Following his very popular talk at our April meetup, typeface designer Jeremy Tankard was happy to answer some questions posed by our members. This was planned for the evening of the talk, but we were so interested by his methods and stories time ran away with us!
1. Do you prefer to see your type in print or on screen?
Not bothered. Screen I presume you mean computer not film or TV? I’ve seen the types used on TV and in film on and off, which has been a nice suprise. I saw Calendar Girls on its release and was taken aback to see Aspect used in the film. I also spotted Alchemy in one of the Harry Potter films used for the Gryffindor sword.
With regard to the computer screen, I see Corbel used on Windows, MS Office and emails.
As to websites, I haven’t seen many. The ones I’ve seen vary in quality of use, but this is no different to any other use. There are people who know how to use type and there are those that don’t.
2. What’s the process? Do you actually think along the lines of, “I need to design a serif or egyptian?” Also do you have a list of design considerations based on the type of letterform you’re designing?
Things I perceive around me generally guide what I decide to do. Also I tend not to do what is already done, unless there is the possibly of a new or different take on an idea that is worth exploring.
As a general process:
- Initial development of the lowercase and capital forms of the roman version
- Some basic punctuation and default set of numbers
- Rough spacing
- Test font is built and tests are carried out in a variety of contexts
- Continuing development of the letterforms
- Start development of compliment italic
- Once the core set of forms are at the same level in regular and italic, start the bold and bold italic
- Once all fonts of the Multiple Master extremes are at the same level, build family and test fonts
- Develop the remaining punctuation and foreign characters (close attention will be given to the Scandinavian characters from the start)
- Develop the composite characters (accent sets and capital positional forms)
- When the character sets are complete they then need to be fitted (spaced)
- The Multiple Masters are built, one for roman, one for italic
- Kerning tables are added for each master font
- Hinting is added to each master font and linked across the family
- OpenType programming added to each master font
- Test fonts are built for beta production
- Font information is embedded in each font
- Beta fonts are fully tested
- Final fonts are generated from beta fonts and tested
- Final production of the font family.
- Related material (website pages, sample booklet both printed and web version, single font PDF samples, user guide PDF, launch info, Footnote PDF)
This is a rough guide, each type kind of follows this, but as each type is different, different things are required. On top of the above I would now look at the quality of the webfont, primarily on Windows.
As to a list of design considerations… hard to say really. Common sense is a big part of it. The obvious ones, such as how a type is to function. If I’m designing for my general collection then I need to make a broad decision as to use. If I’m designing for a specific requirement—such as signage or screen—then optical or technological limitations would guide the design. Again, common sense.
3. With the resolution of devices—such as the retina iPad—increasing, does this pose a problem when designing a typeface? For instance, having to design in ‘different grades’ for different resolutions.
No. Type has always been at the mercy of technological limitations. Remember, type for print was originally optically scaled. You mention ‘grades’; this seems to be a new term associated with newspaper types in the digital era. If people are prepared to pay for all the work and use them, then designers will create them. It is less of an issue today as it was in metal.
I see the effect that backlit (and glossy) screens have on eyes as more of an issue. Eyes get tired very quickly, water and ache. Eyestrain is a big issue causing headaches. This is not an issue with TV. Perhaps because we sit so far back from a TV and the picture is constantly moving requiring the viewer to refocus all the time.
Years ago I remember talking to the designers of the Air Traffic Control computer system. The onscreen typography for this was all low contrast, soft, muted tones. This reduces eyestrain over a long period of time of staring at the screen. Also, the eye and brain adjust to the minimal tonal difference, seeing it a lot more clearly. This approach wouldn’t work in design, film etc. as we need to see ‘true’ colour and tone.
4. Erik Spiekerman noted, with regard to Apple’s use of Helvetica, that the higher the resolution, the worse it looks as it loses it’s warmth. Is this something you’ve observed?
Does Apple use Helvetica?
We lost the warmth created by ink squash a long time ago. Digital reproduction is clinical. To make it old and fake is wrong. We have to work with what we have, so perhaps it’s time to drop the 1950s type and move on to something that is designed to work with the technology we have in the 21st century.
