Does a type designers handwriting influence the typefaces they produce?

Alex Kaczun's picture

I would be very interested in seeing samples of type designers handwriting and comparing them to some of the typefaces that they have created.

My own handwriting, if you can call it that, is terrible. But, I pride myself on producing very legible fonts.

It would be interesting to hear what others have to say on the subject.

Send in your penmanship and font samples.

It might prove interesting.

Bahman Eslami's picture

It's interesting that you mentioned this, because recently there was so many people saying that my handwriting is terrible, even though they are complementing my calligraphy peaces and typeface designs. I'm now working on my handwriting to improve it and I find it very hard to restrict myself to so many regulations which other people have in their handwritings and makes them beautiful. anyway I found so many features in their characters that brought ideas to me to design new typefaces.

Alex Kaczun's picture

Okay... I googled the question, and found an interesting post:

Interesting, Mark Simonson's handwriting looks just like his "Felt Tip Roman" font.

But the best one is the last sample by Mirian Bantjes, three distinct handwriting styles... very different indeed. Split personalities?

I've never seen anyone write with so many different penmanship styles. Intriguing.

However, everyones handwriting is still better then mine :(

oldnick's picture


Don't be so quick to claim the crown. Long ago, I abandoned cursive writing in favor of printing because I couldn't even decipher the former as practiced by me. And, except for a few distinctive features, I rarely sign my name the same each time I am required to do so. Now, that's bad penmanship…

eliason's picture

Interesting, Mark Simonson's handwriting looks just like his "Felt Tip Roman" font.

I think that's the other way around! :-)

Bendy's picture

I'd rather prefer to say that a person's 'hand' (or authorship) is evident in both their handwriting and the type designs they create (revivals aside).

russellm's picture

How many of us would even know? I for one hardly ever write anything by hand any more.

The "R" over there to the left is a sample of my handwriting, but I wrote a dozen of them to get one I liked.

Alex Kaczun's picture

I've recently heard that some schools in the USA have eliminated or are going to drop penmanship, or cursive writing, from the school curriculum.

Cursive handwriting is on its way out in our computer-focused society.

It's not needed anymore. Young students do not write anymore.

I find this disturbing. Add to this, that all these young people have their own language (LOL, etc.) and no one writes out complete words or sentences anymore. No one knows when to use "I" or "me" properly. No one reads books anymore and I could go on-and-on.

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON??? Are we all going to get stupider?

I guess that the only solution is to keep making more new fonts.

More beautiful fonts will make the world communicate better. A better place.

I'm being sarcastic.

But, I do see that since no one will write anymore. They can just choose a font as their personal penmanship style.

Certainly almost enough fonts to do that, or soon will be ;-)

I'm going to start working on improving my penmanship again.

When I was a student I got A+ in cursive writing. I don't know what happened. Now, I can hardly even read my own handwriting.

New Years Resolution (Improve my writing skills)... I'm a type designer for Christ's sake!

dezcom's picture

My pathetic handwriting only serves to mark up proofs for correction.

Alex Kaczun's picture

@ Nick,

I wonder if most type designers have bad handwriting?

I too, can hardly ever sign my name the same way.

Funny story:

I was at a bank recently trying to access my safe deposit box.

I had to sign in and the person behind the desk informed me that the signature did not match.

To "try again".

Well, I must have spent over an hour sitting there trying to sign my name different ways.

Finally, hit on something that looked vaguely similar and the guy said "close enough" and let me proceed.

Pretty pathetic. And scary.

Maybe I should just use a big "X", as the cowboys did in the good old days :-)

mjkerpan's picture

I learned cursive in second and third grade and haven't used it since except to sign things. By fifth grade or so, most of my teachers were expecting typed papers and for my own use, I much preferred to avoid cursive. To me cursive has always been a sort of compromise: faster writing times for slower reading times. Since I can write fast enough without cursive, I never saw the need to hinder my future reading of what I'd written...

