TDi: Type Design Summer Course Day 5

This is the fifth and final post in a series of articles covering my week attending the TDi summer course in Reading. Read the Day One, the Day Two, the Day Three and the Day Four.

Ingredients of Type Design with Gerard Unger

This lecture is an explanation of the theory of type design, so you’ll find a lot of “quotables” down below. I’ve tried to capture them so they fit the Twitter format of 140 characters.

“Typography is a visualisation of the organisation of ideas.”

— Gerard Unger

When you write — it’s the direct process. When you touch up a writing, you go into another process — the indirect process. All type design is the indirect process. It means that all details can be reconsidered — hence typography is synthetic.

What keeps typographers and readers together? Language.

Reading perception: Template Matching#Template_matching) vs Feature Recognition#Feature_analysis). Still a theory, but the later sounds more plausible.

“Typeface design is an externalisation of your own reading experience.”

— Gerard Unger

“The good type designer therefore realizes that, for a new fount to be successful it has to be so good that only very few recognize its novelty.”

— Stanley Morrison

“There’s only so much you can do as a type designer.”

— Gerard Unger

Compared to newspapers limitations from the 20th century, current limitations are luxury. However to put as much as text is possible on an iPhone is still a challenge.

On Universe typeface:

“If we only had one (perfect) typeface, readers would have hard time orientating, because everything would look the same.”

— Gerard Unger

“Timelessness doesn’t exist.”

— Gerard Unger

Type design is the creation of a coherent group of typographic signs, with regard to aspects of convention, function, technology and culture.

Typeface Design Work

Friday was the last day I was there, so I kind of wanted to have a closure with my design. The night before I finished all the lowercase characters, so I could receive feedback on spacing and fitting. The starting rule as I was explained was to apply side spacing that’s 150% the thickness of the stem between oval and straight strokes. For the nulth pass that meant 50% the width for oval sides and 100% the width for vertical stems. I blindly followed the formula and ended up with too spaced texture. It was hard to separate words.

Then Gerard sat next to me and started giving me instructions on how to space each letter. 15 minutes later I had my font fitted. For comparison, the second paragraph is set in Arial.

Fitting, the first pass

The typeface is far from done

The next step is to fix numerous inconsistencies in strokes, overall balance and joints. After that, to test it in multiple sizes. Then figures, uppercases, punctuation, spaces and symbols.

After that additional characters for Western European, Central European, South Eastern European, Vietnamese, Afrikaans, Pinyin, IPA and Pan African Latin.

And then I can start thinking about different weights. Mind-blowing, I know.

People, people, people

The week was super-intensive and focused. My main goal with TDi was to better understand how type design decisions influence legibility and readability. I learned how to look at type specimens and how to understand certain features. I have pretty good idea how typographic choices can improve the reading / user experience.

I’ve drastically improved my typographic skills — in the first place thanks to excellent teachers: Gerry Leonidas with his no non-sense approach and a great sense of humor, Dr. Fiona Ross with her invaluable experience at Linotype and with Non-Latin scripts in general and Gerard Unger who I can best describe as the Yoda of typeface design — it was my privilege to learn from you. A big thank you to all the guest lecturers we’ve listened to during the week.

Last, but not least — I’ve met new friends. As I was looking at the group photo someone posted on Facebook, I had one particular thought:

“Not just a beautiful group of people, also a group of beautiful people.”

— Me