Making a Typeface Ch 1: My Handwriting Sucks

And yet, I’m drawing a typeface.

In the third grade, I was made fun of because my handwriting sucks. And it still does. I passed the “letter” quizzes with flying colors but I never drew letters to be legible afterwards. For me, writing was memorizing. I remember things not by what they read, but by what my pencil does while I think. I don’t actually draw words sometimes. I draw squiggles!

To this day people laugh at my handwriting. Every class assignment was “Mitchell, just type it. Nobody can read what you hand write.”

When I do type on a computer, I try to go above and beyond by picking heavily crafted typefaces and avoiding Times New Roman or Arial as defaults. My work deserves better than boring, inadequate typefaces that have been seemingly dated. They are OK, but there has to be better typefaces out there. I don’t want my work to be as good as the next person. I want it to be better. This is why I am drawing my own typeface.

And as every hip designer these days, I thought it would be awesome to share my journey from start to finish with you via Medium. I was not entirely sure you’d appreciate this so I asked Twitter. The response seemed positive!

Surprisingly, I had a few mentions and a few favorites.

Therefore, I intend on writing an article update every 2 weeks or so about my progress. I’ll be writing from the perspective of a total n00b, a novice in this big ol’ type world. This series of articles should be examined as such — I have no prior typeface experience, I have done the minimum research to get started, and I just really want to make something I can use. I also won’t be explaining what every word means (unless you want me to!) because I want to dive way deep into my thoughts and little dilemmas which I counter (joke alert). You will hear me rage. You will see me cry. And you will laugh if you think it’s funny that I basically talk to myself.

I’ll add resource links at the bottom of each article that can maybe clarify lexicons and things I write.

I hope you enjoy what I have to say! Please leave suggestions and tips or corrections along the way. I don’t always expect to be write (Get it? It’s another type of joke).

Huge shoutout to Mary Catherine Pflug for motivating me a few months back to do this! Check out some of her work.

Fig 2: My name starts with an M, so I better draw that letter perfect.

My goal is to create a Humanist Neo-Grotesque Typeface over the course of 15 weeks. Why this particular typeface? I’ve taken more interest in things I’m very very bad at. Up next on my list is illustration, but for now let’s stick to type. I want the letters to be slightly condensed, have a tall x-height, have large counters, and use less varying strokes with simplified forms.

I hear some of those aspects increase legibility and who wouldn’t want that?

Making it legible and readable on screens is definitely a key aspect. Having it also seem elegant and robust would be admirable.

Since I only have 15 weeks (and I’m already on week 5), I intend on completing a set of regular–book–normal–whatever weight for uppercase and lowercase letters. I’m not sure which of those to identify it as, so we will just stick to Regular since I come across this most and many of you understand it’s meaning.

Below are a few other preliminary ideas I had written down.

Warning: the following content contains an amassed void of questions I am still answering. Some are poking subjective qualities while others are asking deep objective questions about typography.

For the M, I really admire how the center vertex doesn’t reach the bottom and stops half way through (like the M in the Johnston typeface) as seen in an image above in figure 2.

Fig 3: Y oh y.

Should the lowercase y’s terminal on the descender curve out or stay straight (figure 3)? I’d assume to match the lowercase l (figure 4)that I wish to make, it should curve like a tail.

In the case of the lowercase l (figure 4), should the stem top reach the cap height, the ascender height, or neither and fall slightly short of capital letters in general?

Fig 4: L stands for?
Fig 5: My sketches brings all the B’s to the notepad. And they’re like, it’s better than yours. Damn right it’s better than yours.

Another big question: Should the bottom of the stem (the foot?) on the lowercase b stay straight, tapper into a funky looking angle (second and third b from the left), or become simplified (forth b from the left). See figure 5. Seemingly enough, the lowercase b is my favorite letter to sketch out so far! Second favorite has to be the lowercase g.

What letters have I learn to despise you ask? Great question! See figure 6.

S is the all time, most annoying, frustrating, insecure letter of the alphabet. It just wants everything its way. Every curve has to be perfect otherwise it will feel neglected, fat, and under appreciated. IM LOOKING AT YOU, S. I HOPE YOU READ THIS-S-S-S.

Fig 6: I really hate S’s. As in the words of my younger sister, “I can’t even”.

Next chapter I’ll dive into more details on what I further pushed and settled on (or didn’t). I’ll be eager to hear what you all have to say in response! Again, any direction would help me in my journey to learn how to make a typeface. Feel free to grab my attention on this article by commenting or by hitting me up on twitter @mitchbernstein.

Until next time, Internet!