Nick Shinn's picture

My handwriting is quite nice (when I want).
But I haven’t made a font out of it yet.
In answer to the OP’s question, I can write in the style of several of my type designs*, which is the other way around from Mark’s Felt Tip—although I suspect he could write in the style of Lakeside, for instance.

* e.g. Panoptica Script

Mark Simonson's picture

I wish. :-) I can draw better than I can write.

Nick Cooke's picture

I find I have different styles depending on the implement.
I have produced four scripts; ITC Dartangnon (pencil), Gizmo (Staedtler Brush Pen), Olicana (steel nib and ink) and Rollerscript (Pentel green rollerball thingy), and they all look fairly different to each other.
Whether my handwriting affects my sans or serif designs is another matter, it may do on a subconscious level - but I don't know.

Alex Kaczun's picture

@ Nick Cooke

You truly have beautiful penmanship. I especially like your "Rollerscript" style. I'm jealous.

I also like the "lumpy" bits, as you call them. It gives a natural quality to the overall freehand script style. Great work.

If you still need a name for your script... "Sgraffito".–-strange-name-beautiful-technique/

@ riccardo

Thanks for the link. It was interesting to view development of Nick's script.

Nick Cooke's picture

Well, thanks Alex, but I don't really have beautiful penmanship. I do not at all consider myself a calligrapher. Those fonts derive from writing pages and pages of pangrams and snatches of conversation heard on the radio, most of it of the most appalling quality, selecting the best looking bits and sticking them together until they look like good handwriting. Plus a lot of programming of course.

I am sticking with Rollerscript, I don't think it's too bad a name afterall.

Edit. I hadn't clicked on Riccardo's link - it's just coincidence that I followed that post. Thanks Riccardo.

dinazina's picture

I too am disturbed that cursive may no longer be taught to schoolchildren. Apparently we can assume all have access to computer keyboards and that is the standard method.

I just read a blog post by a father who heard his high school son complain of difficulty reading italic text. Italic! Cause of course - the letterforms are based on classic hand lettering.

Where is this going? I can imagine:

a detective finding a handwritten note at a crime it a suicide note or a grocery list? He can't read it, so has to pass it on to a cursive writing specialist for analysis (maybe this already happens).

He can't read a letter from 1976 in a police file, or one received from his grandmother (who has beautiful handwriting).

Can't write a love note to his darling unless he has access to a suitable font and printer, before slipping it under her pillow. If they are out at a romantic lakeside cabin with no computer equipment, he tries to laboriously print the note but decides to just text it to her cellphone. Figures she can't read or write cursive either.

I'm prejudiced I guess because I love beautiful hand scripts and other forms of handlettering. But I agree crappy handwriting is irritating to look at.

An analogy can be made to singing. A lot of people are very bad at singing or even tone deaf. Does that mean kids shouldn't be taught singing or playing instruments, because obviously recorded music sounds better (yeah, I know), so why not rely on a collection of that and not try to do it yourself half-assed?

John Hudson's picture

My handwriting has influenced all of my typeface designs insofar as I have terrible handwriting and type design is a kind of compensation, allowing me to express ideas about visible language that I cannot express by hand.


Dina, some of the hypothetical situations you describe have existing parallels whenever older or regional forms of writing are encountered by people who have not been trained to read them. I have a whole collection of books whose purpose is to provide pedagogical examples of handwriting from different periods and countries, to assist people in deciphering documents such as old birth certificates, property deeds, etc..

dinazina's picture

I understand any educated person who's not an expert would need assistance deciphering handwriting from earlier centuries or foreign cultures - but one's own contemporary culture or just a few decades past, and still in use?

Khaled Hosny's picture

Not exactly handwriting, but I've always wanted to be a calligrapher, but Arabic calligraphy is so complex that it takes many years of a really talented person to master it, something I could not afford. When I learnt about digital type, the first thought I had was "may be I can get this computer thing to do calligraphy for me" :)

John Hudson's picture

Dina: ...but one's own contemporary culture or just a few decades past, and still in use?

