An unnamed text face

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Here’s a little something I’m working on at the moment. It is indented for use in a magazine set at 9.5 pt size, something that influences the large x-height. Designing a good text face is hard work. I have not designed a serif before, so I guess some of you’ll spot a lot of beginners mistakes.

There’s a little bit of both calligraphic and typographic thinking here, I’ve tried to tone down the former from a previous iteration after some good advice, but it is important to me that the face retains it’s seriousness (an editorial voice) in the midst of the humanist proportions and soft details.
I love that the brushyness is implied with straight edges, and occasional “flairs” (A, N, t). I also think the continious stroke, instead of detached serif and bowl (or stroke), in letters like D, B, R, E, F. The more typographic stuff can be seen in the modularity of shapes, the Dwiggins-esque alignment of serif and contour in n- and p-shapes, how top serifs and crossbars in E/F align, the head of f with it’s crossbar etc.

So, my worries are:
A: this truly sucks
B: this is too icky-trendy

I am planning a display cut, but the nature of the n-shape might make a higher contrast hard to get right. Not sure how that’ll play out, but in any case I gotta get the text cut right first. There’s also some italic sketches, but it haven’t really found it’s voice yet. The spacing is rudimentary, to say the least.

I’m here to learn, so any advice you can bring to the table is welcome!

Full scanned page from laserprint. See comments below.
laserprint_20apr2341.jpg

AttachmentSize
test.pdf13.14 KB
man16apr0008.pdf37.67 KB
cursive.pdf18.64 KB
hrant's picture

Well, it can't be trendy because that trend was a decade ago. :-)

It's not my cup of Lapsang Souchong, but It Does Not Suck. To me it looks like a personal interpretation of what might be called the "Lexicon genre". And it seems quite personal since some of the "stroke" distribution is subtly funky (a good thing).

BTW, your target size seems to be right on, although the spacing is slightly loose (which does however depend on the repro conditions, since this is for a specific application).

hhp

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Haha. Not trendy, not sucky. That’s good. By the Lexicon genre I guess you mean the spiky n serifs an thin joins? I have to test the colour in print, but I have some supporting faces to match it with weight-wise.

brianskywalker's picture

It looks nice so far. Maybe it's just the pixel rendering (and it might look better at your intended size), but I think the bottom right of a, top right of the bowl on b, and top right of the loop on g might be a hair too dark.

I think you're right on with the light joins—I had originally thought to give my Hemlock some very light joins on a few letters, but someone pointed it out and I darkened them. After doing some proofs, I found that my original instincts were correct (and that I need to working on spacing).

hrant's picture

Anybody interested in the thin join philosophy should pay attention to Gerard Unger.

hhp

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Brian: The weight rotation is, in addition to the pen influence, a byproduct of the “typographic” part. See the red lines! I’ve tried not to make this 100% literally. I too think g is too heavy, but I’m not sure about bdpq theoretically although they might appear slightly darker then n.

Hrant: I will!

eliason's picture

I like this!
Apostrophe/comma/quotations marks are too light (have they been designed yet?)
I like the way the top of /G/ emulates /E/F/. But I think that openness allows you to raise the crossbar a little higher than you have it here (looks low compared to /e/'s crossbar in "Gregor", for example).
The figures are beautiful! /8/ appears too dark, and I wonder if you could tone down /2/'s quirkiness without losing its charm.
Your /y/ descender looks like it reaches under quite a bit. How does it set after /g/?
My eye catches a bit on the wiggly asymmetricality of the top of /m/.
Does the ramp-like, slanting top of /a/ curl too acutely at the top right?
Terminal of arm of /r/ could use more weight.

PabloImpallari's picture

Looks Awesome!

- Not sure about the brush-like bottom of the 3 and 5. They can be more like the 'c', 'f', 'y'.
- Maybe you are creating a very dark spot in the 'd' when the upper part of the bowl joins the stem , also applies to the lower join in the 'p'. In 'b' and 'q' looks nice however.
- 'w' is a little to expanded maybe?
- 'B' the lower bowl looks a little weird.

