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Advanced Typography: Fine Tuning and Finessing

Lesson 8 of 12

What's a Good Typeface?


Advanced Typography: Fine Tuning and Finessing

Lesson 8 of 12

What's a Good Typeface?


Lesson Info

What's a Good Typeface?

What makes a good typeface? Okay, there are some things under your seat you don't need them the second, but I'm going to call upon you to lift them up and look at them and any people at home if you haven't already, please download that what makes a good typeface materials if you'd like to be able to see more clearly the kinds of things you're going to be looking at, this's something I gave some thought to a number of years ago when I was asked by a journalist writing an article on typography if I could help her out and write something or tell her what makes a good typeface. And you know what? I had never really thought about it. I could tell you what a good typefaces I could tell by looking, but in order to teach it and explain some basic print of principles, um, was something I hadn't done, and I was actually grateful that she had asked me that because it is an important question. Andi, it is important to give you a few basic guidelines to help you to determine what makes a good typef...

ace. Okay, so we're going to start off with consistent design traits, and if you've watch the first section of of this and watch typography, the fundamentals um and we did have an exercise that help people too was enjoying exercise that allowed people to see you know what, what it had to see for themselves and to think for themselves how to draw missing characters and see what's consistent what on what's not so I mean, if you haven't view that I I highly recommend that you view it and purchase that because that's a very hands on very fun, very enlightening exercise and you'll see how it all turns out if you watch that but anyway, so now we're looking at today ge sans one of the typefaces similar but different from something in that exercise it won't say more than that. Okay, so consistent design trades means things including cap height, x height, terms of consistency um stroke wait ah height of ass enders and d senders things like that, okay? And it might sound really obvious to you, but I could tell you that a lot of the beginning type designers might not be paying attention to the width of the character they might make certain characters that are too wide and don't match the rest. I mean, clearly a lot of people did in that exercise because it's not something you're normally thinking about consistent design trains doesn't mean make everything so sterile and pristine in its precision and consistency that you have no creativity at all okay that's not the objective but vegas sands is a beautifully designed a very consistent typeface but if you if you look at the caps you'll see the a has a low waist the bee has a high waist the e in the f and the h have something in between that little part of the g goes a little bit higher so the point is not to say that that must be a bad typeface because look how inconsistent the waistlines are in the cat caps that's not true it's a fine decision by an experienced designer with a good eye to determine what factors went designed factors contribute to good consistency and what our design features that become positive aspects of that typeface and a lot of times if you're designing something that might be a deco or a nouveau typeface or from a certain period they might have changing sort of waistlines of characters that are typical of that look but it's everything works together you don't want something to be dry, sterile and boring that's not the objective the objective is that all the features work together in a consistent way to create something that works and that has the excitement and the appeal of the personality that it's intended to have this is but doni seventy two um we have talked in typography the fundamentals about adoni twelve okay this's eitc badani seventy two which is actually display typeface and it's a little bit hard to see here, but if you look really closely, this is a beautifully designed typeface in and it and it's consistent in all the ways I mentioned. But if you were to look at the sarah ifs of this typeface, if I could blow this up really large on the screen, I don't I don't think I could do that with this keyboard, but that's okay, trust me, you would see that all the sarah ifs are slightly different. They're not perfectly round somewhere bumpy. Some have a little point. Some have a little different aspect to the bottom. And that is something that was intentionally done in this typeface. Because it's basically a historic revival of an old madani typeface where typography was not perfect cutting type out of metal was not perfect because it was hand done. Once it was cut out, it was used to print and as it was used to print it became degraded. The edges became degraded. So though there was less perfection, then there might have been even at the beginning. I mean, you have to remember if there was any they had to cut thousands of these. There wasn't just one they used over and over. Okay, so everyone was handcrafted and made to look a little bit different it's the only way it could happen and then once it got printed on paper you had the effect of the tooth of the paper with the inconsistent metal and that kind of thing. So this typeface and this version the intention was to replicate thie beautiful texture of the inconsistencies of this by adoni while maintaining the overall consistent design traits related to of the things I mentioned the cap height the x height theus enter the diy centre the stroke contrast the stroke thickness the character thickness the character with okay jelly baby well that's a fun type face you would think all that doesn't look so hard to dio what you know what everything is hard if you're doing a good job nothing is really easy because even though this is a quirky little typeface it is consistent they all have these sort of jelly bean shaped counters, the counters being the enclosed negative spaces between the characters and they might all be a little bit different. This was not an instance where the designer who was tim donaldson said I'm going to draw one shape and I'm going to use that negative shape for all these characters because that's fast okay? It is a consistent typeface but it has character it has individuality because he didn't approach it that way okay, so again we're not looking for christine perfection we're looking for an overall rhythm and consistent traits that make every character look like they work with everything else okay matrix that's another type is again really beautifully designed very consistent everything works well but you're going to see little quirks in it that that you might go well that's really odd I mean look at the caps the h a lot of the characters have sarah ifs and some of them don't the a doesn't have a cap a doesn't have a sarah if the seas have us a serif on the top the e in the f have sarah ifs on the left side but not on the right h and I have syrups