Although I’m always dealing with letters in my work, embarking on a type design project is rather the exception. My main occupation, ‘Lettering’, varies from commission to commission and projects tend to last for short periods of time with widely different outcomes. Type projects normally extend for a longer period of time and, from my perspective, are very enjoyable until the moment I get into the rough path of type production: months spent looking at boxes of black letter shapes, dealing with letter spacing and kerning pairs. It demands considerable motivation that, in my case, only arises from the personal belief that I have a very good idea.
As a letterer I tend to use a lot of script letterforms in my work. These are based on handwriting or calligraphy and therefore respond differently depending on the hand behind them. When working with these I vary the design parameters according to how loose, how nervous, or how static I want ‘the hand’ to appear.
Type Design works similarly. Making a script typeface requires a certain decision about the style, the width, the weight, the sort of tool, and of the hand that is going to ‘write’ the ductus. The outcome is often a single cut — a variation in shape or a replica of existing models or letterforms.
OpenType features have greatly helped in enabling such fonts to imitate the variations and flow of handwriting in type. But can handwriting be made to fit into a type system? Can we, with the systematic approach of type, produce the variability and variety that is inherent to handwriting? Wonderhand, my new family of scripts, comprising many hand variations into one type system, answers those questions in the affirmative.
Handwriting and variability
Handwriting is unique to every person, even when the forms are based on the same model. According to handwriting expert Rosemary Sassoon “The form and line of a letter is as sensitive and expressive as the line quality in a drawing, and as individual as the interpretation of color and light are to a painter.”
Handwriting is loaded with innumerable connotations and is connected with personal identity, states of mind and emotional state. As Sassoon says: “Handwriting depends largely on a direct impact: it communicates, not only through the text, but — even more so — through the visual appearance of the individual letters and the impression produced by the whole page.”
Handwriting was in the past an indicator and reflector of one’s self. In tenth-century Japan it was an essential part of a woman’s attractiveness that aided in securing her a marriage partner from a wealthier and higher social status. Today, still, there is a tendency to associate the quality of handwriting with the quality of the one doing the writing. In fact, there is even a discipline, graphology, that attempts analysis of handwriting in relation to human psychological traits.
Handwriting embraces variation and individuality. Although it is mostly based on a particular learned model, it then develops in a different way for every individual: some hands are loose,
some are very slanted and tight,
while some are more rounded:
Type Design and systematicity
Type design, on the other hand, embraces the systematic. Since the moment letters were first fit into lead boxes by Gutenberg, they constituted a system of movable modules that permitted every possible combination.
Type design moves within a design space ruled by parameters or axes defined by opposite or extreme values. Often typefaces develop into families with several cuts that fulfill different needs. Although variations are allowed from cut to cut they tend to share a consistent set of common features.
For developing cuts within a type family, type designers can use interpolation, whereby cuts (e.g. weights and widths) are created by interpolating or estimating a series of forms between two opposite extremes or masters along a design-space axis.
A type system for handwriting
My aim was to create a type system that could accommodate handwriting. Therefore, I began by looking for rules or constants within handwriting’s plethora of variations. First, I defined those parameters of handwriting that I could use to create a type system. I identified three parameters or axes:
Additionally, these two parameters are affected by the tool. A thin pen point traces a thin line; a thick pen point traces a thick line. I defined this element as the weight axis.
I based the ductus on my own handwriting, that developed from the model that I learned at school back in my homeland, Argentina — known throughout Latin America as ‘Bastardilla’, a plain, non-decorative handwriting model. Since I didn’t intend to copy any specific historical writing style, I created freestyle variations in shapes, especially in the capitals to ensure that they would be readable for contemporary eyes.
Additionally, I included specific handwritten forms for certain characters, like the graphemes æ and œ.
To imitate the behavior of fluid writing, I made three sets of alternate characters for the lowercase letters: a connected version, a non-connected alternate, and a ‘swashy’ decorative alternate. OpenType features automate their replacement.
Wonderhand also has a set of complimentary small caps, decorative icons and frames, and a number of extra swashes.
I crafted Wonderhand in Glyphs App interpolating between four different masters in two axes:
— in the width axis: An Extra Condensed Master and an Extra Expanded Master;
— in the slant axis: An Upright 0° Master and a Slanted 40° Master.
The 20° cuts and the intermediate widths were obtained through interpolation, and the three different line values were defined for every cut through a filter for monoline fonts developed by Glyphs App.
The result is a type family with 63 fonts in seven different widths, three weights, and three slant degrees.
All hands in one type system
The extensive process of designing Wonderhand was incredibly rewarding. On the one hand, it successfully performs its variations through the 63 cuts within the type system. As a type family it organizes and reproduces the principles behind handwriting without reviving any particular style; and every cut has its own unique character and appearance — it’s a ‘wonder’ every time.
On the other hand, because Wonderhand demonstrates a methodical way to generate a script family using type design methods, I hope that other designers will be able to pick up on it to create bigger, broader, and more useful script typeface families.
Ultimately Wonderhand blurs the line between two worlds often set apart: merging the principles of both roman typefaces and script typefaces into one system. At a time when handwriting is going out of fashion, type design can surely save it and carry it to the next level.
Special thanks to the MyFonts Review Team. Reference text is set in the Supernova Family of Scripts from Typotheque.