Katie’s 5 Tips for Typeface Development

Some of you may know, I’m a typography nut and I have created a few fonts for Go Media’s Arsenal. This article is little precursor to a more extensive article that we’ll submit later on about finding inspiration for typeface and font development.

As a designer I have found that you can get inspiration from anywhere. The process of creating typography is as much like creating any other type (pun intended!) of art as painting or drawing. Typography can give a political, social, psychological, or economical statement. Often the fonts I design reference my own opinions of how our world functions. A true mark of an exceptional type designer is someone who can stimulate you visually and intellectually. In this article I’m going to break down some of the ways in which you can utilize some skills you might not know you already have!

1} Carry a sketch book with you everywhere. My sketchbook of choice is a Moleskine. You can find them at your local Barnes and Nobles. I write my thoughts and ideas in it whenever I’m out and about and get hit with inspiration. Ideas will come at you so fast you have to be able to write them down or you’ll forget them. Plus, if you have a doctor’s appointment it’s nice to have something to do while you wait in the lobby!

2} Become a student of typography. There definitely is a difference between breaking the rules, and breaking them well. How do you know the rules? You need to study from the greats! When I was in school I used a couple books that were considered the “Bible” of typography design:

The Elements of Typographic Style by: Robert Bringhurst.

Designing type by: Cheng

Let these books be your guide to understanding the structure of creating a typeface. Once you familiarize yourself with how the old guys did it you can develop your own style. The more you know the more inspiration you can draw on while designing yourself.


3} Keep an eye out for awesome type designers. To be a type designer now isn’t exactly the most popular branch of graphic design. In fact, only two colleges in the entire world offer a degree in type design! However, typography is the basis of communication! I was actually fortunate to work with an amazing typographer: Paul Elliman. He taught me that you need to digest your world and express that digestion through unexpected means. We drove around different areas of Detroit to photograph and pick up anything that caught our eye to create a typeface of our own that captured the nature of the city. The picture above is a trash heap where Paul pulled out an old hanger. Basically, you find inspiration in unexpected means.

4} Don’t be afraid to try anything! Fonts don’t need to be created solely on a computer! I’ve used wood and a jigsaw, the human body, flashlights, negative paper, and trash to create fonts. Don’t deny your inner child in creating fonts that are mostly created with your hands.

Poster Elliman

5} Even if you are not using objects, besides a pencil, to create a font make sure you sketch a LOAD before getting onto a computer. You can try a lot of different things fast when sketching but when you get on a computer you may just start pushing pixels. Remember that a computer is a tool, not a crutch. A great paper to use is gridded paper. You can find it at most art supply stores. This will give you a way to easily set up a structure to your font that is consistent for all characters.

Lastly, I’m going to give you a little list of some great design studios that are pushing boundaries and making some sweet fonts. I hope you find them as inspiration as I do! Good luck creating your own font!

House Industries


Hoefler &Frere-Jones

David Carson

Elliot Earls