the k has only sarah doesn't have it on the diagonals and the m has no serves the end has to that go in one direction okay so you might say well what gives with that the fact is that there were many characters that have all of these traits it's not like the whole typeface looks one way and they selected one carrot or making love different if you do enough of these quirks throughout that's an intentional design detail that makes a typeface work so that's okay as long as they all look like they worked together okay in their individuality same thing with this typeface iggy it's kind of a psychedelic type face also very well drawn it's very rather a narrow but all the little quirks but while they might not be exactly the same, they're all consistent with each other this is another type face um, which I remember receiving this submission when I was doing typeface development and I t c and I really liked it I haven't seen it used a lot, but I really liked it because I thought it was an unusual treatment of I wouldn't say it's a handwriting fun I could read it, but I think he did a really good job it's really consistent although every characters different has a nice rhythm, a nice texture all of that works very well, okay hey did not copy and paste some of those quirks and doing and everything because I remember looking at this large and I didn't want to see a whole lot of repeated things everything is individually handcrafted in a sense okay the second important trade and what makes a good typeface is ledge ability but allege ability is on ly an important trait if it's important to you for the job you're using it for ok, so these, um our text typefaces where ledge ability is important and again ledge ability is relates to the design of the typeface not tow how what is said so these are all extremely ledge a ble typefaces because they all have a similar weight. None of them are ultra lighter ultra bold which are not his ledge a ble they tend to have tall ex heights they tend to not not me too narrow and not be too wide doesn't matter if they're sarah for sands in this particular group these are legend typefaces there are numbers you know that you can easily find text faces that aren't that ledge a ble so you have to determine how important that is if you're setting book typography it really needs to be quite legible if you're setting a magazine for teenagers something we discussed in the fundamentals session maybe you want to go for something a little quirkier it's a little harder to read because you basically want somebody to be attracted to how it looks and we don't know if we're going to read it they're going to read it they might be more interested in the fashion pages in the styles and reading the articles that might be the objective get them to buy it so make it look quirky and funky and something that a teenager would but it would be attracted to rather than oh I can't read it okay so you have to determine at the onset of a project how important ledge ability is but in general for most typefaces and particularly text typefaces allege ability is important so these air these air the faces where they might not be important and they're good typefaces there well drawn typefaces okay now we're going to look at some of the handouts for everyone ah, watching remotely take the sheet that says chester and for the live audience here, you could do the same thing. Um spacing. Okay, the spacing of a typeface I describe to you a few minutes ago when I showed you a belief I probably have the same uh, the same screen shot showing you thie inner workings of the spacing of a typeface. And I told you that a well space typeface is one where a cz many characters look is good next to a cz many other characters is possible and created to create a nice either even rhythm. Okay, this type face that you're looking at chester okay, is a typeface that I came across in a class a student used it at this was quite a while. Go use it for a project on dh. As it as it turns out, I believe it was a free typeface, okay? And not not by a foundry, but I yet I did like the typeface, but as I looked at it, I saw that the spacing needed a lot of work, which was not unusual because this could have better know who designed it. It could have been somebody without a lot of experience who had a, you know, a fun concept for a typeface but didn't know really how to use how to apply this spacing so at the time, what I did is it was sort of an experiment and a lesson to the class I got ahold of this font I went home and I probably spent I probably spent thirty minutes don't amount trying to brag because those men I probably spent thirty minutes re spacing the fun okay didn't take me long because I did that every day at I t c with typefaces and so the example you see on the top okay, um is the font as it is and here's what I see wrong with it? Okay, I want you to do two things. The first thing is I want you to hold it close toe arm's length and those of you at home, I don't know if you haven't printed it out, it might be you just do the best you can with it might be a little challenging, but you're not going to be able to get the benefit of everything we're seeing because I don't have full screen shots of it because this needs to be you need to see this in the in the flesh in the paper, okay? So if you hold it kind of it your arm's distance and you sweat your eyes down, the first thing I see is really big words spacing, okay, and then I see really tight letter spacing because I see blobs of dark space and uneven spacing and big words spacing and things that make it kind of hard to read you see the word typographic thie h looks really dark and different things happen okay so now I want you to look up close okay so here's here's here's the sickness the type sickness that I have so here's what I see okay typographic well everything is pia's to tapio is too tight oh gee is too tight ap is too tight h eyes too tight word spaces are really open these air a little hard to see because the resolution of this unfortunately somehow it's it's it's a little rough so it's hard to see um look at the word result s u too tight you l too tight nothing and oh too tight end g too tight m o too tight oh are too tight I mean this this crazy can you but can you see a little of that ok ok look put it put it further away again ok take a look at the bottom example now I'm telling you I did not change the design of any character all I did was reduced the word spacing and quickly did an overall fixed to the spacing I don't even think I changed current ng okay this is the exact same typeface squint your eyes down do you notice that the word spacing doesn't pop out to you anymore than it has more rhythm okay, when you look and and the overall colorant texture is more even than what you see above that the other is black and bloody and white spots of words spacing and the bottom one has this even this to it. Okay, so now, if you look more closely and you look at some of those characters, you're going to see that the spacing is more open and it's a little bit more even. Okay, so basically you could see the same with