Type! "The stuff that words are made of". The only software anybody can use without manuals or professional help. The work of years boiled down into ridiculously few kilobytes, and yet, ready for use in every application. How many famous works of known designers consist mainly of type, of shapes that were invented, formed, spaced and kerned by less visible designers?
We all have to use type, and therefore complain about problems that are, underneath, compromises that the type designers are grappling with for us.
Any designer who uses type -- every designer? -- would be well-advised to try his hands on creating something that he usually only uses, and i don't mean mere adjustments in a letter of a logotype. I do recommend going the full way once of creating a complete font, to find some insight deeper than software skills, and a substantial boost for his general typographic practice as well.
Typeface design has interested me since my early youth, from collecting Letraset catalogs to hand-lettering my first posters. Studying in Basel with teachers such as Armin Hofmann, Wolfgang Weingart, Andre Gürtler and Christian Mengelt increased my interest and greatly improved my skills. Working mainly in Postscript-based computer applications during the past 11 years greatly helped establishing a strong base in outline drawing.
Early type design work
My work at the Basel School of Design as a student: Several projects during school and shortly afterwards became subconscious inspirations for my typefaces published years later. Early ideas are especially obvious for Lance Condensed and for Flood.
Lance Condensed family
The first characters of Lance Condensed were developed in 1983, in type design class at the Basel Schol of Design. Inspiration came from two travels to the region of Britanny, France. I was impressed by the prehistoric "menhir" rows of vertical stones typical for this area, and also developed a strong liking for the sharp angles of French typefaces, such as Vendome, Choc, Banco and Antique Olive. Eventually, I used my new typeface for my graduation project in photography, on the subject of the Brittany region.
In 1993 I decided to digitize my design into my first computer font, which became the Medium weight of Lance Condensed. The Light and Bold weights were developed after major research on the proportions, weights and slants of other classic sans-serif typefaces. The objective was to find more ideal proportions than other typefaces have, and thus refine the distinct characteristics of Lance.
Although its extreme proportions make Lance look like a display typeface, I decided to adjust and refine it as a text typeface, to ensure a more even appearance and gray value. This made Lance useable for short quantities of continuous text as well, and improved its overall quality.
I was very happy to receive the Morisawa Prize of 1993 for my first computer typeface. For this award I would like to thank you very much once again. It encouraged me greatly, and became the start of my professional typeface design career. Since 1996, Lance Condensed is available from the FontShop International.
This typeface grew out of doodling with elementary shapes, and gradually took form over the course of 3 years. While first approached as a free play of triangles and circles in dozens of variations, I developed a very rigid system of design rules for its final stage. All shapes are drawn on a square grid of 44 units, with slants strictly at 30 and 60 degree angles, and a limited set of sizes for circles.
The design evokes comparisons to science-fiction alphabets of the early 1970; but is clearly distinct for its lively use of triangles, and its bold weight. The rounded-geometric approach is popular again in dance music, electronica and science-fiction comics.
Originally designed as a set of 2 styles named Shuriken Boy and Girl, Adobe Systems decided to license both designs but only publish Shuriken Boy.
During the 1995 conference of ATypI Association Typographique Internationale in Barcelona, I was on crutches due to an earlier foot injury. This brought me to the idea of designing an ironic humorous medical typeface, using elements and tools of the medical profession as letters.
In the following 2 months I finished the entire design, in time to send it to befriended typographers and foundries as a holiday greeting; and Adobe Systems immediately asked to license it.
While Ouch! seems to be entirely freeform, it actually has perfectly regular-shaped elements built into each character. This treatment gives the typeface more optical stability and consistency, while it is not consciously perceived.
Flood was designed in less that 2 minutes -- that is, in its essence. Due to heavy rainfalls and flooding in California, I arrived 2 hours late to a type design seminar with Sumner Stone. In a rush to catch up with my project, I chose the most worn and used felt-tip marker to express my hurry and frustration.
After Adobe Systems committed to my design, it became clear that automatic tracing was unacceptable. I decided to redraw and simplify every single detail by hand on the computer, which took several weeks and review cycles.
Flood was a Top Ten Adobe Bestseller in its first month.
This typeface was originally inspired by my favorite childhood anime Speed Racer, which was recently broadcasted again in Germany. This series features a whole range of arbitrarily-used, unskilled romaji hand-lettering intended to give it international cool.
I decided to try a similar "good-bad" approach in a complete typeface, drawing everything intentionally wrong, flipping entire characters, adding useless serifs and giving weight to the wrong details.
Another design based on elementary shapes, this typeface is mainly based on ellipses, combined with rectangles and a few slants, to convey a feel of futuristic technology and design for velocity.
Cortina is an Italian skiing resort which was popular in the 1950s and '60s; the Ford Cortina series of automobiles was named after it. My typeface combines a feel of this era with current aesthetic trends of sports, electronica and science fiction.
I try to approach every typeface in a completely different way of visual thinking, and to examine another aspect of type design every time. Every idea comes from a different direction, requires a new technique and process, and takes a different amount of time, between 13 years and 2 minutes.
While this leads to a range of very different styles, consistency within each single typeface is essential, with each letter showing clearly which typeface it belongs to. I try to find fresh ideas, but give them a decent amount of traditional quality. I find myself between old school and new school.
Many designers are better than me at traditional typefaces, and large font families. Their designs require large amounts of time, and often the efforts of a team. I prefer to work alone, to keep some of my personality in everything - a play between consistency and imperfection. My designs are not perfect in a classic sense, but I hope they have their own personality and character.
Many new designers are more innovative and provocative, but "experiment" is often used as a defense or excuse for careless drawing and lack of consistency. I try to keep my designs homogenous, with complete character sets, good outlines and decent kerning.
There is a large pile of new type ideas waiting for my return.
traveling and growing lecture, 1998 - now
on kame's typeface design process
shown at morisawa co. tokyo; instituto politecnico de macau; san francisco state university; basel school of design switzerland
reproduction or duplication prohibited
MM director presentation
Type design 1983 - 2000:
Consistency in leaps and bounds
(This presentation was originally prepared for a lecture
on typeface design
at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland in 1998.)