Typographic Fit & Finish

The distance between a great start and the finish line

Most people reading this know that designing a good typeface is a challenge. Like an onion, the more you peel back the layers and look into the nuances of typeface design, the more layers you discover. Also like an onion, these additional layers might make you cry.

With that in mind, two workshops have been scheduled with type designer and educator Ben Kiel during the Typographics festival: Pardon My Accent on Wednesday, June 15, and Kerning (May) Be Fun on Thursday, June 16.

As Kiel will attest, much of what makes a typeface more usable and attractive to a world-wide audience is not the intriguing visual parts such as ball terminals or slab serifs, but rather the kerning, spacing, accent marks (or to be more precise: diacritics), and other less-obvious features – what he describes as the “typographic fit and finish”.

Comparison of the é from Empiriana (A Czech design, taken from Oldřich Hlavsa’s A Book of Type and Design), Granjon Paragon Italic (French, taken from the great Marian specimen published by Ypsilon Editions), and lastly Times (from an Enschedé specimen)

Focusing additional time on diacritics, kerning, and spacing will allow a type designer to make a face more usable and marketable. Any designer or agency doing work outside of English-speaking countries will require typefaces with good-quality diacritics that have broad language support. Kiel suggests that at the very minimum, a type designer should cover Central European languages, which require diacritics.

Diacritics from Neutraface

Diacritics, like the languages that use them, have many subtle quirks and requirements that often only native-speakers may know. For example, the French language prefers comparatively steep acute and grave marks while other languages may have diacritics colliding with other characters in a word if you are not careful. Knowing how to properly design these small details will allow a typeface to be used in more than just English-speaking countries.

Kerning for Photo-Lettering’s West Behemoth in MetricsMachine

Another important aspect of a quality design is the kerning and spacing of the typeface. Kiel says, “it used to be that good typesetters and designers would do kerning individually, but that doesn’t happen anymore. No one wants to buy a typeface that makes you do more work. You want to create a pleasant experience for the user of your typeface”.

When asked how someone can avoid going insane while kerning their typeface, Kiel laughs and says, “there is no ‘push-button kerning’ but there are ways to be smart about it”. Tools such as MetricsMachine can help remove some of the pain by streamlining the process of kerning and proofing but it still takes time, patience, and a good eye. One last note to remember, Kiel says, “you can’t sell kerning, but it can only enhance your reputation”.

To learn more about tightening up the details of a typeface check out Kiel’s Pardon My Accent and Kerning (May) Be Fun workshops.

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