the caps. What it's? Mostly something I want you to notice with the text. So the point being that how a typefaces space, whether it's the word spacing of a letter spacing is critically important to the overall look of the typeface, as is the letter forms, because don't these look to me, they're drastically different people would say, didn't you? Didn't? You must have changed something else. I change nothing else on this typeface except for the word spacing and the letter spacing and it made a big difference. Okay, so why am I showing this to you? Because this is one of the factors that contributes to what makes a good typeface. Okay, so if you get a good commercial font should be fine, but again, a lot of people get have various sources for downloading free fonts and if a free fun is not from a major foundry who's doing it as a promotion you have to be really careful because many people have fun with designing typefaces they have no training. They might have a concept for an interesting design but the last thing they know and understand and sometimes they never dio is about proper spacing. Proper word spacing and I know because I've fixed a lot of spacing on fonts that were great designs back in the day when that's what I did okay, do you guys have any questions that you can see this right now? This is not hard to see on this paper, but it's like the same size yeah, looks larger. It looks larger because his cleaner it's clear it's easier to read. Okay, so we can set this down for the moment. Um, current ing I had already mentioned this because I repeat the screen. Is it so important? What I'm talking about here is that what one of the factors that makes a good type faces adequate current pairs in the fun? Okay, so sometimes if you see a font, you think it looks good, but all of a sudden there's certain character combinations or numerous character combinations that look to open all their crashing and you don't know why, um do you want to use that font for you know, a forty eight page annual report with all those things happening probably not you're probably gonna want to look for a better choice did you have a question? Is that something that you couldn't go under special characters when you download that fun and look at it's not you know that's that's something that's in the bat built into the back end of of the data of the fun of the digital data of the font and aside from making custom currents which you don't want to do in a tax type fish you want to get a text typeface that looks damn good when you're using it when you you know and as I said these days most current commercial fonts have fairly good spacing, but not all of them do some of them might be older fonts they might be funds that were that that a font reseller is making available from designers that don't have the skill to have done this properly if you're going to some independent foundries that again so there are foundries that take anybody stuff and it's just sort of like a free for all and you know what? If you don't know anything about who designed it who selling it what's good about it then it could even be a knockoff it could be a bad copy of a legitimate fund so it always pays to try to make sure that you're using a high quality fun, if you don't know, get something from a reputable, a type foundry or reseller and try to do a little research. But the main thing is that you should notice these differences. Sometimes you have an old type warner or a true type fun and these things, and they might have problems, and they might have fixed these problems with an open type version so you might buy unopened type version of an older font, and all of a sudden it looks better. So basically, the main thing is for you to be able to see these problems, and then you have to be a little bit of a detective to make sure that you can find and only use the ones that look fairly good, specially for text. Okay, the last one is even color and texture, and I know you've heard me say this before, and now I'm going to show you a little bit more when I'm talking about okay, we're going to be using the sheet called old richie. Um, it's not listed up there, but it is on your sheet. Okay, so this is a real typeface. From george thompson, a wonderful educator and type designer I'll give you a little bit of background to this and I have I certainly have permission from him to to talk about this it's in my book and and it's it's really a wonderful story. He had submitted this typeface family as a an historic revival of a cheque typeface as czechoslovakia, designed by old rick manhart, who was a well known type designer a couple of centuries ago. Okay, so one of the challenges when a type designer wants to do a and historic revival of a typeface is what dough I use as the source let's say they go, they get some research, they do some research, they might actually find the original metal punches. Okay, which is what they all were originally drawn from that's that's rare. Okay, so is that a valid resource source could be more than likely they're going to find printed material original printed material. Okay, so original pretend printed material means that it's used the type that's probably been degraded from use over and over and over and some of the metal type might be chipped might be warn the corners might not be right, so as it gets used, it gets slightly degraded. Okay, is that an accurate representation? See there's many different is it? Well, I saw I saw a current book that's a reproduction of an old piece made from the original type, you know. So the thing is a lot of designers, they I want it to be authentic, but nobody knows what is authentic and what is true. And the other question that's posed by foundries such as eitc when I was working on this typeface is how true do you want it to be if there were problems with the original technology that we can fix today without losing the flavor and the character in the appeal of the arena channel? Okay, so having given you a little of the back story, um, this sample was sent and and it's a wonderful typeface, but there were many things that I saw that were very inconsistent about it. And the challenge with working with this typeface was to make it more consistent without losing the flavor and the original feel and personality of the typeface. Because this is I wouldn't say it's, quirky, it's, angular, it has a lot of chiseled aspects to it. Okay, so this is what I saw. If you hold this to your at arm's distance or a little less, you squint your eyes down once again, I see open words spacing, but I see a lot of characters that look too heavy to narrow spacing is often some of them okay, so if you look close, you bring this up close look at the word first we're typographic t y two open p too heavy and too narrow are too wide p two heavy excellence xy two open look at the end. Looks a little bit to having a little bit too narrow. Okay, look at the word result. Um the you looks a little heavy the tea in the l look a little light thie ellen, the tear to open the open parentheses is too light and not the right angled shape is the one on the right o f