It takes a combination of vision and dedication and plenty of serious hard work to conceptualize, develop, and finalize a font. My good friend Donald Partyka agreed to let me show the steps in his recent type design Benda. Let's take a look at the steps along the way to the finished typeface. Every typeface begins with an idea. Donald was inspired by two sources of unpublished alphabets designed by the influential Czech designer Jaroslav Benda.
Donald was attracted to the unusual letterforms and the variation between the upper and lower case. His goal was to create a font that was modular and systematic, while still respecting the source and keeping the personality of the letterforms. Type designers start out the way most artists do by sketching. There can be several stages of sketching where the rough sketches of letters are refined into tight sketches. Here are some of Donald's initial sketches for the typeface Benda. He worked both with pencil and a broad-edged pen and ink.
The Roman, Bold, and Italic versions of the font begin to evolve in sketch form. From sketch form, letters are refined with a tighter rendering. By figuring out how to combine the various shapes, round, straight, and diagonal, the designer can move on to design the rest of the letters, testing along the way to make sure the weights and other design characteristics are in balance. Using a program called Fontlab, type designers import their characters and can fine-tune them.
In Fontlab, they can handle many other complex tasks, such as encoding, hinting, and kerning pairs. Type designers begin using their fonts to set words and sentences as soon as enough characters have been resolved. This is helpful at every stage of the process. A typeface is a system and its letters must all work together equally well, no matter how they are arranged. One of the hardest tasks for a text type designer is to create smooth consistent color on the page.
If you squint, you can see that this is a beautifully balanced page of text. Here is a full character set of Benda's Roman or upright text. And here is Donald's type specimen page designed to show off Benda's qualities. If this inspires you enough to create your own typeface, I have included some resources in the exercise files for this course so you can take the next step. There is a lot of fantastic typeface design going on out there in this new golden age of typography.
There are so many gorgeous typefaces for you to choose from, and the next time you select a font to use in your project, don't take it for granted, think about all of the hard work and expertise that when into its creation and treat it with respect.
- What is typography?
- Differentiating type characteristics
- Using ornamental and decorative type
- Combining typefaces
- Using contrast and scale
- Kerning and kerning pairs
- Choosing the optimum line length
- Aligning and spacing characters, words, and paragraphs
- Understanding factors affecting legibility
- Working with three-dimensional type
- Putting type in motion