Perfectionism in Type Design

In a conversation on the update of Robert Slimbach’s classic Minion, Robert Bringhurst pointed out Slimbach’s perfectionism:

You’re famous in some circles for that kind of perfectionism. And for more persistent kinds of perfectionism too. Minion had only been out for a couple of years when you rebuilt it as a multiple master typeface. And in 1999 or 2000, you made the first OpenType versions of Minion, folding the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic, along with the ornaments, the small caps, and everything else into a single font. I studied those fonts pretty closely when they were released, and I was amazed and delighted by what I saw. There was phenomenal attention to detail. For example, all the diacritics were subtly redesigned and repositioned, made a little narrower and lifted farther up above the letterforms. I’m sorry to say it, but in the English-speaking world, most type designers don’t know or care very much about such details. And not everyone takes font upkeep and editing that seriously.

I agree with Bringhurst although I do see some improvements in designing diacritics. I always have tremendous respect for Slimbach for making his typefaces as accessible to many languages as possible. Minion is of his exemplary examples.

Vernon Adams, Thank You

As I was browsing the Google Fonts directory, the name Vernon Adams popped all the time. He has designed 51 font families for Google. Out of curiosity, I wanted to find out more about him. Unfortunately, Adams died two years ago after a motor scooter accident. His father-in-law has written a short blog post about him and his work as a type designer. His legacy lives on as his unfinished fonts are continued to be worked on from other designers. Thank you and rest in peace, Adams.

Font of the Month Club Renewed

I just renewed my membership for Font of the Month Club by David Jonathan Ross. I can’t believe it has been almost a year already. Time flies when you have fonts every month.

Even though these fonts are works in progress, I have been able to put them to use on this blog (current headings are set in Rhododendron) as well as my own site (Bild and Roslindale Text). I must sound like a broken record, but Vietnamese support in a typeface is crucial to me. I am glad David has included Vietnamese diacritics in every Font of the Month. I wish more type designers would make Vietnamese support part of their work-in-progress fonts as well.

After eleven months with eleven fonts, I am still a happy member. If you love playing with types, you’ll definitely find values in being a member. If you’re a design student, this is a good way to impress your professor and classmates without putting a whole in your wallet. As much as I love classic typefaces, I am getting tired of seeing Akzidenz-Grotesk, Helvetica, and Univers in every packaging, branding, and web design. It’s time step up your student projects with new fonts.

I am looking forward to getting all the fonts on the first day of each months to come. Thank you, David.

New Type, Low Price

The launching of Future Fonts is creating some buzz in the type community. The gist of it is that type designers offer their work in progress at a low price. Lizy Gershenzon explains its pricing model:

Future Fonts also makes financial sense for both type designers and buyers. Without devaluing the work, you can get typefaces at a cheaper price. This is because they are still in progress and don’t cost as much as their final releases. As more work is completed and new versions are added, the price goes up. Early buyers lock in at the cheapest rate and get free updates along the way. It’s a win, win, with extra incentive to buy typefaces early.

It’s a fascinating concept, but Future Fonts doesn’t work for me personally because the fonts do not have Vietnamese support. In a way, Future Fonts is similar to David Jonathan Ross’s Font of the Month Club, which I am a member, but David makes his fonts available in as many languages as possible and I really appreciate that.

Nikkels on Design & Typography

Walter Nikkels, Depicted:

When a design is good, it objectifies seeing, it takes a distance from its maker, the design takes on a natural character, as though it had always been there. Conversely, when the design has not been entirely successful, it remains your design, in its failure to succeed completely remains incomplete, as it were, and does not want to separate itself from its maker. (He then becomes a culprit rather than a designer).

Nikkels (p.13):

Typography is the backbone of graphic design. Virtually all specific tasks you deal with as a graphic designer were formulated in the history of book design. Typography is to graphic design what painting is to the visual arts: the top number. Beyond that I see two conceptual trends in history of typography: interpretive typography, which analyses the content and attempts to response to its design, and autonomous typography, which considers interpretation nonsense. According to the this second trend, typography should refer to itself.

Nikkels (p.21):

As a young designer I noticed that modernist typography is easier to learn than classical typography, because its structure and decision process can be easily and objectively described, like in a schoolbook. Classical typography is tricky; it is a web of optical corrections. It requires a long training in looking and thinking.

Nikkels (p.30):

Typography is nothing but representation and dignity. Unlike many of my younger colleagues I try to deal with images with an ethic and aesthetic derived from typography, rather than the other way around. Typography is concerned with the logic of reading, including the reading of images. A book is a narrative, a sequence of pages. The images too have to be narrated in a book. Displayed in a logical way and plausible way. Narration and display come together, related to each other. The illustration can be narrated and the text can be displayed. In my work the only thing that matters is the dignity with which this takes place.

Nikkels (p.59):

Typography is a discipline of silence. Now and again it tries to be noisy, but that is almost always bound to fail, unless the loudness is called for, for example, a poster and sometimes in advertising.

Nikkels (p.62):

The typography, the treatment of the text.

Nikkels (p.180):

In the theory of typography, the intercharacter spacing and the interword spacing are considered essential for the quality of a text as a visual structure. That though is based on the classical canon of mutually harmonious relations between measurements and spacing.

Harold Evans on Readability

Harold Evans, Do I Make Myself Clear?, (p.39):

Readability isn’t a literary or legibility issue. It’s a dispassionate, objective measure of whether a selection of words and sentences will be understood by the intended audience. Comprehension comes before enjoyment; you can’t be gripped if you can’t follow the narrative.

DJR on Designing Diacritics

David Jonathan Ross:

Typeface design is inherently multicultural.

In his ATypI 2017 presentation titled, “How NOT to Draw Accents,” David Jonathan Ross shares his approach to design diacritical marks. It’s an honest, inspiring talk and I hope more type designers will join him on this journey.

One of David’s methods of studying accents is traveling and looking at signages. My only concern with Vietnamese signages (both in the U.S. and Vietnam) is that most of accents were not part of the typeface. Because accents were added in afterward, they often appeared to be filling in, especially when the space of the signage is limited. One of my goals for Vietnamese Typography, which David mentioned in his talk, is to solve this issue.

I had the pleasure of working with David on Vietnamese accent for his fantastic Fit and I have been thrilled to see his monthly typefaces support Vietnamese. If you have not joined his Font of the Month Club, you are missing out. Six bucks for a display typeface that supports multiple languages is a steal. Even if you are a student in graphic design, it is a worthwhile investment to expand your type collection. Don’t limit yourself to Helvetica, Akzidenz-Grotesk, and Roboto.

Stössinger On Making Good Type

Nina Stössinger:

When fonts work well and their design effectively conveys a brand’s voice, they can be a fantastically powerful tool. They can carry emotion. They can be very specific in how they feel and specific, too, in how they behave, in how they work across media, formats, sizes, and usage scenarios. But making good type is hard and takes time and care, and evaluating and describing it is also hard, and we can’t afford to skip that part.

Jeremy Keith on Orphans vs. Widows

Jeremy Keith:

I always get widows and orphans confused so I remind myself that orphans are left alone at the start; widows are left alone at the end.

Should Print Design Principles Apply to the Web?

Jan Middendorp, Shaping Text, (p.36):

Yes and no. Much works differently on the web, yet the basic principles of classic and modern (typo-)graphic design have not become worthless. Proven guidelines for good layout and typography are still relevant, but they must be applied intelligently and adapted to the new environment.