher dean

>This, for the most part, then reduces the character-count.

As you say "for the most part" this is what happens. That's because, typically, a web page gets laid out in pixel-sized boxes without explicit heights and without regard to font metrics and text just gets poured into it. When the text re-wraps, the bottom of the box moves upwards or downwards, depending. This can also happen at different Zoom levels, as well.
This kind of design is made possible only because the page can scroll endlessly downward to accomodate however much text you throw into the box or boxes. An escape hatch of sorts.

Christopher, (or anybody, please), do you know of any studies about the effect of scrolling on reading?

BTW - The effect you've described on Zoom can be mitigated greatly by sizing the containing HTML element not in pixels, but in em units. If done precisely, yes, the character count will change a bit but the number of lines can remain unchanged so the height of the "golden rectangle" remains the same.
You rarely see pages designed this way for at least two reasons:

1) Until recently, support for the em unit was uneven from browser to browser.

2) It's so much less work to just let the text flow downward.

Now that fonts can be linked to web pages, and almost all new browsers support the soft hyphen, maybe there will be a bit more attention paid to onscreen typesetting. We shall see. Certainly with static content of importance it makes some sense to take the time.

Also, as of Firefox 3.6, Firefox has followed the lead of IE8 and given web developers a JavaScript property with which to measure the Zoom level. So at least on the initial loading of the page, there does not necessarily have to be a change in character count at all - it can be rigged programmatically to be the same at every Zoom level.
However, the text actually looks better if you let it reflow a bit and settle in.
I'll be trying to talk browser makers into giving web developers an onzoom and (in IE) an ontextsizechange event so that user-changes to Zoom and Text Size can be detected programmatically. With those tools the issue of line length and column width at any Zoom can be solved completely and permanently.

@hrant

>I will even change the words and/or the line measure to
>get a good rag.

Yeah, so will I. But few people bother. (I assume you're talking onscreen?)
And did you ever wonder why most printed text (in English, at least) is justified and hyphenated and almost nothing on the web is?
Doesn't have to be that way anymore. All new browsers support the soft-hyphen and the means to massage and tweak the text to avoid widows, orphans, rivers, etc... exist.

IMHO - scrolling interferes with a smooth reading experience much more than most people realize. We've just had to accept it.

(Sorry for going on about this. An area of special interest to me.)

rich

Chris Dean's picture

Baker, J. R., (2003). The impact of paging vs. scrolling on reading online text passages. Usability News, (51)1.

Chen, C. H., Chien, Y., H. (2005). Effect of dynamic display and speed of display movement on reading Chinese text presented on a small screen. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 3, 865–873.

Dyson, M. C. (2004). How physical text layout affects reading from screen. Behaviour and Information Technology, 23(6), 377–393.

Dyson, M. C., Haselgrove, M. (2001). The influence of reading speed and line length on the effectiveness of reading from screen. Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 54(4), 585–612.

Dyson, M. C., Kipping, G. J. (1997). The legibility of screen formats: Are three columns better than one? Computers and Graphics, 21(6), 703–712.

van Nimwegen, C., Pouw, M., van Oostendorp, H. (1999). The influence of structure and reading-manipulation on usability of hypertexts. Interacting With Computers , 12(1), 7–21.

Piolat, A., Roussey, J. Y., Thunin, O. (1997). Effects of screen presentation on text reading and revising. Interational Journal of Human–Computer Studies, 47(4), 565–589.

Larson would also be a good person to ask. Hope this helps.

hrant's picture

Christopher, expecting people to zoom is an obstacle best avoided. Plus the type might get too big to read comfortably if the chars/line is made low enough (not that most users even have any that a line can be too long, much less what length to make it).

> Forcing line-breaks sometimes interferes
> settings for the visually impaired.

How?

> I look at typophile at this size: ....

That's huge. What's your monitor's ppi?

BTW, when I try to make what I write more readable, I don't worry about iPhones and such. Frankly readability is so poor on most hand-held devices* that there's no point.

* The Motorola Droid and some HTC models are notable exceptions.

