Font Making Design Decisions - A List of Characteristics
A font is a system of letters with similar / repeating stylistic characteristics. Here’s a list of characteristics to help guide your design decisions about what you want your font to look like.
Script or print
Do you want your font to look cursive with connecting letters, or will each letter stand individually? Cursive fonts might add a more personal, handwritten feel, print letters might be more easily legible and seem more authoritative or professional.
Size / Proportion
Starting with your guidelines, how large do you want your x-height, your caps, your ascenders and descenders to be? A larger difference might look a little more elegant, a smaller difference a little more playful.
Are your letterforms going to be based on certain geometric forms? Do you want them to be more round or more condensed? How wide do you want them to be? Condensed letters might look a little more elegant, round letters a little more playful.
Are your strokes going to be monoline / same width, or will they have contrast? Monoline might be more easily legible, contrast might add more interest.
Slant / Angle
Will your letters sit upright on the baseline, or will they be at an angle? Will the counters and bowls be at 90 degrees, or another? Straight letters tend to be more easily recognizable and legible, while slanted letters might add an ephemeral touch.
Do you want your print letters to have hooks and feet, visual entrance and exit strokes, and if so, what size and shape should they take? Serifs can be bracketed, slab, tuscan, or lines. Sans serif, (sans is french for without), are letters without hooks. The serif style is commonly associated with newspaper print and therefore evokes a sense of trustworthiness, whereas sans serif styles are associated with clarity and transparency.
How are you going to produce your font? The tool you use will inform the way the letters will work, e.g. using a broad nib at a 45 degree angle will produce thicks and thins in certain places. A brush will produce certain curves and angles depending on how you move it over the paper. The digital representations should follow the rules of the tool to remain consistent.
Display or text
What do you want your font to be used for? Display fonts are generally larger in size and used for posters or headlines. They are designed to grab attention, while text fonts are primarily designed for legibility. What is the message you want the font to communicate? Which feelings or reactions do you want to elicit in the reader?
For all these characteristics, there is of course an option to mix and match, so there are literally infinite possibilities of what your font could look like.
I have designed and produced four fonts so far: Fun Blocks, Dorwitt, Earl Grey, and Fez (medium and light).
Fun Blocks was my first. I wanted something bold yet playful, so I wrote all the characters with a sharpie on printer paper, imported them into Illustrator, cleaned them up a little, imported those into the Birdfont app, and didn't even play with kerning or anything - just exported it as it was. It is meant to be rough and bold, it is meant to be uneven, it is meant to look hand-made, so those prerequisites really informed my decisions to fill in all the counters, use varying weights and angles, and be generally loose in execution.
Dorwitt, Earl Grey, and Fez, on the other hand, are supposed to serve much different purposes. As a script, I had to pay much closer attention to entrance and exit strokes for Dorwitt, and spend a lot more time on positioning and kerning. It is following the English Roundhand and Copperplate style but with a monoline weight, so I imagine it being used for "handwritten" letters, invitations, and smooth product packaging. Fez, while a print font, also took some more time, because I wanted to make sure that all characters still had a somewhat handwriting feel. With Earl Grey, I went more traditional sans serif print style for the glyphs, but added a drop shadow. I created these three on the iPad using the iFontMaker app.