The parallel I suggested, though, is in ways of writing ceasing to belong to contemporary culture, falling out of use, and then how we have to relate to them. Sutterlin script was the dominant model of cursive handwriting taught in German schools in the first half of the 20th Century, and disappeared within 'a few decades', between two generations, such that very few people can now read it, let along write it with any competence. Should it surprise us that in a culture of rapid change, this process might occur more quickly?

dinazina's picture

You may be right, but I still find it disturbing. A generational concern, maybe. (I'm a boomer and have studied pen & ink hand-lettering - enough to recognize the artistry of it.)

Will even typographic scripts be in use much longer? They are hugely popular and diverse in style, if you look at MyFonts sales records, for instance. And in a few decades they'll all be illegible to the younger half of the population?

John Hudson's picture

And in a few decades they'll all be illegible to the younger half of the population?

It is already the case that very few people can actually write in the manner of these script types, and most bear no relationship to lettering taught in schools at any period, but writing and reading are different abilities. So called 'wedding script' types are endlessly popular, but represent styles of writing that have not been systematically taught for almost two hundred years. They persist in use because they are fashionably associated with certain cultural phenomena (wedding invitations, wine labels, some book or music packaging), and bear systematic relationships to other more common styles of typographic letters (italics), and hence they remain readable despite the fact that no one is taught how to write them.

quadibloc's picture

I'm sure that there are some type designers who design typefaces starting from their own calligraphy, thus leading to faces which do reflect their writing hand - if not their normal handwriting.

Several type designers have a consistent "feel" to their typefaces which suggests that they had done this. Frederic W. Goudy comes to mind as a possible example.

dinazina's picture

Thanks for the comments - food for thought.

hrant's picture

A consistent "feeling" in one's œuvre doesn't have to
have anything to do with handwriting. Let the poor old
hag die in peace.


dezcom's picture

Calligraphy is far different than handwriting. When using calligraphy, we have chosen to write beautifully as the name says. This is a conscious effort. Handwriting is another beast. Most of us just write notes to ourselves or family members--we know what that chicken scratch is supposed to say ;-)

John Hudson's picture

Several type designers have a consistent "feel" to their typefaces which suggests that they had done this. Frederic W. Goudy comes to mind as a possible example.

Goudy's types are among the most truly free of chirographic influence: they're pure drawing, and the frequent 'wandering lumpiness' of the outlines produce relationships between inner and outer forms that are alien to anything informed by the stroke of the pen. At their best, Goudy's types demonstrate how stable forms can be derived independently of written models; more often -- let's remember just how many types he designed -- they demonstrate the difficulty of achieving such stability and the arbitrariness of the drawn outline.

LauraWorthington's picture

Thanks for posing this question, Alex! I would love to see some other examples on this subject as well.

In my case, yes - my handwriting has had a big impact on my typeface designs.

On another note, I am currently teaching a typography class and recently took an informal poll of my students as to who was taught cursive in school. Pretty much everyone over 40 had, 30 somethings where 50/50 and just about everyone under 30 had not. In conversations I've had with friends who have school aged children, not one of them have been taught cursive.

Anyway, here is an example of my handwriting, along with my typefaces that most closely resemble my writing style.

dinazina's picture

Wow, we have my fellow Washington State resident Laura Worthington chiming in.

I have several of your fonts and want ALL of them! Sheila is like candy to me...

The handwriting style you show would've likely been frowned upon in my elementary school (ages ago). It was supposed to resemble the slanted Palmer script with connected letters and many loops - actually much more difficult for the teacher to read, I would think.

Today I do an upright semi-connected hand, and I am often attracted to upright scripts like Samantha because of that, maybe.

Alex Kaczun's picture

@ Laura Worthington

I'm a big fan of your script work and calligraphy. Bianca and Origins among my favorites.

Very similar to your beautiful handwriting.

I would give my right hand to be able to write like you.

But, then I wouldn't have a hand to write with :-)

I'm actually half way through designing a wedding script for my son, Michael, and his upcoming wedding to Susanne Bamberger, she's an art director at More magazine. So it has to be really unique and different.