5. I’ve seen photos of your sketchbooks which are fantastic. Is this where all your ideas start? Also how much prep work do you do before you start finalising a font?
Each typeface has its own sketchbook. Everything is noted in here. From initial comments on the aims of the type, size of the family etc. to sketches of pretty much all the characters. Name ideas, printed sample ideas. Website ideas. If its a type for general release then it will most likely have a longer design and production period. About a year, though ideas generally start 6 months to a year earlier, as another type is in production.
6. How many sketchbooks do you get through?
Usually one per type, though Trilogy was three. Some take less space.
7. How many changes do you make once you start working digitally and does working on screen influence you in a certain way?
Changes are constant throughout the process. Even during fitting, kerning and hinting. Its never completly done until it is released. Even then changes may need to be made.
I use the sketchbooks as notes. Be they text notes or visual notes. I don’t scan and digitise these. I draw directly on screen and construct the shapes. I see type design more as product design. The shapes develop as more characters come together and words start to be made and reviewed. Its a constant process of tweaking shape, weight, proportion in order to get the rhythm, flow and feel that the design is after.
8. The print collateral for Fenland is fantastic and enhanced by using Keith Roper’s paintings. How did you come across his work?
I saw Keith’s work in a gallery near where we used to live in Lincoln. They are pastal paintings, abstract yet with enough for the viewer to understand exactly what is being portrayed. I wanted to produce something that was more image lead than type lead. I was keen not to have any type on the cover. The printed sample shows two paintings before the type is introduced. The web version just shows the one painting. As you move through the sample pages, the painting is broken down as graphic slabs are introduced.
9. At last years Ampersand Conference, Jonathan Hoefler pointed out the challenges of releasing their library as web fonts— an insane amount of hinting plus challenges in the way fonts are rendered by different operating systems and browsers. Do you think this is going to get easier? Also, do you think you’ll need to be constantly updating your fonts as the technology changes?
As we have seen before, it will pass.
When I designed Corbel for Microsoft in 2003 they said, “just design the type as you would for a print type.” They then applied the ClearType hinting technology. That was pretty much 10 years ago. In one way locking a type to a specific technology is near sighted. The technology will have advanced by the time the type gets widely seen and used. I’ve seen this happen a few times. Such as…
When I was at Wolff Olins we worked on a videoconferencing system. Cost thousands. By the time it was done it was dead. The internet had arrived with desktop cameras. You could argue that the people commissioning the system should’ve been aware of what was coming—after all they worked in high-end technology.
I wanted to deliver Aspect to Christchurch Art Gallery using the, then very new, OpenType technology. The technology is key to the whole idea. Not many, if any, could use the fonts as intended, but a year or so later that had all passed.
I’m keen to work with new technologies if they enhance the whole. OpenType did this in a fundamental way. Adapting existing type to screen use is never going to be easy. I think a lot of the issue is up to the person using the type. You will always get people wanting to use inappropriate type for text. Designing purely for screen ignores the wider use beyond screen. There will always be print. In the short time that webfonts have been with use, the browsers have vastly improved, and will continue to do so. Probably at a quicker rate than it takes to design a new text type.
Going back to Hoefler & Frere-Jones, in the time they’ve been working on their webfonts the rendering has improved, the adaptation of WOFF and Open Type features has increased and Retina displays have arrived. If they sit on it for longer there will be no issues to address. Perhaps that’s their tactic
10. Is there anything, company, product you’d like to design a typeface for?
English Heritage would be a nice job to do. Lots and expectations and historical baggage. Would be great to elevate it from tradition and give it a new heritage.
11. Is it important that type is readable?
Depends what the purpose of the type is.
For instance, how many websites are there where the type is in 8 pt light grey? It may look pretty, but why do designers do it?
Perhaps because they are designers and not typographers
Sometimes the visual effects of design overpower the functionality and communication aspects of a job.
12. What lies in the future for typographic design?
Wait and see…
The changes we face now are no different to those we have faced before. Just an additional substrate to work with.
Many thanks to Jeremy for taking the time to answer our questions.