Frode Bo Helland's picture


I made an effort to harmonize p- and n-shapes. Does the top of b and p still appear heavier then the rest?

Also, new a (less contrast NW) and g. I think that new /a/ really had a huge impact in text:

Bert Vanderveen's picture

I like the new /g/ but its ear could be more in line of the overall feeling, eg more of an upward whoosh… The bowl of the /a/ could be a bit wider to balance it with the upper part. /s/ is need of some widening, I think (the /se/ combo is unbalanced).

I like it, but am not convinced if it is a worthy addition to the spectrum of modern typefaces…

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Thanks Bert. What about this design makes you think it’s not a worthy addition?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Btw, claiming something “not worthy” is not very constructive. Keep in mind this is my first serif.


s/g/a adjusted after your comments. (perhaps not enough on g?)

hrant's picture

Minor: I would make the bottom-left of the counter of the "b" fully adnate.

Bert, it might not be ground-breaking, but remember that this is for a client... something that rarely leads to real cultural progress. And for a first serif effort it seems pretty accomplished.

hhp

Bendy's picture

It's very well thought out with some clever details and nice proportions. Reminds me more of Trinite than Lexicon. I'd personally suggest the very sharp outstrokes could be bevelled (e.g. on the lowercase /e/ and /t/) but I guess you're liking it really spiky! Also, have you tested the contrast on the actual stock intended? It looks as though overall it might be rather shiny, maybe more like a display cut??

Rounds/diagonals seem a bit darker than long straights. Look at /c/, /o/ or /v/ next to /l/ or /h/.

/a/ I'd trim a little off the outstroke, at the notch, so the spur starts a little narrower than the main stroke width. I think Lexicon does that, and yours seems a little like the weight is pulling the stroke down rather than flowing out gently.

/b/ counter at bottom left looks slightly unresolved? Can't quite tell what the tool is doing, it's continuous but suddenly changing rotation? Or perhaps the pen angle round the bottom left is just too steep?

/u/ I'm seeing some boning on the left stem.

/t/ Short?

Great to see your skill, Frode! I think Gerard would approve :^)

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Apart from all the tiny fixes I’m doing continously, I did the following:

Bendy:
• /u/ I'm seeing some boning on the left stem.
• /a/ I'd trim a little off the outstroke, at the notch, so the spur starts a little narrower than the main stroke width.

I’m not sure if I understand these.

• /t/ Short?
In what direction?

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Yes, the ascenders are also taller.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

More on /g/ please… My suggestion re its ear: a nice dip and then an upturn.

What about this design makes you think it’s not a worthy addition?

I may have overshot by using that word — what I meant is that it is not *very* original. As others have stated it is reminiscent of Bram de Does’ work.

The fact that this is your first serif blows my mind — you must be really talented. Maybe you should just pull out all the stops and not mind convention, but go for conviction (you surely must have ideas about what a serif should ‘be’).

Bendy's picture

Lexicon's /a/ below yours:


I've observed this trick in a number of designs. It's as though the sideways flick of the tail starts above the join.

Re the /u/, it's an illusion to do with the transition from curve to straight. The straight section looks as though it's bending right in the middle (blue dots show where I see it waisting inwards). Actually I think a good solution might be to make that stem curve ever so slightly all the way through, and do away with the straight sections.

/t/ short in the height department?

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Frode: a bit more enthusiastic, like a whippet’s tail! With a slight curl at the base.
I like the overhang of the lower bowl.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Bendy:
Not sure how well that works for the a, but the u turned out much better.

Bendy's picture

Yes, that's what I meant for the /a/. Also, I'd also pull the (righthand) handle coming out of that node a bit further to the right. There seems to be too much colour down there.

I'd do the same with the inner curve of the /u/. The straight section still creates a distortion to my eye.

hrant's picture

I'm starting to see 10 pt.

hhp

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Bendy:

I’m sure you are, Hrant, but I’ve got an end product to consider.

