Project Three

Typeface Design


This typeface design was inspired by C. S. Lewis’s “Space Trilogy” novels, which chronicle the adventures of Dr. Elwin Ransom (work by Jacob Granneman).

For this project, you will custom-design a typeface, or font. Your design idea should come from a specific point of inspiration, which should be demonstrated by a text of your own choosing. Your typeface design should embody the spirit of that text, which could be a poem, a work of fiction, an essay, an instructional text, a screenplay, etc.: The sky’s the limit here as long as you are excited about the text!). Depending on the spirit of your text, you will choose either a modular design method or a design method based on a physical material or environment. Once you have designed the full alphabet—using Illustrator, Photoshop, or a combination of the two*—you will design a large format poster that showcases all the letters of your alphabet in alphabetical order, as well as in a relevant sentence, phrase, or paragraph from or related to your source of inspiration. Your large format poster design should be printed on your own time at BCU in time for our last class of the semester on Thursday, 12/6.

You should consult with your instructor immediately if you feel you need specific technical instruction in either Photoshop (including basics of image resolution) or Illustrator for the completion of this project. Beginning to intermediate knowledge of these programs is assumed for the course, but your instructor will help get you up to speed by recommending tutorials and guidance if it is needed. Some students may wish to make use of large format scanners at the CDSC.

Here are a few additional examples of final poster designs from this project:

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Choose and Analyze a Text (Thurs., 11/1)

Choose a text that you’d like to use to inspire both your custom typeface design and your poster design. It may be poetry, fiction, nonfiction, screenplay, essay, or even an alternative type of text, such as a shopping list, a recipe, instructions, directions, etc., as long as you think it will compel you to make interesting visual choices, and as long as it is of decent length (several paragraphs or equivalent is ideal).

Consider the subject matter and spirit of your chosen text and write an analysis: What is it about? What mood does it set? How does it make you feel? How do you want it to affect other people? What visual choices will it inspire you to make? You will use these ideas to develop your own set of rules for creating a new alphabet design, or typeface. As noted in Lupton/Phillips, “a well-defined constraint can free up the thought process by taking some decisions off the table.” This is your chance as a designer to explore creating your own rules and sticking to them, thus exploring the exhaustive iteration process that goes along with formstorming. Your text analysis will help you determine whether your design should be either modular, like Marian Bantjes’s Sugar project for Stefan Sagmeister, or materials-based, like Bantjes’s Puzzle design for the Guardian (See next section and your assigned readings for more info).

Bring printed copies of your chosen inspirational text (just an excerpt if it is long), as well as your own written analysis of the text (several paragraphs, printed to hand in) to class on Thursday, 11/1.

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Write Your Design Proposal (Tues, 11/6)

Here is an example of a finished student work from last semester. Download the PDF to see the written design proposal on the first page, as well as the alphabet design and finished poster design. This is an example of a modular solution completed in Illustrator, which is a vector-graphics-based program. (work by Jessica Colvin)

Develop a set of design—or alphabet-building—rules according to either a modular method or a materials-based method. Choose carefully, considering how your method will affect the appearance of your typeface. Regardless of which method you choose and what your unique rules say, you will strive to create an alphabet with common characteristics such as weight, proportion, and density, as described in your “Letter” reading from “Thinking with Type.” How will your method affect the intrinsic proportions and visual impression of your alphabet? (Note: This is related to your rhythm and balance reading as well) And will this visual impression be appropriate for the spirit of the text you have chosen? Why?

Your Design Proposal should be developed in conjunction with your attempts to create your first letters: Trial and error with the first ten letters you choose to design will help you refine and perfect the design rules for your proposal. When you share your Design Proposal on Tuesday, 11/6 you should have at least ten finished letters to present. Show how these letters will look when they are used to form words. This will be the true test of how effective and legible your design is. Make sure you have an AI or PSD file, also saved as a PDF, in your dropbox folder by this deadline. Here is an example of one student’s finished project, including their design proposal, to serve as a guide.

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Design Your Alphabet (Thurs., 11/15)

First, you will design all 26 letters of the alphabet. Your final presentation on your large format poster will include a full alphabet, A to Z, as well as a relevant sentence, phrase, or paragraph from or related to your source of inspiration (see next section for details). However, first focus on the design of the letters, keeping in mind type anatomy concepts from your “Thinking with Type” Letter reading:

  • Uppercase or lowercase? You may choose to design uppercase or lowercase letters, or both if you are feeling ambitious.
  • If lowercase: x-height, ascenders, descenders
  • How do the letters sit on the baseline?
  • Serif or sans serif?
  • Height: Top of capital letter to bottom of lowest descender
  • Set width: Condensed, compressed, normal, wide, extended?
  • How much contrast within each letter? (Thick parts and thin parts, or all the same?)
  • Upright or angled posture?
  • Humanist/organic? Geometric/abstract?
  • How do the curved parts of the letters relate to the straight parts?

If you choose a modular method:

You will define a fixed element to be used within a larger system or structure, such as a grid. Choose what your fixed element(s) is/are and how they may fit together to build the 26 letters of your alphabet. Make sure you can articulate the rules you follow in writing, as you will hand them in with your final poster.

Here are some examples of modular methods:

“Modular Lettering” with strong figure/ground relationship from Lupton’s gdbasics website.