> I had no idea you were so interested in issues of legibility/readability.

Interested, yes (for over a decade now). But I can't compete with Kevin's formal background in the field (I'm entirely self-taught, and have zero research funding). Mostly I see my potential usefulness in this area as an instigator.

> Actually dark and light, not black and white. Which is
> surely a relevant distinction in the context of antialiasing.

And beyond. I've dreamed of a font format that defines not only outlines, but vectors perpendicular to the outlines that define the black-white gradation around the limen.

> scrolling interferes with a smooth reading experience

Indeed. That's because reading isn't smooth.

hhp

Jongseong's picture

And beyond. I’ve dreamed of a font format that defines not only outlines, but vectors perpendicular to the outlines that define the black-white gradation around the limen.

That is an awesome idea. Creating different grades of opacity using diluted ink in ink drawings is the only context I've seen the term notan (濃淡) before coming to Typophile, so I had been puzzled to see it applied to a normally black-and-white discipline such as type design.

hrant's picture

You could say Black&White is a special case. But it's our case.
And: http://www.amandawilliams.com.au/wordpress/?p=40

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

@ hrant: 150ppi, but again, my eyesight is poor so I tend to make things bigger than most (a side effect of my anticonvulsant medication sometimes give me blurry vision. A typographer with poor eyesight. How ironic). Even my supervisor who is 30 years my seniour thinks it's funny how big I like my screen type. I tend to increase the size of type as big as I can without inducing a horizontal scroll or to ~65 cpl. Whichever comes first.

Re: forcing line-breaks and accessibility software, an old friend of mine who was seriously visually impaired used accessibility software (I do not remember the name and this was some time ago) which increased the size of the type of whatever he looked at to letters that were literally over one inch in x-height which auto-reflowed everything to fit on his screen so he didn't need to scroll horizontally. If there were forced line breaks in the text, as I once saw, they created big unnatural gaps in the text as they didn't allow for a clean re-flowing. He commented on this very fact. Years later this may be moot.

Thanks for the tip to the Droid and HTC devices. New to me. Do you recommend any one in particular (referably something bullet-proof)? I have a soft-spot for small screen devices. I have had my eyes on an iPhone for some time but simply can't afford the monthly packages. That, and I still find texting on them to be a nightmare.

hrant's picture

> A typographer with poor eyesight. How ironic

I used to work with a graphic designer who was colorblind.

Thanks for explaining that accessibility case.

I was HTC all the way until the Droid came out.
You want irony though? I don't own a cellphone.
Part of it is that I'm still waiting for Mr Right.
The strong and silent type...

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

I found this typeface called TraceFont. Cool. Connect the dots, la-la-la-la.

quadibloc's picture

> We even try to enforce the order of the strokes.

That makes sense for Japanese - just as it does for Chinese. But there is no standardized stroke order for the Latin alphabet.

I suppose that, just as stroke order is made visible in the more cursive styles of Chinese character writing, one could derive a stroke order for the Latin alphabet from handwriting.

Andreas Stötzner's picture

Jessica Hische teaches you type

This sheet is pure signographics. Do this kind of exercise not with letters allone, try out other graphs as well.

MERRY CHRISTMAS to all typophiles * * *

A:S

hrant's picture

> there is no standardized stroke order for the Latin alphabet.

There is no one standard. But sadly some people do have their cherished one they wield like a battle axe; and actually something like Italian chancery is pretty strict. But most of all, take the case of that Leapfrog device: when I use it with my son, half the time it buzzes at me because my fine-looking "E" wasn't made in exactly the right stroke-order. This is bad for our kids, hence all of society.

hhp

Chris Dean's picture

30 years ago when we learned printing and cursive writing we definately had instruction books which gave us a specific stroke order, and I'm pretty sure there was somewhat of a standard, but again, this was 30 years ago. I had a look online and came up with not. I'm not even sure if they they teach cursive writing anymore. Anyone know what age they teach kids to type at these days?

Jongseong's picture

That makes sense for Japanese - just as it does for Chinese. But there is no standardized stroke order for the Latin alphabet.

