Stowe Framework: Typeface

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This typeface is at the start of its development, and has a long way to go before being released. The glyph set will be extended and suitability for screen and print assessed before discussing with people from the area to get feedback on the initial typeface. 

The feedback and refinement process will continue before branching into other languages spoken in the Walthamstow area. The University of Reading has a renowned typography programme, and the experts will be consulted to build appropriate and sensitive versions for everyone in the area. 

The final outcome for the typeface will be a release for free personal use or paid-for commercial license by the local community.


Saw Type Development IV

Previous post here.

Anne-Marie Geals, a typeface designer, advised that “the typeface family (or variable font) will be lengthy to complete […], especially as you have expressed you want to include […]other scripts in addition to the variety of styles […] you will be in it for the long-haul!” She suggested that a short project description for the typeface would help enormously, and it follows below: 

A new variable typeface inspired by the architecture of Walthamstow to embody the innovation powered by the community. Its aesthetics will be geometric to represent the community’s burgeoning awareness of typographic style. It will shift its appearance on weight, width and roundness axes and include the full set of glyphs in Latin and European scripts. It will be designed for eye-catching display type in both print and screen-based media and for free personal use by the community.

Further feedback from Anne-Marie Geals

I’ve been looking at your blog so I can get my head around your project as a whole, not just the typeface. I understand now that the typeface is supplementary, that you would like to continue with the typeface after your final MA hand-in and that my feedback may give you some direction to continue on with it after the MA is done. I was a bit concerned, as you would only have a few days left to finish a whole typeface! But, now I know it is just the start, you are in an ideal position and can get it how you want, at your leisure. 
I think the typeface family (or variable font) will be lengthy to complete (possibly more than you realise yet!), especially as you have expressed you want to include Devanagari and other Indic scripts in addition to the variety of styles. So I think you will be in it for the long-haul! TBH, I’ve only had an afternoon’s training in Devanagari, and that was enough for me to decide that if I should want to incorporate it, I’d prefer to collaborate with an expert in the script to get it right. Reading Uni is certainly the best place to find out about collaborations in language scripts.
Bruno Maag once told me that type design is like a ‘divine calling’ rather than a job, and he is right, it commands 100% of your attention! It’s very easy to spend the whole MA on a typeface alone – trust me I know! So, I think it is a good decision to put the typeface on ice and focus on completing the other parts of your project. 
You certainly have thrown the net wide, and have clearly worked very hard! The workshops and walks must have taken a lot of organisation, and quite tough to analyse what you’ve got and what is useful or can be used. I found with my MA that I had researched so much, it was hard to cut through all the information and get to the heart of what I wanted to communicate.
I feel the online tool for local people to design their own letters is a fantastic idea and would be a lot of fun for the contributors. I’d certainly like to have a try of it, but I’m not from Walthamstow! It’s a pity that this idea was explored late on in the project. 
If the online tool yields plenty of responses from your audience, potentially this could provide valuable visual clues from the local community which could also have an impact on the design direction of your typeface. Some of their responses might come ‘from the heart’, and not necessarily something visible, such as landmarks or visual themes of Walthamstow, but something felt. 
I found with my Welsh typeface that my response to sounds was equally important, if not more important than anything I’d seen. What clinched it for me was the relationship between the sounds of the spoken Welsh language and the landscape. It’s very helpful to do mark-making exercises in response to sounds, such as music, people’s accents when talking etc. It’s quite difficult to give a physical shape to unseen things! But, it does help imbue a typeface with an emotion.
My feeling is that the Saw shapes which you have seen everywhere in Walthamstow is interesting and certainly a valuable angle, but only one aspect. The letters you have shown me have a clean, industrial and slightly geometric feel, and the typeface ultimately will communicate this. Is this what you intend to communicate about Walthamstow? I think it is also important to test it out on the target audience to see if they agree it is representative of their home-town.
I think there are other unseen and more emotive aspects that you may have not yet explored, probably because you had your work cut out with the other aspects of the project. Potentially, the community responses to the online tool may feed into your ideas. Different cultures may also have something visual to bring to the type, not just a different script and language, but a flavour of other cultures. 
At this early stage of the typeface design (with only caps part-done), it would be fine for it to metamorphosis according to new research and influences. Quite often I will end up far away from where I started – when rationalising, experimenting and targeting the design to what you intend to communicate, typefaces often evolve and that’s perfectly OK – as long as the design’s intended message is crystal clear to the audience/users! That’s where the mini brief comes in! 🙂
Being a relative newcomer to type design, it does take a while to ‘get your eye in’ and notice discrepancies, such as letter to letter proportions, stokes looking a little darker or lighter than the others (see K diagonal strokes), ink traps (see extra bold weight M & N). You did the right thing by referring to Karen Cheng’s excellent book “Designing Type’. I would also recommend you follow on Instagram 2 accounts – Grilli Type and also OHNO Type Co. Also follow Oldschoolnewschool account. They have recently posted some excellent resources for getting proportions right, allowing for ink traps and many other great tips.
I am also very willing to give you feedback and critiques as your typeface progresses after the MA. Message me when you’ve had a bit of a well-deserved break after hand-in!
It’s important to test the letters out in actual words and strings in sentences – this should be done as early as possible. Pangrams such as ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dogs’ really helps reveal anything that leaps out and interrupts reading. It must always be remembered that ultimately, typefaces are a tool to facilitate reading. You have begun with the M, but I would usually recommend getting the H & O correct first. This will give you the treatment of the rounds against the straights, which will influence the whole typeface and help get proportions and weight right. I tend to sandwich all the other letters between the H & O… such as typing…..  HHOHOOHOAOHAH. It also helps get the inter-character spacing correct.
Actually, I mostly start with lower case n & o, as l/c is far more used than the upper case, and then I later design the caps to fit in with the l/c. Dalton Maag also do this. But, the Grilli Type posts cover that very well, with nice animations!
If it is to be used for both print and screen, at some point you will need to research what makes a good screen font. And what makes good legibility in print. The design will need to be tailored according to your findings and tested.