too tight? Nothing. You know, the end is too heavy, too close to the oh, the th is to open the h is too heavy. Okay, what are you saying? I mean, imagine what it's like to be in my head. I can't get rid of this stuff, you know, I want you to join me there, okay? One more thing I want is one more thing I want you to see is let's. Look, five lines down to the word fully. Okay, you see a brace but can't light the braces you see that's sort of the middle of a line, the efforts to light in the f is too far from the you ok, I think you got the idea, so, um one of the things that was very important to me when I was working with type designers doing this is I never wanted to do. I wanted to do something that they were on board with, and I wanted them to be happy with the result. I never wanted to sanitizer neutralized design in such a way as to take away its original character and to have that designer think, what did you guys do with my creation? Okay, so the way we worked on this together, as I worked with the designer to try to make he he was totally on board, and he trusted me. And I, you know, tio not change his vision. Um, and we work together. He did a lot of the design changes. I did some of the spacing changes. And s o this is not a question of just tracking this is a question of the actual design of the cliffs as well as the spacing as well as the current. And this is everything thes air, all the factors that contribute to even color and texture, even in a typeface. That's. Not that even okay, because these a lot of these eastern european typefaces are fabulous and known for their kind of sparkle, which is related to it's not being perfect every stroke is not perfect so let's look at what you see on the bottom and if you hold it close toe arm's distance and you if you squint your eyes you're not going to see big words spaces pop out you're not going to see black bloc as many black blobs you can see a few because that's part of what this typeface is supposed to look like but you're going to see a much more even color and texture okay, so at that distance if you look back and forth can you see the distance from the top on the bottom big difference, isn't it? Okay, so if you look close and if you care to go back and forth okay, so just look at the word typography I added a current period of tea why this isn't other almost the final this is not the final final okay, so the pea is a little bit better. I didn't want to make it all perf because that would have ruined this typeface. Okay, but things got approved. Letter shapes became or consistent spacing became more consistent. If you look at the parentheses around around the word results, you'll see that the left one now matches the right in the way that it's supposed tio what happened the word fully which is now four light forwards into the fifth line has the correct weight okay, it was way too light before in the f you was to open and now it's it's much better. So basically, um, those are the things that can contribute to making a good typeface in this even color and texture is something that can be very challenging for a type designer who's not experienced or educated or, you know, makes the right judgment, so I'm not expecting you to know my job when I did this. I'm just expecting you and everyone paying attention remotely to just be aware, especially you really do need to see these these sheets that that you can you are capable, you don't have to be a type designer to be capable off looking a type critically and it's a skill that you will develop and that will get better and better the more you do it and you could take these sheets with you and you probably should, because then you're going to forget what what did I really see? Is there really a difference? Because I mean, this is maybe this is like practicing scales, I don't know on the piano t just look at this stuff and just to get yourself to remember the things to look for, okay, okay, anyone have any questions? How was that exercise for you guys to help very enlightening, like you see how different it is it's. More legible on work. Clear? Yeah, I think it's interesting. If you look at the letters that's, all sure. I mean, it's it's. Not enough. I think it's not enough to just learn how to design and how to work with type. But when you understand what, cousin to the making of a typeface, it's going to help you feel more comfortable picking a typeface, working with type, and you're just going to have more confidence and more skill. And I mean that's, my hope for you interested? How long did it take for you in the designer? Tio probably took three or four months. I mean, it had a number of ways. I think this four weights, four weights and italics, and then there's a chiseled features you could, you could look up the typeface, and you mean you could purchase it, but he mean, he did most of the work. What we were doing was really just sort of tweaking characters and spacing, and it seems like it would take a really long time. But his initial work is what takes all the time and the stuff that we did together to to finesse it. It took less, but it's still it's, not something to do in a day takes while great. And I'm on the chat room so that they were seeing the same thing. You know, it was obvious to them when they were looking at it. So glad that people could follow along at home. You know, as we've been doing this for a little while now people are having some takeaways from this entire course. There's a question here that comes from dan pedley who says my takeaway in the last two days has been the type has to look good optically rather than mechanically. But what resource is would you recommend for training your eye to find that acceptable range? Now I think doing something like this really helps but are there any other thing helps khun dude, it toe help train their eye to find things like the only way your eye gets better is by looking at more and more and more things. Okay? And this is why, even when I was talking and in typography, the fundamentals when we were talking about howto howto know howto combined typefaces basically, what I was saying then is the same thing I would say now is everywhere you go you should be looking at typography and examining and critically now, whether you're looking to combine fonds together, or you want to determine if the typeface is good, look at magazines that I'm not saying, read them, go to the doctor, dentist, look at magazines, look att the fonts used. Go to the library, everywhere you go, look, a type look at magazines looking as much as you can. Look at men, you sit there, and I'm not saying read because reading means you're not looking at the type, actually, and that is the training that is the exercises you need to know that is, like the typographic work out, like going to the gym. It means constantly looking a type around you. And if you've paid close attention to a lot of the information that we've been discussing today, and also the information from typography, the fundamentals, you should have a basic starting point to help you to progress, to see things more quickly and more easily.