And, Bert: It’s very likely that I’m unconsciously inspired by de Does. (A true master.) I see the similarities (joins and serifs), and I also see quite a bit of another TEFF face in here: F. Smeijers Renard — in the weight rotation. Perhaps there are some changes I can do to steer clear, allowing me to focus on making this as good as possible? I don’t yet have a clear vision of all the stylistic details. I don’t know nearly enough about type yet. What I do know is the purpose it needs to fulfill in the end and the general feel I’m after, and this has informed my decisions so far.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

About the joins: With ink gain, would not details like these just “fill in” in small sizes? I was thinking a display variant in proportions and spacing, more than in contrast.

I will make test prints on the stock we choose -- in fact I probably get to choose the stock.

hrant's picture

Sure, what I meant is you might find yourself having to shorten the extenders.

If you don't want them to fill in, you have to make a stencil font. :-) Which is actually not as comical as it might sound, since Pierro De Macchi once made a phone directory font like that (called Nomina).

hhp

Frode Bo Helland's picture

And Ourtype has one too: Lirico.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I attached a new PDF to the first post: man16apr0008.pdf.

Spacing is somewhat refined -- at least better than the previous version.

Bendy's picture

Good heavens, it's looking really splendid!

Brackets, I'd say, would do better to be heavier and longer. My preference is for such things to nicely encompass whatever may come inside, and I tend to make them extend at least to the ascenders. Quotes could go up to align at the same height.

I like the way you're dealing with the spacing of the caps, it'll be interesting to see if that works.

There's a glitch on the upper side of the tail of the /R/.

/W/ could be wider.

Dagger and double dagger could have some of that nice thinning at the joins, at least on the horizontal strokes, if not throughout.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I’ve actually been working on a new R. The previous one was quite uninspired.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Dagger and double dagger could have some of that nice thinning at the joins, at least on the horizontal strokes, if not throughout.

If so, would I not stray too far from the calligraphic? I mean, that would be a theoretical form -- nothing a pen could possibly make.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

The R in context.

Bendy's picture

>Stray from the calligraphic?

Think of it as rotation.

A few other observations:

Serif on /J/ needs to be more on the left, the same thing you've done with /f/.

Left stroke of /W/ may be slightly dark. Left of /Y/ may be too light.

I prefer the direction of the previous /R/, FWIW.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I prefer the direction of the previous /R/, FWIW.
But that wasn’t even an idea :) Anyway -- my ego prevails until it starts sticking out to my eyes.

eliason's picture

I think the tail of the /Q/ is too subtle! ;-)

Are the thins of /O/ intentionally thick relative to others?

Serif at top right of /N/ goes too far over left. I think a balanced shape like that at the same spot in /U/ would work better.

Yes, be more ambitious with the daggers!

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Serif at top right of /N/ goes too far over left. I think a balanced shape like that at the same spot in /U/ would work better.
I think I need some “filling in” here, but perhaps not so much.

Are the thins of /O/ intentionally thick relative to others?
Not sure if I understand. It is comparable to similar forms (C, U, G, D), but thicker than S.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Bert:
The fact that this is your first serif blows my mind — you must be really talented.
I don’t think I have much talent -- just look at my history of posts here. Plenty of rubbish, I’ll be the first to admit. I’m getting good advice from skilled professionals. Other than that it’s just hard work.

like a whippet’s tail
I’ll keep what I have for now. I think I’m on to something.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

About that subtle Q tail: Better?

eliason's picture

Much better! :-)

1996type's picture

Impressive. First off, study Lexicon. The more I study it, the more I see the brilliance of it. It's also really helping me with my own serif typeface, although I'm wary of getting to close to the design of Lexicon. A few notes:

