Type design is increasingly becoming type programming. Designers such as Ken Barber of House Industries are taking advantage of “smart” type features in programs like InDesign, and expanding the criteria used to activate contextual alternates (ligatures, for instance).
A specialist in script fonts, Barber aims not to make a line of text smoother and easier to read—the traditional typographic Holy Grail—but to make it livelier and more natural. Studio Lettering, a set of three scripts and a pi font, achieves this in some expected, as well as some unexpected, ways.
To give each script a unique personality, Barber used a different tool: a Speedball Steel Brush for Slant, a Payzant pen (similar in its effect to a Speedball B-series nib) for Swing, and a pointed brush for Sable. Yet they all share a similar set of contextual alternates. Most are aesthetically driven and some culturally derived. Alternate characters that vary in size, form, and the way they join together, including special large initial caps, provide more rhythm to a text. They make words and phrases appear to be hand-lettered rather than typeset.
Barber has supplemented these alternates, common in many OpenType script fonts, with innovative “colloquial” alternates, unique characters based on the forms that certain letters take due to the differing handwriting systems and habits in each country. Thanks to Tal Leming’s programming, a user can select a different language in the computer’s preference settings and produce a new version of any word with letterforms peculiar to a specific language or country. It is an audacious idea—and lots of fun. Olé! Bravo! Encore! PAUL SHAW
This article appears in the December 2008 issue of Print.