What I have so far she likes, but it's not easy work for me... not being a calligrapher and all. But, I will give it my best shot.

Anyway, thanks for your reply. This is exactly what I was hoping to see from other type designers.

Looking forward to other great scripts. Keep them coming.

John Hudson's picture

Dina: The handwriting style you show would've likely been frowned upon in my elementary school (ages ago). It was supposed to resemble the slanted Palmer script with connected letters and many loops...

What kind of pen were you given or required to use? I was surprised, when I came to Canada aged 10, to discover that kids here were taught to write a hand derived from English roundhand models -- a relative of Palmer script, I reckon -- but using poor quality ballpoint pens, rather than the split nib pen for which these styles had been invented. At my previous school, in Wales, fountain pens had been compulsory, and something like an italic running hand had been required.

dinazina's picture

John: good question.
I remember using a fountain pen at an old-fashioned U.S. school in 1960 when I first learned cursive. We did exercises to practice round and angular shapes before making letters.

ONE, two, three, four, five six, seven, eight,
TWO, two, three, four, five,six, seven eight..."

That sticks in my mind, but I can't remember where I put my glasses 10 minutes ago.

Probably cheap ball point pens came into favor for schoolkids in the mid-sixties.

John Hudson's picture

It seems to me that one can trace changes in the teaching of handwriting relative to what secretaries are doing at any given time. In societies with low levels of literacy, in which even rulers may be illiterate, professional scribes emerge as record keepers, amanuenses, letter writers: the birth of the secretarial profession. This profession exists parallel to that of the scribe who is a copier of books, and it requires a different kind of script: something faster to write than formal book hand. And so demotic, cursive scripts evolve, displaying the characteristics of speed: abbreviation of forms, joining of letters, horizontal compression, and slant. Because these are professional scripts, they are refined as a means of controlling entry to the profession, and hence another new profession emerges, especially as literacy increases: the writing master. The writing masters teach secretarial hands, and mercantile capitalism and the development of international trade produce a large market for the skills they advertise, and this market drives the development of a new kind of publication: the writing manual. Meanwhile, the secretaries are busy and, between Arrighi et al publishing italic writing manuals and Barbedor his les écritures financière, they abandon the broad nib quill and reed, and start writing with pointed, split nib steel pens. This new tool drives the development of new scripts, based on pressure rather than nib angle, and the steel pen and its associated scripts remain in professional use through to the early 20th Century. Meanwhile, with the spread of school-based education and further increases in literacy, the teaching of writing has moved from the domain of private writing masters into something resembling our own education system. But it is still contemporary secretarial hands that provide the models. In the second half of the 19th Century, standardised and in some respects simplified models are proposed to aid the teaching of writing -- a subtle change: the goal is no longer competence in the secretarial hands per se, but pedagogical efficiency --, and hence Palmer and others. Meanwhile the secretaries, although still writing a lot by hand, have started to use typewriters, and that is going to have a profound effect on the teaching of handwriting in the 20th Century, long before it was suggested that the computer makes the teaching of handwriting unnecessary. Gradually, the secretarial profession ceases to provide a stable model for writing. Alongside the typewriter, new kinds of pens are being invented: fountain pens with built-in reservoirs, round nibs producing monoline strokes, the first rolling ball nibs, etc.. Writing implements become a matter of personal choice rather than professional determination. Since the secretaries, whose professional prestige -- so long founded on fine handwriting -- has been completely demolished by the speed of the typist, are no longer committed to a particular tool or, indeed, to particular styles of writing, the schools too start accepting new kinds of pens, eventually making decisions on budgetary grounds, whence cheap ballpoints. But they continue to teach, long past their sell-by date, the last models -- however degraded -- that they received from the secretarial hands in the late 19th Century, because no one has come along with a new secretarial hand in the meantime. In Britain, and among some educators elsewhere, the gradual degradation of the various 'copperplate' models and their patent unsuitability to the new pens prompts a crisis, which is met by fleeing to the past and rediscovering the typical script of long, long dead Italian secretaries. Hence, a depressing amount of the debate about the teaching of handwriting -- even as the personal computer took hold in the workplace, the home and the classroom --, has been about whether it should be based on 15th or 18th century models. A few individuals have sought to provide new models, better suited to modern writing implements, but despite their virtues these tend not to be widely adopted. Why not? Because secretaries don't need them, and when it comes to writing, what secretaries don't need, no one else needs. Handwriting is on the way out because there is no professional epistolary culture either driving the development of new styles nor providing a milieu within which to employ such styles. And this has been the case for about a century. What we're seeing isn't something that has been brought about by the computer, but the tail end of a long process.