This is all so helpful. The length of the reply!

I always knew that the typeface wasn’t going to be the full end result of the project, but when I felt a bit lost it was something that I worked on to re-centre myself. Given the lack of submissions, I knew I would find it hard to get a suitable lack of feedback from the community about the typeface so I didn’t really try! But it is essential to make it work and to represent. I hope the other activities awaken a typographic interest in some people in the community that means they want to and feel able to give an opinion on it.

Geals also points out that I started at the wrong point – the M rather than the H and the O. This is appropriate given the source inspiration built in terms of type design eeeek! I think everyone has to start somewhere, and go on to refine it.

For a first typeface, I’m pretty proud. there is SO MUCH work to be done, and I don’t underestimate it, but i have enjoyed having a project that I can channel when times have been tough.

Saw Type Development III

Previous post here.

Over the weeks I have been working on the glyphs for the saw tooth typeface:

These are super rough, and it’s my first typeface! I transported them into the Glyphs app:

And here is a Zoom in:

At this stage, I decided to contact Anne-Marie Geals, who I had a conversation with earlier in the module. She has kindly agreed to give me feedback on my typeface. While I did this, she suggested that I:

What I think will be important for you to do is a ‘Short Project Description’ for the typeface aspect. It will help you enormously.
I think that it is vital in terms of assessment that you show conclusively (evidenced) that you have thought about the typeface in terms of;
• What do you wish to convey with it – e.g.. emotions, feelings, a message, and does the end product communicate what you intended?• Who is it for – target audience. Have you tested it in the target audience?• How do you intend/envision it will it be used – e.g. headlines, body text, editorial, printed, online.
To give you an example, I had to write one for my MA, and it was so useful. I referred back to it every day;

A new typeface inspired by, and designed for, Wales and the Welsh to help facilitate the use of the declining language. Its aesthetics will be culturally expressive, yet practical and include the full set of glyphs required for bilingual typesetting. It will be designed for long, immersive reading in both print and screen-based media.

You can see the description clearly states what I was aiming for, who it is for, what it is for, and how it is intended to be used. I had to evidence that I had considered the needs of screen and print based media in my designs, and whether my typeface functioned as well as I hoped in these environments (evidence of testing). I also had to evidence how my Celtic visual theme/style had been inspired by my research. I also evidenced that I had tested the working font on Welsh people and had received feedback.

Nadine Chahine, whose Font li Beirut project I have previously covered, describes a typeface brief as such:

Type design is equal parts suffering and euphoria. It is a walk along a winding road that goes on for many weeks and months before it’s done. A type design brief is like a charter path: It asks you questions, and the answers will guide you to where you want to be.

Nadine Chahine

So, what do I want this typeface to be/do? Here’s an unstructured list of my thoughts:

  • Personal response to the area of Walthamstow
  • Embody the history of varied industry in the area
  • The saw tooth roofs and the Warner house arches used to inspire the shapes represent everyday people
  • Variable typeface with axes on width, weight and roundness
  • Display typeface rather than for long passages of text
  • Showcase the ethnic diversity of the area
  • San-serif font

There is also a difference between what the typeface is now and what it could be. At the moment it is just an uppercase, and doesn’t have a full set of glyphs. It only caters for the Latin font, and doesn’t include characters needed for European languages. To make it truly represent Walthamstow it needs to cater for Tamil, Bengali and Devanagari scripts too. I haven’t tested it either, or considered the difference between print or screen.

I’m going to copy Geal’s statement directly, pasting in my details in order to construct something myself.

A new variable typeface inspired by the architecture of Walthamstow to embody the innovation powered by the community. Its aesthetics will be geometric to represent the community’s burgeoning awareness of typographic style. Its will shift its appearance on weight, width and roundness axes and include the full set of glyphs in Latin and European scripts. It will be designed for eye-catching display type in both print and screen-based media and for free personal use by the community.

Next post here.

Saw Type Development II

Previous post here.

