Custom Typefaces: Type Characteristics – Formgestalt 02
People have identities. So do typefaces. Fonts matter because identity matters.

Type Characteristics / Formgestalt 02

After focusing on general design parameters of a typeface in the previous chapter, we will now take a look at the effect of one single letter within a word.

It’s hard to imagine that even a single letter can change the effect of a word and accordingly the effect of an entire typeface. But let’s have a look, in the following example, each of the seven lines contains a differently designed /a.

Different Forms of the /a

In line one you can see the /a from chapter 2. It is normal, quite average, so that the grotesque impression of the word remains. In the second line, the /a is replaced by a one-storey, simpler version. The whole word now tends to reflect a geometric script, differing from a grotesque one. The soft bending of the stem from line three reflects a humanistic trait and thus makes the word appear more personal. The /a of the fourth line has an outflow at the stem, which has a dynamic effect on me. The horizontal middle bar in the fifth line adds a technical note to the font, as I associate this type of a with the famous DIN typeface. The steep middle bar in the sixth line makes the /a look a bit unstable, while in the seventh line the geometric idea from line two comes up again, although both letters are very different.

No matter how a single letter in a word is designed, its appearance also radiates to the other letters. In the second line, the grotesque design concept is turned into a completely different direction by the one-story /a. Immediately the two letters /o and /g are brought into harmony with the /a, which pairs seamlessly with the two letters and thus allows more geometric features to flow into the word. With the standard /a and its grotesque structure, I didn’t consider the font to be geometrical, but with the one-storeyed /a it is.

Closeup: Different Forms of the /a

Focus on common letters

Letters that occur particularly frequently in the text, such as the vowels /a and /e, in contrast to rarely used letters such as /x, /y and /q, therefore contribute more to the character of a font. When modifying a retail font (see chapter “Various Types of a Corporate Typeface”), for example, these are letters that play an important role.

And why does the /g matter?

Believe it or not, perhaps the most important “character letter” is the /g. This letter has a strong effect on the character of the typeface, because it is quite free in its design. The design of the letter /g begins with the decision whether it should have two or three stories. In the case of a three-storey /g the question now arises as to what its ear looks like, whether it is straight, sloping or curved (downwards or upwards). Is the lower loop open or closed? Is the connection of the loop to the counter soft or hard? These choices, coupled with the general design parameters, make a /g a unique element with a strong character that offers a high degree of recognisability.

Next Chapter: Le Romain du Roi