Designing Type

Designing TypeOk, you slugged it through design school where you learned about typefaces like serif, sans serif, ornamental…the works. While you know the difference between Bauhaus and Arial, you still don’t know how to design a typeface. Designing Type can rescue you, especially if you need to design a typeface in a hurry for a client who demands something to go with his product line…

Author Karen Cheng, associate professor at the University of Washington’s Visual Communication Design Program in Seattle, teaches type design and typography. The lessons that she includes in her book are so simple that you can understand the type designer’s process almost overnight. Cheng states, "There is no single, 'correct' process for creating a typeface. The methodologies of individual designers are as unique and varied as the designs themselves."

From this starting point, Cheng proceeds to explain how a typeface is developed, and then provides examples and diagrams that demonstrate visual principles, type construction, and optical illusions that affect typeface uniformity. She creates a step-by-step process through letters, numbers, and punctuation and accents, all developed through a variety of methods from sketching to vector graphics.

While Cheng does include history of type and foundries in her narratives, the emphasis is on type development. The only problem that you might face is that Cheng focuses only on serif and sans serif faces, and these choices are generic. However, after reading the book, I discovered that her lessons applied to all serifs and sans serif typefaces and families, and that it was just another step of imagination – buoyed by a new understanding of type – to begin to create ornamental type.

For the price (currently under $20 U.S.), Designing Type is worth its weight in gold for anyone who wants to learn more about how type works as a stand-alone design or as a design element within a larger format. Highly recommended for students and for the working designer.

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