If you choose a materials-based method: Use a physical material or environment to build the 26 letters of your alphabet. Allow the limitations and opportunities offered by the physical nature of the material/environment to help you define alphabet-building rules. Make sure you can articulate the rules you follow in writing, as you will hand them in with your final poster.

Here are some examples of materials-based methods:

“Ready-Made Alphabets” from Lupton’s gdbasics website.

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Design Your Poster (draft due Thurs., 11/29, final due Thurs., 12/6)

In addition to designing 26 letters, you will design a large format poster to showcase your typeface design, the text that inspired it, and your motivation for creating it. The poster design should:

  1. Show all 26 letters in alphabetical order
  2. Show how your letters function when used in sentences: This is where a section of your inspirational text can come in. If your type design is very decorative or plays with legibility, you may choose to use it in moderation for this part, pairing it with a more traditional typeface to be used for longer sections of your inspirational text source.
  3. Be creative in its layout and design: Use concepts from your illustration reading and your “Graphic Design: The New Basics” readings (Hierarchy chapter, as well as others we have read this semester) to communicate how your typeface may be used and why you designed it. The point is to showcase your work and your ideas. Items you saw at the WSU Art Museum might also be helpful.
  4. In fine print (can be in a traditional font, not the one you designed): Cite the source of your text, give you credit as the designer, and give your typeface a name.
  5. Be printed at BCU printing services on campus in time to hand in on 12/6. See specifics below in “Guidelines & Requirements.”

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Guidelines & Requirements

  1. Regardless of which method you choose to create your alphabet, you will need to bring your letters into the digital realm, even if they are based on physical materials. If you choose a materials-based method, make sure you can work with scans or photos at a high resolution. You may use Illustrator and/or Photoshop as you develop your alphabet and as you layout your poster design. Make sure you are prepared to print at a high resolution regardless of which program your are using (make sure raster effects are set to high in Illustrator). You may contact the CDSC at if you want to use their large format scanners for this project.
  2. Your poster design should be large format, at least 18 x 24-inches, oriented horizontally or vertically. I recommend you choose heavyweight coated paper or semi-gloss photo paper. You will need to pay for large format printing through BCU printing services on campus. This will be $15-$25. Remember there is at least a 24-hour turnaround time after you call to confirm your order has been submitted, and they are open Mon-Fri.
  3. In fine print, your poster design should give your typeface a name, credit you as the designer, and cite the source of your text excerpt as it may appear on your poster (Author, title, publisher, page number, or whatever is relevant for your particular source: Contact your instructor if you have questions about how to cite your text source).
  4. You will turn in your final design file(s) that show 1) the layout of your poster and 2) the work you did to design your alphabet. Make sure your file(s) is/are well-organized so they are easy for your instructor to navigate. Files should be saved as AI or PSD, and as high res PDF for printing purposes (preserve editing capabilities UNCHECKED). Name the folder that contains your relevant files “yourlastname-typefacedesign” (due 11/15) and “yourlastname-posterdesign” (due 12/6). I will not open any files that are not clearly labeled. Hand in final files in the shared class Dropbox folder. Remember to remove all drafts and previously turned in files!
  5. If you are working in Illustrator and you placed resolution-based images in your final poster design, make sure they are embedded, or make sure you included the linked files (probably jpgs) in your dropbox folder. Check the Link panel (Window > Links).
  6. You should also turn in a set of finalized design guidelines that you followed to create your alphabet (updated from the Typeface Design Proposal you turned in 11/6 or 11/8). Put this in the dropbox folder as well, saved as a Microsoft word document or a PDF, if it is not included as part of your Illustrator file. You can call it “yourlastname-design-rules”
  7. Finally, include a copy of the text you used as inspiration, saved as a Microsoft word document or a PDF, if it is not reproduced in its entirety on your poster design, or if it is not included as part of your Illustrator file.You can call it “yourlastname-text-source”

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What You Will Hand In

See previous section, numbers 4 through 6.

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Required Readings

  • Letter chapter (pgs 11-84) from “Thinking with Type” by Ellen Lupton
  • “Modularity” from “Graphic Design: The New Basics”
  • “Rhythm and Balance” from “Graphic Design: The New Basics”
  • “Formstorming” (this is the first chapter from the newest edition of Graphic Design: The New Basics)
  • “Illustration” from “Design Elements: A Graphic Style Manual” by Timothy Samara (link to PDF provided)

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Field Trips

We will have two field trips to help inspire your work on this project and your understanding of type anatomy. We will go to Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections to view historic examples of handwritten and printed letters on Thursday, 10/25. We will also go to the WSU Art Museum (TBA) to view more artistic interpretations of letterforms.

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Recommended Tutorials and Software Assistance

If you are using Illustrator, learn to use the pen tool: I recommend Pen Tool Part 1 and Pen Tool Part 2. See your instructor if you need help finding additional technical information for Illustrator.

If you are using Photoshop, you want to be well-aware of your image resolution, and make sure you are making high res scans or taking high res images of your source material. You will also want to be aware of the selection techniques you are using to remove pixels from the background. Your letters should be able to appear on different background colors and textures. See your instructor if you need help finding technical information for Photoshop.

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Additional Resources