A signage concept
This typeface began in 2014 as a graphic design assignment based around signage. Back then I lived on a street of terraced houses build for railway workers at the end of the 19th century. House numbers in the street were a rare sight. I came up with a concept to create a number font to use as a uniform style for all the house numbers in the street. To draw the numbers I took inspiration from wooden toy railway tracks and the shape of the wheels. In other words bendy sections and perfect circles.
I decided to go for Old Style Figures because they are the most beautiful. I designed all 10 digits in Illustrator sticking to the constraints of bends and circles. The concept made it as far as a cardboard and aluminium prototype for our house. I called the font Ratcliffe after the name of the road. Turns out there already is a typeface named Radcliffe, so current working title is R91.
Looking back at the numbers now it pains me. I still like the constraints, but the ascenders and descenders are too extreme.
36 Days of Type
For the 2020 edition I gave the numbers a facelift and added the rest of the alphabet. Both lowercase and uppercase.
I loosened the constrains to allow circles to not always be a perfect circle. I adjusted the bendy sections where I felt they needed it. Again I designed all the glyphs in Illustrator.
As standalone letters I was happy with the result. Now it looks a little rigid and lacks finesse.
At this point type addiction set in and I transferred everything to Glyphs. I learned as I went along. Adding punctuation. Discovering how you can create diacritics, and adding those. Followed by non English Latin glyphs like æ, oe, ø and ß. Learning the difference between lining, Old Style, proportional and tabular figures. Then came fractions, symbols, currency and arrows. It was fun. So why stop there?
I added masters to create a range of weights, from thin to black, using interpolation.
I felt I was nearing the end and began kerning. It was painful. Googling tips on kerning I learned about spacing - all my glyphs had the same spacing value. A new dimension in type design opened up. Always space first, kern last.
The typeface reached a point where it was useable to display text. In many places the spacing is still not quite right. Neither is the kerning. Viewed in a text setting the letters dance too much. The forward and backwards slants are ok when assessing the letters in isolation. In a block of text it is dizzying. The baseline feels very flat even with overshoots on round shapes. Several characters need attention: lowercase m, f, l, j, s, æ and ß. The caron and circumflex look like they belong somewhere else.
During the course of this project I learned a lot of things with plenty left to learn.
- Balancing the metrics of a font into 1000 units: x-height, ascenders and descenders. You still need room to breathe for diacritics on capitals.
- Spacing letters. Plenty of tips on how to get started, but the real skill is in the fine tuning. I am still fine tuning that skill.
- Stem thickness between fonts. How thick is the stem of a Regular font?
- Stem thickness within the same glyph. A subtle difference between round and straight sections can transform a glyph.
Revisit after Practica
After completing the Practica course in 2021 I looked at R91 in a more critical way. The initial constraints were good, but not every glyph needs all applied at once. The drawing quality of the letters needs fixing. And the typeface needs a brief.
R91 is a sans serif typeface based on geometric shapes. It wants to be a solid typeface suitable for headlines as well as long form text. It doesn’t want to be yet another sans serif. It wants to stay quirky with distinctive details.
It will support Latin Extended A and Latin Plus with a selection of OpenType features. It will interpolate on two axes: weight and width. From Thin to Black. And from Condensed to Extended.
A new direction
Starting from the brief I gave the typeface a complete overhaul. And because this project started with numbers I revisited the numbers first. I let go of the Old Style figures for now and concentrated on getting consistent shapes first.
The letters have lost their bending verticals. Curves keep as much of their original vibe as possible. All strokes have subtle adjustments for a consistent feel. The reading experience is more pleasant now.
I want this typeface to become a variable font with two axes, weight and width. So far there are six masters. Three thin and three black ones. Each weight has a Condensed, Regular and Extended width. All masters cover the main Latin glyphs for lowercase and uppercase, and the numbers.
This is still a work in progress. The Black masters have issues in weight distribution. Once that is fixed I will continue with adding diacritics and anything else it may need. It will take some time.