Birth of a Typeface

hashimpm's picture


For a paper I am preparing about the creative inspirations behind the birth of a typeface, I would like to know the various reasons for their birth according to each one of you who have designed a typeface.

Why do you design a typeface?
What makes you want to design a typeface?
What is the germ of inspiration?
Which are the points of departure?
What stages does typeface undergo from the initial concept to the final design?

I would be grateful if I can draw upon your wealth of experience to arrive at a few generalisations. Any link, image, quote, paper, publication related to this theme would be a valuable input and would be credited.

Thanks in advance.

hashimpm's picture

Any personal notes?

riccard0's picture

Less in depth than the book, but maybe useful for generalisation:

Nick Shinn's picture

Any personal notes?

The interviews in that book are quite personal.

eliason's picture

I'd recommend reading Adrian Frutiger's recollections in the Complete Works.

Nick Shinn's picture

Your questions make the assumption that people have a certain amount of self awareness, i.e. they know why they do what they do.
And further, that their self awareness is true, rather than being self-deception or self-promotion, AKA marketing BS.

hashimpm's picture

Thanks for all the book suggestions. I will try and get a copy of these. The Creative Characters site is also an excellent source.

I agree, some typefaces might often take birth by accident, without much thought. But if you look back may be you can find some reasons for their birth which is what I would like to find out. May be I should leave the marketing or promotional aspects (which only come much later) aside and focus only on their birth aspects.

In my preliminary studies, I have made some generalisations. Do let me know if I am wrong or if you think otherwise. Some typefaces may belong to more than one category.

Reasons for designing a typefaces can be any of the following:
1. Commissioning for a particular purpose say for newspaper text (Gaurdian, Melior, Utopia), as a corporate typeface etc.
3. Faithful recuts/ revivals for contemporary use ( many versions of Garamond, Baskerville, Caslon, Bodoni etc.)
2. Inspired revival of an old classic for contemporary use (Sabon, Farnham, Miller etc.)
3. Making the best use of the current technology (Swift, Charter, Lucida, Verdana, Georgia)
4. Accidental inspirations: a glimpse of hand lettering, street signs, inscription, elements in Nature, more...? (Optima, Trajan, etc.)
5. Adaptation/ amalgam of a few existing typeface concepts to create something new (Any names here?)
6. Self-expression: some typefaces are designed to satisfy the designer's urge to express. (Mistral, Zapfino, Caflish script etc.)
Do only (or all) the script fonts belong to this category?
Where do you slot the seemingly calligraphic fonts like Palatino, Photina, Baker Signet etc?
7. Designers in non-Roman scripts also have the thousands of successful Roman typefaces as their fountain of inspiration. (Helvetica Arabic?)

Any suggestions?

Frank ADEBIAYE's picture

Persönlich, I make typefaces ( just for fun and only at periods when I feel like designing typefaces

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