Thursday, May 12, 2016

Typography, Form and Function

Drunk_Hemingway Font
It's a rather broad topic, I know but bear with me. Graphic design has been my obsession for as long as I can remember. And that means anything and everything that has to do with design. Including architecture, logos, and yes, typography.

I've always thought that if you can design a really good and usable typeface, like the Caslon or Times Roman family of typefaces, for example, just to name several among so many, then you're a real designer. Whatever that means.

I am formally trained in architectural drafting and I have several years of fine art schooling, but let's face it, design of any kind is almost a spiritual thing. At least it is for me and I don't mean to be flippant about it but any good design must come from your heart and soul. It starts there and what emerges can be beautiful and useful or funny and unusable depending on the mood you're in.

Design is more than just something you should aspire to, it's a way of life. It has been for me and I've dabbled in many forms of design throughout my life but typography design is something I've always admired and I've always wanted to crack the typography code, if there is such a thing.

So recently, in search of typography design software, other than Adobe Illustrator, or In Design, I came across a website where you can "build" your own fonts with bricks. Cool idea, huh. Interesting, I thought and so I jumped right in and started to design my first typeface.

The website FontStruct (R), is pretty intuitive so getting around was easy and building from their seemingly huge selection of bricks was a bit daunting at first, but within an hour or so I felt I had a firm grip on how to go about building my first font.

Caslon Typeface

Here's what I came up with: I know, I know, nothing earth-shattering but the point here is that as an introduction to typography design, the concept of this website is amazing and the results and font quality is good, at least in my opinion.

Right now this font is known as AllFunkedUp, because I figured my first design would be just that. Its actual name (which I'll change, as soon as I figure out how to do that) is Americana.
(update) Okay, there's a small edit pencil right next to the Font Name I hadn't seen before. So you'll find this font under Americana in the FontStruct Gallery.

Once you finish designing your font, you can click on its link and that will take you to the entire alphabet. You'll need to design the alphabet from A-Z, although they don't mention lower case letters. I've designed most of the characters including numbers 0-9. You don't have to design every character.

You can make your font Public and designate a number of different licenses from a drop down menu and download your font as Truetype Font or a Glyphs File which is only editable on a Mac. I tried mine on Photoshop and was impressed with the results except for the kerning as I already mentioned.

OK this font is called, AMERICANA. There, that's befitting of a patriotic theme. If you can enlarge it you'll see stars. (Not like in a cartoon when you get zonked, but stars that adorn the font, right.)
I 'm happy with my results but I think you can use this font only on the 4th of July. See what I mean? There are hundreds of great designs on the website, most of them, far better and much more intricate than mine, but my goal is design a more usable font.

So far, I'm just having some fun with the limited selection of bricks on FontStruct (R) and I wish they had an option to add your own custom bricks, but who knows how far away that is.

Either way, for designers who want to get their feet wet with typography design, I think this is great place to start. So far I've designed 4 unique fonts, none of them very useful to the general public, but they are fun nonetheless and if anything, serve as a calling card.

Here are the other 3:
This is my favorite because it's my most fun font and with only a little bit of experience on this site, I banged out Drunk Hemingway in about an hour. Seriously. That's how easy it is to use. This font is based on Hemingway's signature and I was surprised how much it resembles his real signature.

Serafina is all about the serifs, of course. These serifs look more like penguin tails, but you get the idea.

Sans Solo is inspired by Hans Solo, obviously. A sans serif font. I think it has a futuristic look.

So there you have it. My first shot at Typography design. Not a bad start, I think but let's face it. This website is a bit of a cheat and the lazy person's way to design fonts. But I think it's great for beginners like me and by using bricks, you become more aware of design shapes. In a way, it's almost easier to design fonts this way, but the bricks are limited, which is frustrating, but it's all in good fun.

I know none of these fonts are perfect and they're not meant to be, hence some of the names to cover up the multitude of "design infringements" imposed on these fonts, but overall, I think they hold up.

One of the biggest drawbacks on FontStruct is the tracking, or kerning capabilities. They have only 2 adjustments, Global Spacing and Mono Spacing. My fonts are set to Global but some of the letters seem to have odd spacing so I'll have to figure out how to fix that. As long as you design all your letters on the corner of the Baseline, you should get accurate (but not perfect) spacing.

Please feel free to submit your font designs and I'll be happy to post them here and we can start our own conversation about typography design or anything else you'd like to talk about.

I'm having a great time. I hope you'll join me.

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