- The 'flatness' of your bowls is a bit exagerated, IMO. This causes a few problems: /c and e/ fall backwards, The white notch between the bowl and the stem on the top of /m n p and alikes/ is very small. I'm afraid it might completely disappear when printed with a lower quality of paper/ink/printer. The top of the stem, tilting to the right, only makes this worse. De Does cheated his way out of this problem by making the top of the stem extend (yes, optically) above the shoulder. It looks fine in text, but it's anoying at display size.
- The serifs on your uppercase could be wider/larger. They're a bit fragile now.
- The top vertical serif of E looks really small next to Z.
- Top of A looks a bit weak. Check Lexicon's A.
- Second stroke in W and /w/ looks too thin.
- I would like to see a version where the top serif on /i/ is shorter. About half its current length, I'd say. Keep the top serifs on ascenders the same, though.
- I get the system, but that serif on the very left on /v and alikes/ looks too long.
- The top counter of /a/ is quite small compared to the very open counter of /e, for example/. Perhaps make the terminal shorter.
- The bowl of /a/ has a very horizontal flow, compared the the diagonality of the top of /a/.
- Terminals are inconsistent. Try to get /f c a r y/ to work together a bit closer.
- /r/ looks a lot like /n/. I would make it join the stem at a much lower point.
- /g/ is too thin on the top right (just right of the very top).
- /v/ is wide.
- That little outward turn on the bottom right of N looks odd.

It's a very original and functional typeface as it is. As always, take my comments with some salt. You know your shit better than I do ;-) Cheers! jasper

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Jasper,

Apologies for the delay. You make some good observations, especially concering the n/p shapes. I made a testprint on the best laser printer I could get hold of, which ws admittedly not very good. The magazine is printed offset, but I should expect some ink spread I presume.

I’m definitely seeing some clogging in the joins. I think a better way to adress this problem is lowering the connection -- and thus breaking the “rule” at text sizes.

I don’t agree with all your stylistic remarks, and I would very much like to stear clear of de Does, obviously :) I think some of those things you are trying to correct in your design are exactly what gives Lexicon it’s character! It’s a design so free of the typical digital straight shapes. I’ll look into the rest of the comments as soon as possible.

The full scanned page (with some updated shapes) linked here and in the first post.

laserprint_20apr2341.jpg

1996type's picture

I don't expect you to agree with me on all points. I merely gave you my thoughts :-)
Thought: Find a printer with a good laserprinter if you want to make this thing work. Designing a text font without testing properly seems an impossible job to me.

On my work vs. Lexicon: The line between character and quirk will always be thin. Lexicon is brilliant indeed, but after having seen it in intensive use every day in the NRC Handelsblad, some things about it just anoy me.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

Jasper. Some adjustments. Not all after your taste. A brand new /a/: wider, more open; ditto r; took some weight of the outer curve to open the tightest joins; terminals more uniform & exaggerated /A/.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

And uc vertical serifs:

1996type's picture

All improvements!

Frode Bo Helland's picture


PDF (with text samples as well) in the first post. The caps are rough, and I guess the rest is too -- more intentional, but not necessarily well executed. Spacing is a mess!

HVB's picture

A small nit-pick that has nothing to do with the font (which I really like!) - You have a pdf named 'Cursive'. Cursive implies connected handwriting script - what we used to learn in grade school! Internally you properly call it italics.

Bendy's picture

Very promising. This seems quite an assured design, despite spacing, very good!

I see a potential inconsistency with the outstrokes of /t/ vs /i/ for example.

I like the way the crossbars of /f/ and /t/ seem to be aiming downwards; I've never been able to get that to work.

Not convinced about the /R/.

Stem of /y/ may be too dark: compare with /f/.

Not sure I agree with HVB about the word 'cursive'. To me 'italics' is much more typographic than 'cursive', which implies more written forms. I've not heard of 'cursive' implying connected letterforms before.

HVB's picture

@Bendy - "italics" is much more typographic than "cursive". Absolutely - exactly what I was saying (assuming that by 'written' you mean 'hand-written'.
Cursive most definitely means connected. Every definition includes wording similar to this: "Having the successive letters joined together: cursive writing; a cursive style of type."

Frode Bo Helland's picture

"Kursiv" is simply the Norwegian word for italic.

HVB's picture

Just proving that concepts DO get lost in translation - or when imported from one language to another.

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