What I Wish I Knew Before I Began Designing Type: Part 1

I’ll never forget the wonder and awe when I first typed out a word made-up of letterforms I designed. It blew my mind. It was a hideous, unevenly-spaced mess, but I was ecstatic that with every keystroke a dream was becoming a reality.

Though the rush of seeing a typeface come together was exciting, it blinded me to some common mistakes I made along the way. There’s a whole lot I wish I would have known before I began designing type. Some of that information was hard to find, some of it just had to come with time, and some of it came from generous people in the industry. So, I wanted to write this series for those interested in designing type or designers who’ve just gotten your feet wet and want to know more.

Disclaimer: By writing this series, I’m not trying to claim to be some guru of type design. I simply want to write about what I wish I knew based on my experience of learning type design. 

Type Design Is a Thing

Up til that point, type design seemed like this mysterious creature who’s appearance I admired, but hadn’t the slightest clue of its nature. I’d always delighted in using typefaces and finding the right one(s) for a project. But from time to time, I felt the typeface needed wasn’t yet created. If it was a one-off piece, I could letter it, but if a full typographic system was necessary for body copy or headlines, I was out of luck. I would settle on something already out there because I didn’t know where to start.  

I always knew foundries made typefaces, but I had no clue about the process and where people learned to do such things. A few years ago, I started seeing a few graphic designers make their own typeface and release it through places like Lost Type. For some reason, it never crossed my mind that your everyday graphic designer could do it too. Now, that thought might be considered “dangerous” in some type design circles because the last thing we need on this earth is more half-baked typefaces, but we’ll get into that more at a later time.

These other graphic designers getting into type design inspired me to finally adventure into making a font. I say “making a font” because at the time I’m not even sure I knew what to call the process. Font-Making? Typeface Creator? Builder of OTFs? Fontineer? You get the point. It’s type design.


Try It, You Just Might Like It

We live in a time where the barrier to create a typeface is as small as ever, but the unknowns of how to go about that can be daunting—it often stopped me before starting. From many conversations with designers, I know this isn’t just my story. Across Illustrator Artboards everywhere, countless letterforms sit collecting dust and lie in wait of being made into a typeface. So over the course of this series, I hope to lay out some practical steps and ideas each week on how to break down that daunting barrier.

What do I want you to leave this article thinking? It’s simple. Try designing type. Tell yourself you’re going to do it. Make a goal or set aside some time over the next few weeks during this series to start building a typeface in a type design program. Sure, it may not be for everyone, but you’ll never know it could be for you if you don’t give it a try. I wish I would have tried it a lot sooner in my life because I truly love designing type. 


“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu


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