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.