Nick Shinn's picture

I think you are mistaken about the dominance of the secretarial model.
For instance, in the early 20th century my grandmother, age 20, kept an “autograph” book, in which her friends and relatives each entered a piece, usually a sentimental poem, in their own hand. There is a great variety of styles, and all of superb technique and fine-detailed precision.
From this, I conclude that writing was approached as a sophisticated skill and means of self-expression.
Although certain styles were standardized for business, people wrote a lot of personal letters to one another.
These letters ranged from those to lovers and close family, to formal invitations to social events.
If one knew the correct form to address a potential employer, why would one use the same style to address one’s sweetheart?

But I like your long-termism—it seems to me that cheap long-distance phone calls have diminished letter-writing, and hence handwriting. Why write a letter to someone when you can call them up?

I don’t think the absence of a professional epistolatory culture means that handwriting has atrophied.
Just because common handwriting today is casual and often crude doesn’t mean that it isn't a distinct cultural style.

dinazina's picture

Hey, no computer or ball-point pen can create THIS:

I guess this is the definitive 21st century hand-written expression (one of many discovered decorating our property from time to time).

dezcom's picture

Skype has better handwriting than I do ;-)

Alex Kaczun's picture

You know, I do not think anyone is opposed to change, or progress.

Out with the old and in with the new. Evolving culture is a good thing.

But, seriously, children not needing to learn long-hand or cursive writing.

Print if you have to, but at least know how to write.

Learn proper grammar, learn when to use "I" as opposed to "me". Even the news reporters are getting it wrong.

Everyone is using "I" all the time, because they are not sure.

So, eventually the culture changes and "me" is dropped from the English language.

Know how to do everyday arithmetic, long-division, fractions... how to figure out the tip on a bill. Practical stuff.

You know how many times I've been at a cash register and I given the kid $10.25 for a $4.21 item and they cannot figure out the change back.

What happens when a solar flair wipes out all satellites and global tele-communicates some day.

Your cell phones, your computers, your calculators, your "Gragon Dictate" (talking-writing) speech recognition software doesn't work anymore. Yes, even FontLab is not working. Oh me, oh my...

And things are down 6-months or longer. Do we all slip back into the dark ages.

Grunt and grown like cave people. I know I'm over-dramatizing. But, I'm trying to make a point.

As a society, we should be very careful what we decide to do away with and what we keep.

How about some common sense.

And, I'd like to break every little finger in the kids hand that defaced public property as shown above.

Better yet, take away the spray paint, put a pen in their hand and make them learn proper cursive writing.

Even better yet, force them to become a type designer. That will teach them ;-)

hrant's picture

> Practical stuff.

Writing by hand is less so each passing day.
It's just common sense.
Cloying nostalgia is the bane of progress.


Nick Shinn's picture

Evolving culture is a good thing.

Are we not men?

Alex Kaczun's picture

Not exactly... Nick.

I count 14 men and 2 women...


John Hudson's picture

Nick, that's a fair point about personal epistolary style, but I think that is another product of the situations I describe: rising literacy rates, the spread of systematic education including the teaching of handwriting, and the introduction of new writing tools at a time when the dominance of secretarial models was waning due to increased use of the typewriter. As the choice of writing implement became a matter of personal preference, greater individuality becomes evident in writing. The fact that so much of the writing remained of such high quality, even as it departed from the taught models, indicates that the manual skills developed in learning to write 'a fair hand' are transferable.

