The tribulations of designing a damned R

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The tribulations of designing a damned R

I had managed an unique name and some more or less clear goals for this blog. What was left was to turn that word in a recognizable visual symbol, that transpired its essence just by watching it or, at least, being noticed as something close to what it had to recall when pronounced. I mean, I neede a particular typography for Variedro. How adventurous was I when I decided to custom-make one, with no previous experience and barely any drawing skills. That's bravery. Because, what the hell! There're thousands of fonts in the net! It cannot be something that hard to do... No, I had no clue about the kind of mess I was getting into. Not even the slightest.

What I did know beforehand was the existence of the tool (free and open, what a surprise) that I would use: FontForge. It's a complete software to make typographic fonts with a vector based drawing system. Ultimately is very similar to Inkscape, but centered in letter design. It has a few lesser problems in its execution (at least in my windows 10's working environment), but nothing that hinders your design work itself. I'd never used it before, but it didn't took me much time to get used to it.

Downloading and running Fontforge was the easy part, how to start designing the font itself endend being something I couldn't see clear at first. Of course, I'd never done it before. Therefore I searched for information that pointed me how to focus the matter, and I was lucky finding articles and tutorials which openend my eyes about how really complex is to make a good typography. Because only when you read about a designer that took her about two or three YEARS to make one marketable, is when you begin to understand why so many have ended offered for free on internet (ok, most of them are given with a "personal use only" clause but I wonder how many people ever check that before pushing the "free download" button). What's the difficulty? Everything, absolutely everything. From the mere fact of not having my hand used to draw, to know how to tell apart spacing and kerning, among many other notions to keep in mind. And also, naturally, the design of the letters themselves. Or said better, the style that you want to pour onto them.

In the upper image you can count the letters I ended making in total, SEVEN. I only made the necessary ones to complete the logo, doing more would had taken me an indecent amount of time for the scarce use I would had given to them. It's funny to remember that I thought that a strictly polyhedric design, that is, without curves, would able me to end the design faster. How wrong was I. To give you an idea, to make just one letter, only one, it can take easily more than a day, more than two... Or who knows. In my case, two resisted me more than the others: the 'R' and the 'E'. But it wasn't with them which I started to work in the design for Variedro. I began with the 'V', thinking about using it later as an icon of the web. And was in that letter also because there I saw early the idea that could work as style for the typography.

Over there can be seen the final aspect of the 'V' as it looks in the Fontforge's design view. But it's not there where I started to practice, I did it with some graph paper sheets and a pencil (sounds old school, but works nicely for sketching ideas). A retouched sample of what I did this way is what illustrates the beginning of this post. And also I didn't follow the recommendation of starting with the 'O' or the 'N', it was the 'V' where I was seeing the design more clearly. The problem came at the moment of translating this style onto the rest of letters. The 'A' wasn't one of the most problematics, I soon realized that I could invert the 'V' and retouch it to make it look like what it should, although the lower bar took me a bit to get it right. The next one I tried revealed itself as a tough nut to crack, the 'R'. What a damned letter.

It took me a while to visualize it's design, none of the sketches satisfied me. Essentially, I was unable to draw the letter's bowl with a minimal number of lines which fitted with the style I wanted to endow to the font. Either the letter ended being too strange, or unrecognizable, or both. Finally I decided not to do the "hole", just represent it with a wide enough block. The 'E' also gave me a small headache, and took me a few sketches to find the right one. It's solution was revealed when doing it asymmetrical, the upper part and the lower combined better if they just looked similar to each other. The 'D' too had it's own share of fun, in particular because given it's most usual form, when shaping to the font's style, it got too close to the 'A' and it couldn't look just like a reflected version of that character. And with the 'I' I also stepped with a small dilemma, fundamentally because the so reduced space it took up compared with the other letters, although I solved it by giving it a proper width to be visible enough.

From all this ruminations I got at last a piece of a font and some conclusions about typography creation. I list them next, without any particular order:
  • Typography design takes a lot of time and patience.
  • Designing typographies in proper conditions demands experience and a decent drawing hand.
  • Depending on the chosen style, there'll be letters harder to design than others..
  • It's important to choose one or two letters that help to visualize the design.
  • There are typographies that work on almost any scale and others are only properly readable on certain sizes.
  • There are many small details to adjust on each letter, beyond their basic design.
  • Every letter, even within the same style, is a small world.
  • Don't confuse a typographic font with the typography itself. The first is a subset generated from the second.
  • Really, designing typographies take a LOT of time and patience.
  • FontForge is a reliable tool for making typographies and generating fonts from them.

In the blog's title you can see the result of this rookie development. The font is not a marvel: it doesn't look right under 16 points, and it neither has the letter's spacing nor the kerning defined, although this is because they can be adjusted manually on GIMP when using the font. But what can I say, it doesn't look bad and I don't have to give economic or legal accounts to anyone for it. Mind you, when I need to do another one, I'll think about it twice or thrice.


I leave here a list of useful links about the design of typographic fonts.

Free tools for designing typographyc fonts:

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