Ever had a font that designed itself?

studio-k's picture

They say an author sometimes gets taken over by his characters and they, rather than he, decide the outcome of the story. I felt a bit like that having designed (or begun the design) of Pagoda (see attached sample) which I intended to have a solidly mechanical feel. I began with the lower case c which looked rather like the head of a spanner, and laboured on from there. Pagoda, however, had other ideas and decided to reinvent itself as something decidedly delicate and oriental! In the end I gave in played the part of the oily rag to the engineer! Anyone else have a similar experience?

LexLuengas's picture

I can recall one time, while playing with serif shapes, I started curving the serifs into themselves like perfect circles, and eureka, there was Thai!

They say an author sometimes gets taken over by his characters

That's the feeling I get when I'm working effectively. When everything I'm doing seems a natural choice.

When I'm sketching, the first letter "falls from the sky", and what comes next ist just a reprise/reaffirmation of that. Most of the ideas take more time to unfold. I normally choose letters like /R/, /K/, /Q/, /k/, /a/, /g/, /z/ or /q/, that are more complex in construction, but I may also start, not with a specific character, but with a "rhythm", if i'm working with a broad nib.

After all, all typefaces are just a single-glyph idea spread out into the rest of the character set, for the sake of consistency. The less characteristics you choose to stick to, the more "mechanical" a typeface will look, I guess.

russellm's picture

In a way... I took my Silex which is pretty much 100% straight lines, converted all lines to curves and made all connections smooth to see what I'd get. ... I ended up with Kush.
The description on MyFonts, is a literal interpretation of the process; "Kush is what happens when you let your fonts sit around watching cartoons and eating cake and ice-cream all day—When their vectors are freed from constraints and allowed to follow their bliss"
It sounds like a "just a few clicks and voila! A whole new font" scenario but the amount of work involved in correcting shapes and connections, re-spacing and re-kerning was just about the same as starting from scratch.

the name, by the way, started out as "Cushy" for soft. The opposite of Silex. It looked better with a 'K'

... Then my son says, "Uh, Dad... "


No evidence stronger sales to beatniks and hippies though.

flooce's picture

Some people describe this experience as “being in the zone” ([Bad link]), or as “flow experience” ([Bad link]). This experience can mean that one does something that might be the thing one is “supposed” to do.

typerror's picture

“Creativity arises out of the state of thoughtless presence
in which you are much more awake than when
you are engrossed in thinking.”
Eckhart Tolle

Nick Shinn's picture

If only Bold Italic would design itself.

studio-k's picture

Wow, I wasn't expecting quite such a profound philosophical response to my innocent question, especially from Flooce and Typerror! Still I have read somewhere that to be 'inspired' is to be possessed by the spirits or gods, so maybe that's what was going on? I quite like the idea of myself as an instrument of the divine, but more often than not I feel the same resignation as Nick Shinn. Thank you all for your insights.

Thomas Phinney's picture

I have often felt this. It seems that designing a typeface can be rather like my dear friend Sean Stewart's experience of writing novels. At some point in the process you find the "voice" of the novel and follow it, even if it leads you in directions you did not originally intend. Things that conflict with that voice must be discarded, no matter how fabulous they might seem in and of themselves. I often have that experience with type design, where an interesting idea must be thrown away for the greater good of the typeface, because it doesn't fit with the whole.

In a typeface one may find one or two keystone glyphs that define the direction of the typeface, and then seeing for others whether they fit with those keystones, or not....

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