Designing Type: The First Steps

If you’re a beginner who wants to start working on types, but feels a little bit lost, you just opened the right post. Today we’ll talk about a couple of resources that should get you started. Yes, you’re right, the history of typography begins with Gutenberg, but has its roots in handwritten letterforms, which takes us back longer than we’d like to admit. But if you want to start as soon as possible and make the most of your fancy computer, you’ll have to forget, at least for now, about pen, ink and stone and move fast forward to nowadays and focus on new fonts.

If you design types, people will call you type or font designer, just to make sure you’re slightly different than the other designers in town. To proudly wear this name, you must become a highly skilled and knowledgeable professional who knows about type history and typeface anatomy. Excellent question! Typeface anatomy describes the graphic elements that make up printed letters in a typeface. That’s the very short version.
Next?

Read a book. Preferably on designing type, like this one by Karen Cheng, professor in the Visual Communication Design program at the University of Washington in Seattle. She teaches type design and typography, but she’s also an active practitioner. Her design work has been published by the American institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Communication Arts, Print, Critique and ID Magazine.

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“Designing Type” is an essential book explaining the processes behind creating and designing type. It was born out of necessity. The lack of a specific and comprehensive guide to type design has long been a frustration for typographers, graphic designers and students. This book finally brought new depth and insight to the art and process of developing a typeface.

Because it is illustrated with type specimens and diagrams demonstrating visual principles and letter construction, this book is ideal for beginners. It also discusses structure, optical compensation and legibility, with emphasis on the often overlooked systematic relationships between letters and shapes in a font. A wide range of classic and contemporary typefaces are analyzed, and examples of student work, progress sketches and final type designs are used to demonstrate core issues. In conclusion, this is a valuable reference for both experienced professionals and novice designers.

Now try to attend an workshop.

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Nothing compares to practical experience. On typeworkshop.com you can ask questions, but don’t miss the workshops when they happen. To attend an workshop that is open to anyone, just subscribe to the mailing list and you’ll get a message in advance. If the talented people behind typeworkshop.com have the far-out idea of organizing a workshop themselves, you’ll also be the first to know. Until then, though, take a look at these sketches specially made to explain some basic issues in type design. Take a look at the assignment which is easy to do at home. It’s a project to make a modular typeface, create all letters out of two different shapes. Just do it.

We’ll be back with more. In the meantime, if you’re an experienced type designer, what’s your best advice for beginners?