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Related parts and shapes: Family resemblances

From: Foundations of Typography

Video: Related parts and shapes: Family resemblances

In this movie, we are going to focus in on letterforms by getting out our magnifying glasses. We are going to look at important details that make a typeface what it is. These are the characteristics that type designers use to shape their designs. Even if you aren't planning to design a typeface, you can still be a good type detective and find out more about letters by looking at the ways in which their parts are related. The shapes of letters within a particular typeface are far from random. In fact, you can actually look at just a few letters and imagine pretty much what the rest will look like.

Related parts and shapes: Family resemblances

In this movie, we are going to focus in on letterforms by getting out our magnifying glasses. We are going to look at important details that make a typeface what it is. These are the characteristics that type designers use to shape their designs. Even if you aren't planning to design a typeface, you can still be a good type detective and find out more about letters by looking at the ways in which their parts are related. The shapes of letters within a particular typeface are far from random. In fact, you can actually look at just a few letters and imagine pretty much what the rest will look like.

That's because all of the letters have underlying design characteristics which come from a common set of proportions and styling details. Within the 26 capital letters, you can see that there are little groupings based on similar letter shapes. The curve letter parts are based on the curve of the O. Straight sided letters are based on the N. The diagonal sided letters are based on the A. All of the letters with upper and lower parts also have a relationship to the S.

There are other interrelationships. The E and the F are closely related. The crossbar of the F is slightly lower because it doesn't have a bottom leg and its middle crossbar is shorter. There are visual links between these other pairs of letters as well as slight differences. The two widest are M and W, which are both doubles based on a double V. You might not think of the S and Z as being related, but they have similar proportions. Now let's look at the S, Z, and B.

While they appear to have upper and lower parts that are equal, if you turn them upside down, you can see that in fact the lower parts have more space in them. They are optically equal, not mechanically equal. In letter design as in all design, what's important is what the eye perceives and not what is real. Within the grouping of R, B, and P, you can see that the sizes of the bowl are not the same. They are based on optical balance because the B and R are double-decker letters with an upper and lower part. Their bowls are smaller.

The bowl of the P is the largest because it does not have a leg or lower bowl, so optically that space needs to be more filled in. Within the 26 small letters, you can also see different groupings based on similarities. The round letters are still based on the O, straight sided letters on the N, width based on the N and the diagonal letters are grouped together because of their related shapes. Again, the S is based on the S and the proportions of the double-decker letters are based on the S.

Here are some other related pairs. Again, M and W are the widest. The W is also related to the V because it is essentially a double V. The R is a truncated N and the E is essentially an o with a crossbar. In the stems of the letters, you can see that every vertical stroke has the same thickness, also called stroke-width, and you can see that the cap height of every letter is the same. The exceptions are the curved letters.

Curves need to extend very slightly top and bottom so that they appear the same height as the other letters. If they were exactly the same height, they would actually appear to be shorter and the X-height of all the lowercase letters is the same and the heights of all the ascenders is the same and the descenders are also the same. Here are other kinds of relationships. The apex of the N, A, and M will be the same, ditto for the bottoms of the V and W.

And then there are the terminal strokes or N strokes of the letters. The ending strokes follow the same angle in related letters. Within a serif typeface, one of the most significant similarities will be the shapes of the serifs. Whether they're sharp or rounded, thick or thin, wide or narrow, they will all match. The art of type design rests on these principles of commonality, of similar shapes and groupings of characters with shared design details. As you can see, there's a lot that goes into designing a typeface.

In next movie, we'll take a look at how a type designer gets started and follow through the basic steps 'til the final typeface is ready to be used.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Typography
Foundations of Typography

46 video lessons · 30279 viewers

Ina Saltz
Author

 
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  1. 9m 5s
    1. Welcome
      1m 58s
    2. Why good typography matters
      1m 55s
    3. The power of type
      1m 53s
    4. The theory of typographic relativity
      1m 53s
    5. Getting the most out of this course
      1m 26s
  2. 23m 49s
    1. Serif vs. sans serif
      3m 27s
    2. Display type vs. text type
      3m 39s
    3. Type history
      2m 48s
    4. Type classification
      4m 8s
    5. Other type categories
      3m 24s
    6. Guidelines for combining typefaces
      3m 49s
    7. Using cases
      2m 34s
  3. 18m 28s
    1. Anatomy: Parts and shapes of type
      4m 35s
    2. Size and measurements of type
      2m 18s
    3. Type families: Widths, weights, and slopes
      3m 53s
    4. Reviewing the terminology of type, based on function
      3m 27s
    5. Working with color and tonal weight: Exercises
      4m 15s
  4. 20m 27s
    1. Kerning and kerning pairs
      3m 33s
    2. Tracking and leading
      3m 49s
    3. Exploring variations in type alignment
      3m 55s
    4. Hyphenation and justification
      3m 13s
    5. Indents, outdents, and hanging punctuation
      2m 26s
    6. Other typographic best practices
      3m 31s
  5. 10m 3s
    1. Where type begins: The mark of the hand
      2m 28s
    2. Related parts and shapes: Family resemblances
      4m 35s
    3. Designing a typeface
      3m 0s
  6. 22m 19s
    1. How legibility and readability differ
      3m 48s
    2. Examining factors affecting legibility
      4m 46s
    3. Hierarchy and functionality
      4m 29s
    4. Systematized hierarchy
      3m 52s
    5. Paragraphs, drop caps, and entry points
      2m 41s
    6. Typographic abominations
      2m 43s
  7. 11m 8s
    1. Opposing forces of typography
      3m 8s
    2. The grid: A structure for containing type
      3m 6s
    3. Contrast and scale
      4m 54s
  8. 9m 41s
    1. Typographic expressiveness
      3m 22s
    2. The emotional impact of type
      2m 47s
    3. Three-dimensional type
      3m 32s
  9. 8m 55s
    1. Working with numbers
      2m 10s
    2. Expert characters and analphabetic symbols
      1m 56s
    3. Using typography to navigate content
      1m 51s
    4. Using typography to navigate the environment
      2m 58s
  10. 9m 14s
    1. Managing fonts and building your type library
      3m 14s
    2. Developing your typographic eye
      2m 31s
    3. Breaking the rules
      1m 41s
    4. What's next
      1m 48s

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