Maiden Voyage for First Time Font Nerd

mike gastin's picture

OK - my big New Year resolution to myself was to design my first type face in 2005.

I have been giving this a great deal of thought and would like a little advice from the pros.

My basic question being, what is the best type of face to start with? Display? Text? Serif or sans serif?

I ask because unlike the great American novelist, I am not bursting with a type face that burns in my soul, demanding to be put to paper. I do not have any great philosophy that I desire to translate into a face.

I am just a type geek who wants to learn about the process of creating a face. I am viewing the project as simply a learning experience.

My nature is to tackle more than I can handle. I do it all the time in life. You know, design the next great face and all that. But, the truth is I could not do it out of the starting gate if I wanted to. I just need to learn to walk before I can even think about running.

So, what say you? Any suggestions for a guy who wants to work on a face as a recreational and learning endeavor?

Forrest L Norvell's picture

This is a question I was asking myself, as I'm doing the same thing (have a copy of "Learn Fontlab Fast" in the mail, will probably buy Fontlab shortly thereafter, etc). I think the smartest thing to do is realize that, as with most creative pursuits, your first effort will most likely be a throwaway, and do whatever seems most interesting to you. In my case, that means a blackletter face, with some novel features (I hope).

I guess it also depends on what you're most interested in learning. How to make a "useful" typeface? Something flashier? How to master the tools for type creation? A yen to play around with OpenType's more gratuitous features? A desire to play with ideas of readability and legibility? A need to revive some neglected old style of type? Figuring that out should answer a lot of questions.

I personally feel like starting with a serif body font would be the hardest thing imaginable; there are so many already and there's a lot of work involved in getting one to look good. And I'm still wrapping my head around the subtleties of the 10,000 available modernist sans; there's no way I feel qualified to start with one of those. By contrast, I have a lot of opinions about blackletter type and it's not a field that's exactly bursting with activity at the moment, which gives me some freedom.

Also, this site has a ton of useful advice for beginners:

His advice on workflow is particularly helpful.

mike gastin's picture

Forrest - thanks. You offer good questions to sort it all out by. I look forward to seeing your progress on the critique board.

dan_reynolds's picture

>do whatever seems most interesting to you. In my case, that means a blackletter face, with some novel features (I hope).

Hey Forrest, that was exactly what I thought when I started designing type a year and a half ago, too. You can see my results at (look at the "Ignaz" fonts). Good luck!

<pep_talk>Mike, I'm a big theory-nerd myself, but when it come do designing, I like to sit down and just do it (and keep doing, and so on). Your hands and your eyes will surprise you. After you've gotten some results, you can step back from it and begin examining things, and getting advice from others. But in the beginning

hrant's picture

> advice from the pros.

Pros? Where?! :-/

If you don't have a "Big Idea" to work from, I'd say you need some severe design constraints. Like take a shot at making a font for pharmaceutical packaging. Or a font that's as Art Nouveau as possible (whatever you end up thinking that means). BTW, soon after gettting started in type design for real you might actually end up finding yourself overwhelmed with ideas, and be faced with Puijilittatuq. (Look it up, dude, it's cool - cold even. :-)

And whatever you do, don't let arbitrary circumstances (like a particular marking tool) determine the outcome. "Think with your brain."

mike gastin's picture

OK - so just dive into the deep end, I guess. That is what I was thinking in the first place, but thought it was worth the 'ask'.

I am really interested in the technical aspects of design. So, I am tempted to work on a text face, but I know the complexity of a text face would be overwhelming.

Maybe I will not make any other commitment other than to start scribbling ides on paper?

Thanks Dan, Hrant and Forrest for the replies and encouragement.


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