Class Description

Master the typographic skills that are rarely taught or fully understood by design professionals from acclaimed author, educator, and type expert, Ilene Strizver.

In Advanced Typography: Fine Tuning & Finessing you will learn advanced typographic skills and aesthetics every serious designer needs to know. Ilene will share practical tips you can use to visibly improve the readability and effectiveness of your type, including:

  • How to fine-tune your type
  • Tracking and word spacing tips and tricks
  • Custom kerning
  • Working with figures and fractions
  • Text kerning

Professional typography sets your designs apart, while attracting and holding your audience’s attention. Learn how to set type without fear – develop your skills and build your confidence in with insights from Ilene in Advanced Typography: Fine Tuning & Finessing.

Check out Ilene's related course, Typography Fundamentals


a Creativelive Student

Ilene's courses on Typography are jam-packed with excellent information that will elevate the quality of your work in print. She knows what';s current, but also what's important in long-time standards, and why. Just an incredible amount of information! you will enjoy watching, but you will want to purchase because of the sheer amount of useful content.

Nelson Mueller

Wonderful course! I enjoyed it from the beginning until the end, just like the fundamentals course. I wish there was even more of her. Hopefully in the future.


I bought this and the intro class and love them both! I had no idea fonts, typefaces and typesetting could be so interesting and detailed. Ilene is a clear and informative teacher. I love that she teaches why things are done, not simply "do this". I learn faster and remember better with her style of instruction.