Over the weeks I have been working on the glyphs for the saw tooth typeface:

I’ve changed some of the glyphs from the previous – the F, E and I. I did think that the Emigre E was cool, but distracted from other features.

I’ve been working through Designing type by Karen Cheng (978-1-78277-544-8) as it provides a usual step by step for each glyph set and gives existing examples. For a san-serif uppercase, it recommends starting with an O and an E, with a W and M one of the last characters to design. Because this typeface is so inspired by the saw tooth roofs, I’ve had to work backwards a bit.

Next post here.

Type distortion

While going through source photos of typography, I looked in the backgrounds and saw lots of distorted type from window reflections. I think this could be a good way for me to play around with found pieces of type and my own designs.

Saw Type Development

Previous post.

From this image of sawtooth industrial roofs,. Walthamstow has an industrial past, with the London Rubber Company and film studies setting up in the early twentieth century.

The shape of the saw tooth roof intrigued me, and I saw the motif everywhere, from the top of gates and on modern residential buildings.

The sawtooth looks very much like a capital M, so I started building the typeface from this. A few sketches of my first type and how I could keep lines straight rather than use curves:

I built up a few template lines to be able to keep them consistent, with notched edges like to make the shapes more interesting. The typeface is designed as an upper case only typeface.

I really love how the A and V letters in the examples below fit into each other and how letters such as H and T are ligatures:

So I thought that some glyphs can have a slant in different directions that can also be used for an italic version:

I thought about, if I wanted different weights, how to break down the strokes:

After a tutorial, Stuart recommended Emigre magazine for typefaces as a way to play around. As you can see they used pieces of paper to angle lines in the same way I use grey boxes!

I really liked the E’s at the time, and wanted to use that diagonal detail. In the diagram below, I also try to make an O, which I was ultimately unhappy with.

After I’ve sketched out the components, I copy the features to a new board and expanded the experience.

Getting the Glyphs into Glyphs 3 🙂

This will continue to develop! Next post here.


WHat I did

  • Played with how I can incorporate architectural features into my project
  • Launched an Instagram account
  • Researched London typographers, such as William Morris and Jean Louis Pouchée

What I plan to do

  • Continue to market and build a following on Instagram
  • Think about how I can display the large collection of images that I already have

TYPE design

Previous post/Next post. Walthamstow has a lot of industrial spaces that have roofs like this:

The sawtooth roof, with its glass panels facing away from the equator on the steeper side, blocks the light and heat of direct sun exposure and provides uniform, natural light over a large area. It was particularly useful in design factories and manufacturing buildings and can be seen in designs as early as the 1830’s (thanks Wikipedia).

The name reminds me of the angles used in half-tone printing The smoothness of the edges of the box changes as its angle relative to the halftone screen angle changes. The ragged appearance of edge of the last box is referred to as “sawtoothing”.

And I like the idea of incorporating the design into my final outcome. I’ll use the shape and position text around it:

I like both examples. One uses the outside of the shape and highlights the outline and feels lighter, whilst the right one forms the shape itself and feels blocky. I’m not sure which one feels appropriate yet, but I will experiment with this further.

Social Media

My project will have people getting involved, and so to promote the project I have an Instagram account. I’ve had it set up for a while, to nab the hashtag before anyone else, but haven’t posted because it felt too soon. Now, I have an idea where my project is going and I have spoken to local people about it, and thus it is time to establish myself. I might not be calling for volunteers yet, but a base of a couple of months and posts will instil a sense of trust from the community and maybe potential funders. It’ll be a way to promote to people and the design industry outside the area too.

Currently, my social media strategy has three types of post:

  1. Reflect on the lettering around us in Walthamstow and the circumstances in which it was made⁠
  2. Engage the community and local design practitioners to discover how lettering affects our sense of community⁠
  3. Create new lettering that speaks to us.⁠

The language of us and our is intended to warm and draw people in. The three types of post give me a theme and structure rather than an random mix of posts and has given me interesting opportunities.

Social media tires me out when I do it constantly, so I am using to set up the automatic posting for a few weeks. I can create posts in a bulk when I feel like it and then have them post, so I don’t have to be constantly thinking of new things, and I think it creates a sense of consistency in tone of voice and posting schedule too.

Going back to the interesting opportunities, when I’ve started writing posts under each of the three headings I’ve been able to link to a practitioner or part of the community to really champion them. For instance, I’ve included my recent letterpress workshop and included the studio, Paekakariki Press, a letter in a London Plane tree which was annotated my Rachel Summers in her tree chalk facts project. It’s grown in a few hours to be much more than here’s a pretty picture of typography in Walthamstow.

Excitingly, by using the right hashtags, the local archive Vestry House Museum featured me in their stories without me asking for it, so I hopefully will get more traffic from their followers. Building a solid base will give me more engagement in the community.

Of course, social media will only reach a certain portion of the community, and I need to look outside it, but I feel it’s a good start to promoting Stowe Framework. Maybe this week will be Marketing Week for me!