This is where I do think the loss of handwriting as a taught skill is problematic -- has been problematic in my own life --: not in the disappearance of handwriting per se, but the disappearance of the transferable fine motor skills.

dinazina's picture

Those who tell us their handwriting is illegible and ugly no matter how they try, help me out - I am puzzled about this:

The same folks often have no trouble with the dexterity required for speedy touch-typing - something I never learned as a youth (cause I was on the academic track, not "secretarial"). I type with two fingers - and I've written 7 books that way.

I suppose I COULD learn touch-typing, though it would feel unbearably clumsy at first. But I don't WANT to go through that learning curve. Maybe it's something you ideally should learn at a young age, like piano.

Could it be that the sloppy writers don't WANT to tediously practice like elementary school kids until they improve? Cause unless they have a hand-eye coordination disability, I don't see that it would be impossible to learn.

After all, type designers must be skilled with drawing implements, whether manual or computerized. Why is writing by hand a sticking point for some?

By the way Alex, I agree that we shouldn't assume the computer tools we take for granted now will always be cheap and available at will. We hear that peak oil, climate change disasters, and resource wars may be our future. I can imagine younger people would truly be at a disadvantage if they know no other ways to communicate.

John Hudson's picture

Could it be that the sloppy writers don't WANT to tediously practice like elementary school kids until they improve?

In my case, it is a combination of lack of will and lack of time: if I had more time, likely I wouldn't mind the prospect of tedious practice. Improving my handwriting isn't something I can prioritise, which takes me back to the point I made above about need. I would like to have better handwriting, but I don't need better handwriting, and hence there isn't a lot of impetus to devote time and effort to improving it. There are other things that I want to be better at too -- singing, cooking, woodworking --, and all of those have more practical application in my life than having nice handwriting, so they get priority in my leisure time.

dinazina's picture

That makes's a cultural thing. In the past...say it's 1895, and you want to impress a young lady you're courting with romantic letters. If your handwriting is crappy, she'll be disappointed, even decide you're too uneducated or vulgar. Then you'd be likely be motivated to practice and improve your penmanship. Right?

John Hudson's picture

The way I see it, there are transferable and particular skills. Handwriting is a particular skill, and it is one that isn't culturally useful where we are at the moment, hence fewer people develop the skill. The interesting questions, I think, are a) whether there are transferable skills (fine manual motor skills) involved in handwriting that can also be developed in other ways and, b) whether those skills are transferable to something that is culturally useful. I don't know the answer to those questions, but I would be glad of suggestions. It may be the case that the skills involved in handwriting are highly specialised, and not significantly transferable.

eliason's picture

Maybe we should eat everything with chopsticks.

dinazina's picture

Handwriting dexterity is similar to drawing, seems to me. Fine manual motor skills (as you say) combined with an eye for design, composition, visual impact.

Is drawing useful? If you could make your living from drawing, it's very useful. But aside from that - it's an art. Art isn't necessarily "useful" culturally or otherwise, but it is a form of expression and creativity that is meaningful to many people.

You mentioned singing. Most people who sing (I do) will never even attempt to become professional singers. So - limited usefulness. But it's gratifying anyway, to improve your singing performance and have others appreciate it. A social purpose, then.

I also like hand-addressing envelopes and writing notecards, feeling that the beauty of the writing will be noticed and appreciated.

dezcom's picture

I had very good handwriting in grammar school. By the time I had finished college (and written 100 exam essays in blue books in 2 hours or less), my handwriting turned to speed writing scrawl. I am of the age when boys were not taught to type so I can't type the proper way either! I started "typing at age 40, when I got my first computer. I type badly and slowly. It has nothing to do with laziness. My hands can't keep up with my brain so I just would rather not loose a train of thought just to make my handwriting better. When I send written things to others, I either type it or occasionally use Calligraphy. The message and audience chooses the medium. I am the only one who has to read my handwriting so it does not matter.

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