I've told this story before, but my Japanese and Chinese friends laugh when they see me write Chinese characters, because the order of the strokes is all wrong. Koreans of my generation generally have varying reading knowledge of basic Chinese characters, and unless we study Chinese or Japanese as a foreign language we have very few occasions ever to write in Chinese characters.

Interestingly, there are differences between the Chinese and Japanese norms in the stroke order for some characters. The Japanese order tends to follow character etymology while the Chinese order tends to follow the geometry of the character construction with less regard for the original etymology, if I recall correctly.

It would be great to have an international survey of stroke orders so we can see the variety in which pupils in different countries are taught to write the same letters..

eliason's picture

I’m not even sure if they they teach cursive writing anymore. Anyone know what age they teach kids to type at these days?

My 9-year-old daughter learns both in school.

hrant's picture

> my Japanese and Chinese friends laugh when
> they see me write Chinese characters

In some scripts the ordering might actually contain information
that helps reinforce meaning - but in Latin it's just fascist.

> It would be great to have an international survey of stroke orders

Yes, but even more interesting would be
to study how people violate the norms.

hhp

Jongseong's picture

Yes, but even more interesting would be
to study how people violate the norms.

Yes, a survey of how people actually write letters in different places would be illuminating. I didn't mean to confine it to the way they are taught, as I imagine stroke orders are not drilled to the same degree everywhere.

These stroke order differences, as well as differences in how the letters are split up into different strokes, result in important differences in the shapes of handwritten letters between different cultures. I would add numerals to this survey.

eliason's picture

@Hrant: of all the things a type designer could teach his kid, why would you cede letter-making to the Leapfrog!? :-)

hrant's picture

I don't want to be a notanazi.

hhp

hrant's picture

However, a story from my older son's notanic adventures:
http://www.typophile.com/node/34150
See my third post of June 5, 2007.

hhp

quadibloc's picture

> In some scripts the ordering might actually contain information that helps reinforce meaning - but in Latin it’s just fascist.

I'm sorry, I had misunderstood you. I thought you were trying to get your son to use the right stroke order, and the Leapfrog device was the opposite.

I remember the old Palm Pilot Graffiti input method, although I didn't use it myself, so I understand why something like stroke order is used there. It is not stroke order for writing; instead, letters are entered with a gestural code, and the correspondence between the gestures and letter shapes is... a mnemonic device.

So this is cybercrud, not fascism: since handwriting recognition is not accurate enough, or requires too many CPU cycles, text is entered in a sub-writing fashion. The intent is not to promote "better" handwriting.

hrant's picture

The fascism I talk about is that of unduly restricting the way people make letters; this makes people less creative in anything, and it severely hampers people who grow up to be type designers. :-) Having to write a certain way for a machine to be able to help you to me is a "normal" constraint.

hhp

Typical's picture

Does anybody draw the crossbar before the downstroke when writing a "t"? (Except for Chinese native-writers, who do just that) I would think our elementary school cursive handwriting models have some influence on the way we write, either as models or as models-rebelled-against.

Jongseong's picture

Does anybody draw the crossbar before the downstroke when writing a “t”?

Come to think of it, I do in most cases, except when it is joined to the letter before it in cursive. I'm a Korean native writer, and we have a similar horizontal-before-the-vertical habit to the Chinese. Good observation! It didn't occur to me before that drawing the crossbar first would be atypical for Latin native writers.

hrant's picture

My dad dots his "i"s and crosses his "t"s only after finishing the word; I think it comes from the fact that in school most of the writing he did was in Arabic. And I suspect the same is true for people who [have] focus[ed] on cursive (meaning: connected) writing in Latin.

hhp

Jongseong's picture

In my normal writing speed, I would cross the "t" first in "tree" or any other word starting with "t", but last in "get", since I usually connect the "e" and the "t". But I don't usually connect the "t" if it comes after "r", so the crossbar comes first in words such as "art". Words like "fast" go either way depending on my writing speed and my mood.

Richard Fink's picture

@christopher dean

Thanks for the multitude of references! I'll be checking out every one of them.

rich

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